One of the hardest things for us to do as leaders, spouses, or parents is to accept ourselves exactly the way we are and accepting our situation exactly the way it is.
We are, as a society, very oriented toward self-improvement. In many ways this is a good thing. It’s natural for us to want to learn, grow and expand our knowledge of the world, of our partner and of ourselves.
In business, continuous improvement management has been very effective in increasing productivity and reducing systemic errors. People in good marriages keep looking at ways to improve how they communicate and the way they express love for one another.
The Blame Game
The sticking point comes in responding to the inevitable glitches and breakdowns that occur. Rather than focusing on fixing the problem or the process, there is a tendency to fix the blame by asking, “Whose fault is this?” This is a path that rarely yields beneficial results.
When someone is blamed for a problem, they usually feel guilty and/or defensive. This reaction does not often correlate to improved performance–just the opposite. The blamed individual will begin to feel disconnected. They will start playing “not to lose” instead of “playing to win.”
Sometimes we take the blame on ourselves. While this seems more noble than berating others, it doesn’t necessarily improve future behavior. Have you ever met anyone who improved by being more brutal on themselves than anyone else? Me, neither.
Improvement without Recrimination
How can we learn and grow without taking a detour into the land of blame and shame? Here are two tips:
- Recognize the pattern and interrupt it. When you hear the familiar judgmental/critical thoughts, replace, “I’m an idiot” or “My spouse is an idiot” or “My people are idiots” with “What can I/we learn from this that could prevent it from happening again?” Just entertaining that question will improve your awareness and your attitude.
- Commit to being gentle with yourself. When you realize you screwed up somewhere, just gently get back on track without judgment, fanfare or criticism. If you wasted time all morning on something worthless, just pivot and apply yourself to what needs your attention now without judgment.
These take a little practice and a degree of emotional intelligence but they pay big dividends. When you are kind to yourself, you’ll see things more clearly. Solutions will be more accessible from this new perspective. What’s more, your mood will lighten, and this attitude will be reflected in the people around you.
There is a lot to be said for staying out the bad neighborhoods in your head. Being gentle with yourself might just keep you from getting mugged.