April 23, 2024

Finding Freedom as a Working Mum: Ditching Self-Criticism for Self-Correction



About a year into motherhood, I found myself in a therapist’s office, sharing how I was struggling in this season of my life.

I felt crushed by the weight of expectations: to be a good mum to my son, run my business, have a happy marriage, and keep the plates spinning in my life in general.

The relentless responsibility of it all felt suffocating.

My therapist (who knew that I was psychologically trained) asked me if I’d come across the work of Dr Paul Gilbert.  

I hadn’t. 

But her words opened a doorway into his work.

Dr Paul Gilbert is a renowned clinical psychologist and the founder of Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).

The reason my therapist shared his work with me at that moment?  Because she could hear that I was drowning in self-criticism.

It was like holding up a mirror to my inner dialogue, and it was eye-opening. I realised that self-criticism had become so ingrained in my mindset that I couldn’t separate myself from it. 

Wasn’t self-criticism just a natural part of pushing ourselves to be better?

Didn’t everyone talk to themselves like that?

This confusion took me on a journey to London to learn directly from Dr Paul Gilbert himself.

And what I learnt was profound.

As a leading figure in the field of psychology, Dr. Gilbert’s pioneering work has shown how cultivating self-compassion can transform our lives.   From promoting psychological resilience, improving relationships and enhancing the overall quality of life.

His work has significantly impacted therapeutic practices and inspired many to adopt a more compassionate approach to self-care and personal growth.

But if, like me, you’re not sure how to cultivate more self-compassion in your life to fuel your success and well-being, let me share a small but vital shift that can make all the difference.

In the pursuit of success, especially for high achievers, the voice of self-criticism often seems like a driving force.   How are we meant to develop if we don’t focus on what we’re doing wrong to learn from our mistakes?

What if I told you there’s a better, more sustainable way to go about it? 

Enter self-correction.

Instead of self-criticism we can fuel our success and performance using self-correction.

They may sound similar, but they have a powerful difference.

Let me share the subtle but important difference between these two concepts. 

Understanding Self-Criticism and Self-Correction

Self-criticism, plain and simple, is when you’re super hard on yourself for all your perceived flaws, slip-ups, or blunders. It’s like having a mean little voice in your head that’s always pointing out where you’ve messed up or leaving you feeling not quite good enough.

It’s the inner voice that relentlessly points out your flaws, often driving you to strive for perfection while simultaneously fostering feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. 

High achievers, driven by a desire for excellence, may find themselves particularly susceptible to this critical inner dialogue.

Sound familiar?  A lot of my clients struggle with it, too. Just like I did.

Now, self-correction, on the other hand, comes from a place of kindness and a growth mindset. It’s about recognising where you could do better without tearing yourself down in the process.  Self-correction focuses on improvement, but without resorting to harsh self-judgement.

The Highs and Lows of Self-Criticism

While self-criticism may initially seem like a catalyst for success, its long-term effects can have some serious downsides.

Research shows that piling on self-criticism can increase stress, anxiety, and even depression. Plus, it can impair decision-making, creativity, and overall wellbeing.

In the long run, it’s less of a boost in performance and more of a hindrance. 

Recognising this pattern is the first step toward breaking free from the cycle of self-criticism.

Embracing Self-Correction for High Performance

Now, here’s where the magic happens: self-correction. It’s all about finding that sweet spot between striving for greatness and cutting yourself some slack.

It’s a more balanced and sustainable approach to achieving excellence.

By giving yourself a little grace and recognising that nobody’s perfect, you open the door to resilience, adaptability, and some seriously game-changing innovation.

And let me be clear: embracing self-correction doesn’t mean settling for second best. It’s about setting goals that are actually doable, learning from your slip-ups, and showing yourself some love along the way.

Research even backs it up: people who practice self-compassion are more likely to stay motivated, see the glass as half full, and handle life’s curveballs with more grace.

Here are three practical ways you can move from self-criticism to self-correction:

1. Practice Self-Compassion

Think of self-compassion as giving yourself a warm hug instead of beating yourself up with criticism. It’s about being kind to yourself, especially in moments of failure or difficulty. Sounds simple, right? But for many of us, it’s easier said than done.

Imagine a friend coming to you after a setback. Would you berate them with criticism, or would you offer words of comfort and encouragement? Chances are, you’d choose the latter. So why not extend that same kindness to yourself?  At first it might feel a bit alien if your inner critic is used to being your mean friend but practice is the name of this game. Overtime you will start to learn that being your own best friend is so much better.

2. Develop a Growth Mindset

Albert Einstein famously said, “Failure is success in progress.” 

That’s the essence of a growth mindset. It’s about seeing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than roadblocks. Instead of mistakes, focus on what you can learn from them and how you can improve.

Think of it as a muscle that gets stronger with exercise. The more you train your mind to see setbacks as stepping stones, the more resilient and adaptable you become. And if you struggle to do this initially, find someone in your life who is able to adopt this mindset—being around them will rub off on you.

3. Set Realistic Goals and Prioritise Self-Care

Setting goals is essential, but setting unrealistic ones can set you up for failure and self-criticism. Break down your big goals into smaller, achievable steps, and celebrate each milestone along the way. And don’t forget to prioritise self-care – I know that self-care suggestion keeps coming up for us as working mums, doesn’t it!.

When you’re depleted, you’re more likely to respond outside of your zone of resilience. This means your nervous system is more likely to perceive a setback as a threat rather than an opportunity to learn.

So, next time that inner critic starts acting up remember: you’ve got the power to flip the script. It’s not about aiming lower; it’s about aiming smarter, kinder, and with a whole lot more heart. And as you navigate the wild ride of being a working mother, may you find success not just in what you achieve, but in how you grow along the way.

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