We’ve all had it: that sinking feeling when you just know you’ve bombed at a meeting or presentation.
It sucks—and, frankly, it hurts our ego. We all want to be good—scratch that—great at our jobs, so a misstep can leave us feeling vulnerable. In our heads, we start launching harsh internal criticisms, ruminating on our incompetence or how we’re otherwise not up to snuff at the workplace. Cue pity party!
But is beating yourself up doing you any good? Is there such thing as being too hard on yourself? According to the research, absolutely. Overly harsh self-criticism has been showed to undermine motivation, impede progress towards goals, and increase procrastination.
So, how can you deal with your stumbling blocks in ways that are both constructive and helpful? Try these tips to learn from your strengths and weaknesses—without beating yourself up.
1. Keep Calm—and Take a Walk
After a bad meeting or presentation, it’s easy to slide down the slippery slope of self-bashing. When your head is spinning with “I should have done this or that” scenarios, you’re in no position to be making rational judgments about your performance.
So, your best bet is to step away from the situation physically and mentally to gain perspective. Taking a walk outside is a great way to physically detach from the office. Try to give yourself at least 24 hours before revisiting the situation. It’s critical to come to the table with a level-headed, emotionally neutral state to kick your motivation into high gear.
2. Check Your Perfectionism at the Door
Say it with me now: “Hello, I’m human, and I make mistakes.” That’s reality.
As much as we would all love to be the perfect employee who bags every Employee Achievement award that ever existed, it’s simply not realistic. In fact, aiming for an impossibly high standard will only lead to disappointment.
To keep your perfectionism in check, take note of how you describe your slip-ups. Do you catch yourself saying things like “I always forget people’s names” or “I’ll never figure out how to run a report that pleases my boss”? If so, you’re slipping into what’s known as a negative explanatory style—that is, blaming bad events on permanent, all-encompassing aspects of yourself (think: “I’m just not that smart” or “I’ll never have the confidence to be good at public speaking”).
Instead, try to turn those thoughts into specific, changeable behaviors that you can improve (e.g., “I felt unprepared for the meeting, so next time I’ll spend 15 minutes reading over my notes instead of five minutes”). Zeroing in on specific actions you can take helps shift your mindset from “I have to be perfect” to “I’m a work in progress, and that’s OK.”
Also remember to not let minor, insignificant details distract you from the bigger picture. Putting the company’s outdated logo on your PowerPoint slides isn’t going to make or break your career.
3. Look Outside Yourself
When we’re in a self-critical mode, we often turn inward. So, to constructively address your shortcomings, it can help to shift your focus outward and engage with others.
Finding a mentor is an especially constructive approach. Find someone who has the skills and traits you’d like to emulate, and start spending more time with him or her. Not only will you learn through observation, your mentor can be a great source of positive reinforcement and guidance. When you’re facing a challenge or dealing with a stumbling block, your mentor can provide feedback that’s helpful, constructive, and honest, which can help you move forward in a positive way (not to mention, remember that others have been there before, too!).
4. Leverage Workplace Jedi Mind Tricks
After disarming negative self-talk and putting your weaknesses into perspective, it’s time to take action on your personal critique. Using triggers is a great way to stay on track with making improvement, without relying on willpower (which comes in limited quantities!) or beating yourself up.
For example, if you want to stop saying “like” after, like, every word in a meeting, like, all the time, you might have a co-worker at the back of the room hold up a count of how many times you’ve said it, which helps raise your awareness. Or, if you have trouble motivating yourself to prepare for meetings, you could try leaving the files you need to review on your keyboard so you can’t ignore them the next morning.
Well-crafted, effective triggers can make all the difference in creating positive habits that stick. By finding external cues outside yourself that stir you in to action, you move away from getting caught up in a blame game of over-criticizing yourself and toward a healthy, productive way of improving your performance.
Remember, an eye toward the future should characterize any self-critique. The true aim is to be proactive about creating success.