Avoiding the self-criticism spiral: 3 ways to help you achieve a better balance
Deep down, we all know that balance is so important in many areas of our lives: diet, exercise, work environment, etc. Striving for balance in those areas is crucial, but it’s just as important to strive for balance in how critical we are of ourselves and the work that we do. As we rebound from what was probably the most stressful – or at least massively disruptive – year of our lives in 2020, finding that balance throughout the rest of 2021 and beyond will be the key to building momentum, maintaining forward progress and avoiding burnout.
I bring this up because I’ve noticed how out of balance things seem to be right now. This is evident in the content that I see every day on social media that’s related to my industry (healthcare) and discipline (marketing and communication). Too many of us focus almost entirely on what we’re doing wrong:
👎We’re not easy enough to work with.
👎We’re too expensive.
👎We’re too slow.
👎We’re too complex.
👎We’re not as innovative as (fill in the blank).
👎We’re soon to be replaced with (fill in the blank).
All of those criticisms are true at some level, and we need to focus on fixing all of these issues. Yet, if all we ever do is focus on the negative and broken aspects of healthcare it becomes difficult to get excited about coming to work. Ironically, that will make driving change from within our industry even more challenging and lead to burnout for many people who could be part of the solution. To balance things out, we need to also spend some time focusing on what we’re doing right in healthcare:
👍We’re saving lives.
👍We’re helping people live better lives.
👍We’re helping bring life into this world.
👍We’re teaching future generations to care for others.
Making it personal
Striking this balance is important on a more personal level as well. Again, there is a running theme I’ve seen on social media in the past few years that seems to focus primarily on everything you are not doing:
👎You’re not data-driven enough.
👎You’re not strategic enough.
👎You’re not 100% focused on ROI.
Again, there might be some truth here in all of those statements and making improvements in any or all of those areas will benefit you. However, you have to balance the self-improvement areas with some celebration of what you are doing:
👍You’re building trust with colleagues.
👍You’re leading others.
👍You’re driving action.
👍You’re doing work that matters.
Now, if you don’t feel like you are doing any of that you really do have a serious problem that needs to be addressed with a job change or crucial conversation with your leader. Most times, it really just requires you to step back and look at what you are doing well and what you want to improve. You just need to remember to catalog both the positives AND the negatives.
Three ways to find a better balance
So, what can you do to avoid spiraling into constant negativity? The answer for everyone is different, but I suggest three relatively simple steps.
First, remember to celebrate your major accomplishments. It’s amazing how fast we move on from things that take weeks, months or even years to conceptualize, build and deliver. Something as simple as taking a few minutes to recognize your team during a meeting for a job well done can be so important.
Second, it’s OK to admit that you are not perfect. Make a list of what you want to improve and focus on a few goals that really matter. When you make progress, recognize it and reward yourself. Avoid the temptation to constantly add new improvement goals to your list when you haven't achieved the initial things you set out to do.
Third, stop comparing yourself to everyone else. It’s OK to be inspired by what others have accomplished, but we don’t need to be them to be successful. You don’t need to adopt their weird sleep habits or mimic their off-beat personalities. You need to stay true to yourself, while using their examples of success to motivate you to accomplish great things on a scale that’s realistic for you. The quote below is one way to guide your thinking: