Two of the very common themes I come across in executive coaching is how to change the relationship with oneself and with stress, AND why do we beat ourselves up? What positive purpose could it possibly serve?
In this month’s blog, I’ll explore these scenarios for you.
Hi I’m Josie Thomson. I’m a multi-award winning coach, mindset and resilience expert, author and 2 time cancer survivor.
Based on my own observations, I believe people beat themselves up for a few of reasons:
- They don’t know any different
- It’s become a habit
- Too little inner nurturance
These forces in the mind and in practice are out of balance. Why?
For multiple reasons, including individual differences in nature, nurture and temperament: some people were modelled particular modes of behaviour, and have naturally adopted those practices. Over time, these patterns simply become habits; automated practice of thought and behaviour.
Some people are more prone to anxiety and grumpiness too.
But for most people the primary sources are what they have internalised – especially as a child – from their family, peers, environments and even their culture.
Then, once harsh self-criticism has been programmed in, by constant repetition, and internalised, along with insufficient practices of self-nurturance, beating yourself up can take on a life of its own – both as a programmed habit and as a way of self preservation – a way of avoiding the possibility of making a mistake or looking bad in front of others.
So, what can we do about this? Well I’m glad you asked. This is part of the premise of my new book, which I’ve co-authored with Dr Jeffrey Schwartz, leading neuroscientist in the field of OCD and neuroplasticity, and Art Kleiner, editor in chief of Strategy+Business magazine. In our book: The Wise Advocate – the inner voice of strategic leadership, we focus on ways of building up your inner wise voice and nurturer so that you can more readily and easily stand up against your inner-critic, and outer critics too.
The good news is that the basic features of our temperament or personality are actually malleable. I’m still a reasonably thoughtful, joyful, generous and sometimes shy and introverted, inclined toward some anxiety kind of girl – just like I was in high school.
How we relate to our core personality can change dramatically over time.
For example, shyness – social anxiety – may still arise, but alongside it we can cultivate self-confidence, an internal sense of allies, self-acceptance, distress tolerance, dis-identification from the shyness, and other resources so that how we feel and how we act in a socially challenging situation can be much better.
Three Ways To Reduce Stress
Here are three ways you can begin to transform your experience and relationship to stress:
- out in the world,
- in the body, and
- in the mind.
All are important. For example, a person can reduce stress by leaving a work situation that has particularly stressful challenges and relationships in it. For this context, I’ll focus on three methods inside the mind.
Obviously, what is most effective in the mind will depend on the person and their situation. And we need to recognise that challenges need not be experienced as stressors. For one person, a promotion with new responsibilities (challenge) could feel demanding, intense, and like a lot of hard work, but not feel significantly stressful; for a different person, the same challenge could feel really stressful (e.g., body tenses up, unpleasant sense of pressure, negative emotions like anxiety or irritability).
So here are my top three stress-buster suggestions:
- Deep and slow breathing –relaxing and releasing tension in the body as well.
- Turning toward some authentic positive experience – taking a walk in nature, eating something good, taking a shower, thinking of someone or something you feel grateful for, or smelling something nice, etc.
- Giving or receiving loving kindness – any form of caring and kindness is good, e.g. feeling included, seen, appreciated, thought about, liked, or loved.
We evolved to handle brief bursts of stress for immediate survival purposes, but chronic stress – even mild to moderate, or an extended period of time – has deleterious effects on our long-term physical, emotional and mental health.
Remember: negative emotions are stressful in their own right; it wears on body and mind to be chronically anxious, frustrated, irritated, hurt, or insecure. We do have choices about how we attend to circumstances and situations. We must be mindful of how we direct our focus and attention, and the inner narrative we shape our experiences with.
If you’d like to get a solid handle on managing your inner narrative to be more adaptive and helpful, check out my new book The Wise Advocate, available now for sale. My co-authors and I are also available for keynotes and workshops, and will soon have licensed trainings for coaches, practitioners and organisations available. Express your interest here.
Until next time, remember:
We are not defined by our circumstances… we are created by them… and…It’s not what happens to you that defines you, it’s how you respond that counts.