Imagine having lunch with a girlfriend. You know she has been dieting, so you are a bit surprised when she orders a big slice of chocolate cake for dessert. When she is done (and of course she ate every bite), you say to her. “Wow, I can’t believe you ate all of that. I thought you were on a diet. You’re never going to lose weight if you keep eating junk like that. You’re such a pig! You’re going to be fat forever!”
Or imagine your best teacher friend comes to your room after school, nearly in tears. She has a particularly challenging class this year and today it was just too much. Before she is even done telling what happened, you interrupt saying, “Well, what do you expect? It’s not like you’ve ever been a good teacher, even in the best of years. Honestly, I’m surprised you still have a job.”
Of course, you would never say those things to your friends. You wouldn’t say those things to a stranger, much less a friend. And yet, if you are like most women, you do talk that way to one person. You talk that way to yourself.
how we talk to ourselves matters
A few weeks ago, I heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk about this very thing. During a webinar, someone asked about her about how to deal with self-criticism (AKA: that insidious voice in your head that keeps a running narrative of everything you are supposedly doing wrong).
Elizabeth’s response was that you should try to be a good friend to yourself. I love that answer because it is so simple, so essential, and so totally within your own control.
Characteristics of a Good Friend
Think about how you treat a good friend:
- You don’t talk badly to them or about them.
- You forgive them when they make mistakes.
- You check in frequently, just to see how things are going.
- You have their back – you support them when they need it.
- You celebrate their successes and accomplishments – even the small ones
- You notice when something isn’t right and rather than ignoring it or worse yet, outright denying that something is wrong, you do what you can to help.
The tricky part, of course, is aiming these behaviors at yourself. Fortunately, like most other behaviors, these things can be learned. Here are some gentle suggestions for how to be a good friend to yourself.
Deal with that Negative Self-Talk: First and foremost, the negative self-talk has got to go, or at least be tamped down. I am going to suggest two strategies that work well for this.
The first one is simply to dismiss negative thoughts as they pop into your head. A simple, “Not today.” or “Nope, moving on” will do the trick. Even better if you can interrupt the negative thought with your dismissal rather than waiting for the whole predictable thing to play out.
A second strategy is to replace the negative thought with a more compassionate or a more empowering thought. Say your class is having a particularly bad day and you speak a little more harshly to them than you felt you should have.
When you catch yourself talking badly to yourself, think about what you might tell one of your teacher friends in the same situation. Probably something like, “All teachers have those moments. You handle situations like this just fine 99% of the time, so give yourself some grace. Maybe this is a sign that you need to take some time to yourself or get a little more sleep.”
Forgive Yourself: You forgive your friends on a regular basis. You forgive them for being late, for saying or doing something they should not have (and hopefully apologizing), for forgetting your birthday.
Forgive yourself too. Forgive yourself for the little things as they come up. For the big things (like monsters from your past or serious errors in judgment) you may need to process with a journal, a friend, or a counselor.
Check-In with Yourself: Frequent check-ins are another great way to be a good friend to yourself. Throughout the day, take a minute to ask yourself how you are feeling and if you need anything – or if you don’t need anything, what would make this moment better?
Maybe you would love a cup of coffee or to just sit down for a moment. Maybe going outside, even just to get the mail is the break that you need. I have five alarms set on my watch throughout the day to remind me to check in with myself. If I don’t feel I need anything in particular, I sometimes just take a deep breath or two before going back to the task at hand.
Do Nice Things for Your Near-Future-Self: Another thing you can do to be a good friend to yourself is to think about your Near-Future-Self and be a good friend to her.
For example, if you know that you will come home exhausted from work, have your After-Work-Future-Self’s back by doing the breakfast dishes before you go. In the evening do your Next-Morning-Future-Self a good turn by laying out your clothes for the next day or remembering to put those overnight-oats into the fridge so they’ll be ready for breakfast.
Then, when you come home to a clean kitchen or are enjoying your overnight oats (with coconut, honey, and cinnamon, yum!) internally thank you Past Self for being so thoughtful.
Celebrate Your Accomplishments: We are so quick to recognize our friends for their wins, even the little ones, which is awesome, but we should do that for ourselves too! Even if it is just a thought.
Resist the urge to snarf down the really yummy-looking homemade cookies in the staff room? Give yourself a mental high-five. Totally nailed that lesson on inference? Draw stars all around it in your planner with your favorite pen. Got all your report cards in on time? Reward yourself with a little mindless TV.
Whatever you do, make sure that you celebrate in your thoughts. By making a big deal in your own mind, you are reinforcing that great thing that you did, which will lift your spirits and increase your confidence. If you can create a visual reminder (like the stars in your planner) all the better.
Acknowledge When Things aren’t Going Well: One strategy people often use with a really big problem, or even something small that keeps coming up, is to continually push it away and ignore it. You would not do this with a good friend, so don’t do it with yourself either.
Start by acknowledging that there is an issue. You may not be ready to face it, and that is okay, but at least acknowledge it is there. Don’t gaslight yourself by denying it. When you are ready, do what you need to do. Find the counselor, have the difficult conversation, revise the budget…whatever it is, be a good friend to yourself and do it.
You spend more time with yourself than anyone else, so why wouldn’t you treat yourself with kindness, respect, and love?
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