You've heard this, of course: the self-deprecating comments of women who look for all the world like they're winners. While I'm a vocal critic of the trend toward women demeaning themselves, this particular situation struck me as being more ironic than most:
Last week, I spent a couple of hours in a local coffee shop. Just hiding out, escaping my apartment for a while, because I do most of my work at home.
Two women were seated at the table right in front of me.They were in terrific shape, dressed in workout gear, and they mentioned something about having just come from the gym. Their conversation then indicated that they were professional women who had recently acquired an important new client - and while you can't assess someone's life by outward appearance, you most certainly can judge their perspective from their words. And this was the exchange that struck me:
"I'm surprised I didn't blow it."
"What are you talking about? You did it."
"But I messed the presentation up. I could have done it better."
"Yeah, I've been there. Remember when..."
Then she went on to list her failings. Had I not overheard the beginning of their discussion, I would have thought that they lost the account.
So, why do we do that? (You know we do.) Whether it's due to false modesty - which is really just insecurity - or an honest perfectionism that sucks the life out of us, women are too often the first ones to marginalize, minimize, and criticize themselves. But what stayed with me after witnessing the moment between these two women was the fact that while their bodies were toned to the max, their attitudes were in need of some serious muscle-building. I couldn't help but overhear them as they tore themselves down, and I was thinking about how they should be celebrating a victory instead. Patting themselves on the back.
And I thought about how often I hear other women do the exact same thing that they were doing.
As a culture, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out why women are so hard on themselves - which makes for an interesting discussion, but does little to change the habit. After all, how we talk to ourselves is, in the end, just a matter of conditioning. And that means we can climb off our own backs any time we want, and change the discussion. If you're weary of being your own worst critic, try a simple three-step plan:
First, stop it. Seriously, that's all there is to Step One. As soon as you feel the impulse to start beating yourself up, clamp a hand over your mouth, pinch yourself, snap a rubber band against your wrist - but do something immediate to block out your unwarranted negative thoughts about yourself.
Step Two, and it's the tough one: get real about the benefit you would have gotten out of denigrating yourself. There was a reward there someplace, or you wouldn't have had the thought.
Step Three: consciously replace those hyper-critical opinions of yourself with realistic ones - with thoughts that reflect the truth of your abilities and talents, and how well you utilize and express them. (Caution: avoid comparing yourself to others. Your best, most productive competition is found in who you were last week, yesterday, or an hour ago.)
Note that I didn't say you should replace self-criticism with constant praise for yourself, because we do mess up, and we need to learn from our blunders. I'm saying that there's a great big line, one that we cross too often, between honest self-assessment and nuking our own confidence.
Don't train yourself to make your life more difficult, because the hills we climb are already plenty steep. And if you're already conditioned toward negativity, then retrain yourself. Give your attitude the same care that you give your physical health.
If nothing else, get off your own back - so you can give it a well-deserved pat sometimes.
See you soon.