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How To Stop Being So Hard On Yourself At Work

by Kristin Bugden - December 05, 2022

It’s very common, especially in the United States, to see social media posts that tout the concept of “rise and grind” and the glorification of hustle culture. As a result, many of us may find we’re trying to keep up and end up striving for a level of perfectionism which isn’t healthy (and frankly not attainable). Putting pressure on ourselves to be the best of the best can have its own consequences and sometimes it’s important to take a step back. Keep reading for some expert tips on how to stop being so hard on yourself at work and cut yourself some much deserved slack.

How do I know if I’m being too hard on myself at work?

It can be easy to get so into the everyday grind that you might not even realize you’re being  exceptionally tough on yourself while on the job. That being said, there are certainly some signs and symptoms to look out for and consider.Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, speaker and author of both Joy From Fear and Date Smart, shares that you’ll know you’re being too hard on yourself at work if your “inner critic” is pushing you so hard that you feel chronically stressed and depleted. “Ideally, we feel motivated to perform at work based on a sense of ‘optimal frustration,’ she explains. “When we are optimally frustrated, we nudge ourselves enough to grow and thrive in balanced, sustainable ways; when we move beyond the point of optimal frustration, we can actually harm both our mental health and performance in the long-term.”

Elaine Lou Cartas, business and career coach for women of color + allies, who also hosts a podcast calledColor Your Dreams ®, adds that perfectionism taken to the extreme is another sign. She highlights that this intense level of perfectionism and constantly putting ourselves under a microscope can cause “anxiety, stress and self-doubt.” Lastly, if you’re noticing that every little thing is getting to you to the point that it’s hard to stay focused, it’s time to take a step back. 

How can striving for perfectionism at work affect me?

Striving to be the best you can be at work is surely not a bad thing, but constantly focusing on your shortcomings and errors can take a toll. “Ongoing feelings of self-doubt can accrue when we strive for the impossible ideal of perfection,” says Manly, who adds that while doing your best is certainly a wonderful concept, the goal of performing “perfectly” sets the stage for frustration, self-doubt, decreased self-esteem and burnout. She also highlights that there really is no upside to becoming addicted to the goal of perfection. “Striving to be perfect—whether at work or elsewhere—is like trying to swim to the stars.”

What can I do about it?

If you’re reading through this and realizing you might have a tendency to be a little too unforgiving with yourself at work, here are some things you can do about it:

  1. Determine root causes:Manly explains that one of the best ways to reduce self-criticism at work is to look at the root causes of the issue. “A wide variety of factors can affect self-criticism at work, such as parental role modeling, personality and work environment,” she says. “The more you understand the genesis of the self-criticism—noticing if it’s aggravated by certain situations, co-workers or your own negative inner voice—the more you’ll be able to make positive shifts.” As an example, if you notice that you tend to be more self-critical when you’re low on rest, you can create positive changes by improving your sleep hygiene. 
  2. Consider therapy: In a similar vein to determining the root causes of self-criticism at work, Cartas notes that therapy is a great option to help get you there in order to live a more healthy and balanced life. It can also help you to gain control of your thinking if you find that you’re constantly engaging in negative self-talk or have spiraling thoughts that are difficult to rein in.
  3. Take deep breaths: This is a quick and easy tip. “When you feel overwhelmed and self-critical, your breath will be short,” says Cartas. “In order to feel more relaxed, try taking deep breaths which can help circulate blood throughout the nervous system and put you in a more calm and peaceful state.” 
  4. Reflect: Finally, Cartas recommends taking the time to regularly journal and/or engage in a bit of reflection, after all, being able to recognize those instances when we’re being a little too brutal on ourselves is a helpful step in changing that behavior.  

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