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Working with greater kindness: how to take a break from being the worst critic of your own professional practice.

Recently I’ve started to form a new habit, to give myself a break each day for something I’ve done or something I haven’t done. It was a kind of afterthought on a list of things, the sort of list you make at the start of the year, when the days are dark and you feel like turning over a new leaf.

Yet, it’s been a surprisingly impactful exercise, prompting quite a few realisations about how I work:

Being too self critical?! 

The ease with which I find something each day made me realise that I’m more self critical than I’d thought. Having a regular reminder to give myself a break has made me take a kinder view.

Perspective

Often things that turn days from good to bad are quite small. Still, they can have a real impact on how I perceive things to have gone. Taking one thing out of the equation often makes things a lot better. In retrospect that is particularly helpful – focusing on good things, rather than small, but annoying niggles.

Giving others a break

Giving myself a break makes it much easier to do the same for others, I find. It stops me from getting distracted by minor issues, gives me more headspace to focus on what’s important. 

Being my own mentor

In the past, my mentor would have been the person who would remind me most often to give myself a break. It was liberating to hear and often cheered me up. Now I find reminding myself works, too. It still has the same effect. 

Reflecting on failure

It’s more difficult to reflect on failure than success, partly because of the emotional element. I may feel bad about a decision I made or a particular action I took and that makes me feel less comfortable, less able to think clearly about how I could have done better or what I would do differently next time. It also makes it harder to talk to others about it, because I may get defensive or focus on how I feel rather than listening. In this context giving myself a break, forgiving myself for mistakes I’ve made, is really important. It helps me to move on, to better learn from what I did or didn’t do. 

How to… give yourself a break

What works for me is to take a moment late in the day and think about how things have gone. Often one thing stands out as being annoying, something I wish I had done differently or something I wish I hadn’t said. It’s quite rare for nothing to come to mind. If they are too many things, I focus on whatever I feel most angry or annoyed about. Then, I take whatever it is, I acknowledge it, and give myself a break for whatever it may be. Sometimes that feels a bit like putting it in my own personal Room 101, sometimes it’s like putting it in the bin, sometimes it feels like letting go. 

I know it’s happened, and I may have many more thoughts or feelings about my day but that one thing is now ok. Phew. 

I found it’s much more effective than I’d expected. Maybe it’ll work for you, too.

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