Are you your own worst critic?

By Indira Das-Gupta

It’s well documented that children thrive most when praised and encouraged, rather than constantly criticised and belittled. Hell even plants flourish when we speak to them. So why is it that the voice we reserve for ourselves tends to be so incredibly disparaging much of the time?

Hands up if you have ever berated yourself after getting something wrong and declared yourself an idiot? Would you have called a loved one or a colleague an idiot in the same situation? I’m willing to wager that the answer is no. So why does our default inner voice tend to be so negative?

This critical inner voice starts pretty much as soon as we get up,

“Oh my god I’m so tired, why did I stay up reading, I’m such an idiot, now I’m going to be exhausted all day. Oh Christ, look at those bags under my eyes, I look rough. I should go for a run but I’m just too knackered, no wonder I’ve got too fat for my jeans…”

You get the picture.

I might get into trouble for gender stereotyping here, but in my experience, women tend to be much harder on themselves (anyone else got a male partner who compliments themselves on their cooking at least half a dozen times when they’ve made dinner?). I think it’s a safe bet that what goes through most women’s heads when they look in the mirror isn’t pretty, regardless of their reflection. How many women do you honestly know who if they had to rate themselves on a scale of attractiveness would rate themselves much more than a 5 or 6? And that’s probably on a good day. They might feel pleased with what they see when they have made the effort, but first thing, I doubt it. I’ve already written at length about the incredible pressure that women are under to maintain their appearance (see my blog, Does being pretty make you better at Yoga) and it doesn’t take genius to realise that if we are constantly criticising ourselves then this is going to have a detrimental effect on our mindset.

If you tell yourself something often enough, chances are you’ll believe it. So if it’s pretty much part of your daily routine to call yourself unattractive, overweight and an idiot then it won’t be long before you really start to feel that way. And when we have a downer on ourselves we can’t possibly operate at our best or get the most out of life.

A massive benefit of regularly practicing Yoga is that is cultivates self acceptance. One way to achieve this is by setting positive intentions. Instead of repeating all those criticisms of yourself on a loop, change the record and start speaking to yourself with kindness.

An intention or positive mantra is something I encourage my students to set at the start of each class to help them stay focused on what they what to gain from their practice. Your intention can be super simple, no more than one word such as “calm", or it can be a short phrase and if it’s the latter make sure you state it in the present , eg I am, not I will be. Our practice tends to highlight what is already there, so it makes sense that your intention is something you could take off the mat with you too. If you find yourself constantly beating yourself up in class because you feel like you are not getting certain poses right, that could well be because you a perfectionist that is never satisfied with what you have achieved. In this case your intention could be:

“I am enough, “ or, “I accept myself exactly as I am.”

If you choose to set an intention like, “I can do the perfect headstand,” (I have known someone to do this), you are kind of missing the point.

You might set an intention and stick with it for a while or perhaps change it from week to week. I would recommend sticking with an intention until it really starts to feel like you are beginning to embody it and also keeping it private. But the whole process is really down to you as an individual. Maybe try setting aside some time to think of an appropriate and meaningful intention before your class rather than racking your brains once you get on the mat. You can also try setting one that is separate from your practice, for instance when you look at your reflection try saying to yourself:

“I am beautiful inside and out.”

You’ll probably feel really awkward the first dozen or so times you do this, but maybe, just maybe, over time, you will start to be happier with what you see and feel happier in your own skin.


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