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By Michael Angier

How to Lighten Up and Not be So Hard on Yourself!

A long-time friend called me the other day seeking some support. "Jack" was feeling stuck. He's going through a tough time in his life—financially, professionally and emotionally—and he was reaching out to a few trusted friends to gain more clarity. I thought his approach was very smart, and I was honored to be one of the few he called.

Jack didn't want to repeat some familiar and unhelpful patterns and was asking what I thought might be holding him back.

The fact Jack recognized that he was feeling stuck and reached out to ensure he didn't STAY stuck told me he was way ahead of where he had been in the past.

After asking him a few questions, I told Jack I believed his biggest challenge was, and has always been, that he was too hard on himself.

He accepted my observation, but he wanted more. Jack wanted to know what it would look like for him to lighten up. He wanted the specific recipe for going easier on himself.

You see, I can easily relate to Jack's issue. I used to put myself down a lot for my mistakes. I often felt stupid, inadequate, guilty and remorseful. I can still fall back into that occasionally. But I catch myself pretty quickly, and I don't stay stuck in it.

Nonetheless, I didn't feel particularly articulate or confident in the answer I gave him. Just how DO we lighten up? How do we forgive ourselves?

I think acceptance is the first step. All too often, we justify and defend instead of acknowledge what we did that didn't work. Jack wasn't doing this. He was anxious to learn and grow from past mistakes. He's also very grateful for the many good things he DOES have in his life—a very important thing.

It's also important to recognize that it's a big life. Your current situation is only a chapter in your life—maybe even a page. I'm not saying we shouldn't learn from where we are. I'm only suggesting that we keep it in its proper perspective.

If you're being hard on yourself, would you be as hard on others if THEY had made the same mistake? I doubt it. Where is it written that you should be above making mistakes?

And you don't have to understand all the reasons why things are the way they are. It would be nice to understand it all, but you can't always do that. You can expend all your energy studying the root instead of picking the fruit. Learn what you can and move on. You may only be able to fully understand it later.

Remember, it's our resistance to what is that causes our pain. When we think we shouldn't be in this predicament, that it's not fair or wonder, "How could I have been so stupid," we create pain for ourselves. And in doing so, we perpetuate the stuck icky feeling.

Another thing that will move us onward and upward is to take action each day on improving our situation. We may not be able to change what's happened, but we CAN change how we react to it. When we consistently take positive action to improve upon our difficulties, we feel better about ourselves, and we begin to see progress.

We all need to forgive ourselves for our shortcomings. Jack is one of the kindest, gentlest men I know. He has a big heart. But I'm guessing, like I had done, he bought into other people's criticism and began to question his goodness. In doing so, it made it easy for him to beat up on himself.

For me, I had to learn to develop a thicker skin to protect my soft heart. As a writer and Internet publisher, it's been essential. I tell others, "Develop a thick skin and a soft heart—and never mix them up."

It also helps to surround ourselves with people who believe in us. Not necessarily people who AGREE with us, but rather people who will tell us the truth without judging us—people who see the best in us.

By being more aware, by trusting ourselves, by forgiving ourselves and by not taking ourselves too seriously, we can move out of self deprecation and into self confidence. We can lighten up, be gentle with ourselves, break free and achieve the best that's within us.

Related Articles:

Just How Much Responsibility Should We Take?

Our Self Esteem

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Last Updated 06/01/2005