Berating; the junk food of motivation techniques

How often do you find yourself getting a verbal beating to get something done? “Come on you useless idiot, pull your finger out and write that email”, “You’re so stupid, a goat could do a better job than you, try harder than this!”, “Right, stop being so lazy and rubbish and make sure this is absolutely perfect”.

The chances are that you don’t have a boss who uses this approach, and if you did, you’d probably leave or put in for a transfer. But now I’ve mentioned it, how often do you use this technique on yourself?

It’s entirely possible you’ve not even realised you do it, but this might well be your shortcut to motivating yourself. You may find that it works in the short term – no one likes a slating, so it can make us get started on something we’ve been putting off, or work harder on something we don’t want to fail at. However, in the long run, this approach is really not such a great idea. Those messages we use to give ourselves a proverbial kick up the backside stay with us. We hear those messages again and again and over time they diminish our confidence. We absorb, believe and embody the abuse we give ourselves.

When our confidence starts to drop then we’re more likely to procrastinate because we don’t fully believe we’ve got what it takes to complete the task successfully, which in turn means we need more self-motivation to get going. If we motivate ourselves with further criticism then it has become a vicious circle.

Once we’ve finally got going on a task, if we’re in a state of generally lower confidence we are likely to suffer more anxiety about the quality (or any other aspect) of the work we produce, which can prevent us from concentrating and focusing in the present moment. This in turn can lead to mistakes or a distracted approach to our work. If we make mistakes or a deliver a generally lower quality of work then we can berate ourselves for that and start to demand perfection before something goes out the door. Perfection takes a long time to achieve and that can limit our ability to complete other tasks which we can then also give ourselves a hard time about. It can also restrict our creativity, innovation and view of the bigger picture. Expecting perfection can also lead to procrastination because we can’t face the thought of having to complete a task to such high standards, or just don’t know where to start – it’s somehow easier not to complete it right?! But then what happens? We give ourselves a hard time over not getting to that task or piece of work.

I paint a sorry picture. If some or all of this has an eerie echo for you, then what might you do to change your habits? Even though it sounds like a habit worth dropping, it sure can be a hard one to break. We develop habits like these as they got us somewhere in the first place, and if you stop to think about it, it is very hard to break a habit without another one to replace it.

Let’s imagine you have a poor diet. You decide simply to stop eating junk food, but it turns out that your diet is actually 95% junk food. It would be more damaging to just quit that habit of eating junk food, because you’d just be starving yourself instead. So you’d go back to eating junk food. Instead, you would need to find other food to eat to fill your tummy and fulfil the other roles eating does for us.

This is the same – to give up berating yourself, you need to find an alternative way of relating to yourself (rather than deciding just to stop, or telling ourselves to be quiet). A healthier, more enjoyable and more confidence building way of relating to ourselves is through a more compassionate way. I know personally that if someone offered me a big smile and some kind, encouraging words to persuade me to do something, or… a slap around the face and a bunch of cruel words, I’d go for the big smile any day. How about you?

If you want to find out more about building yours or your teams’ confidence using compassionate leadership then get in touch.

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