Give Up Your Inner Dictator

How do you talk to yourself?  Do you chastise yourself for making mistakes?  Berate yourself for procrastinating? Scold yourself for not getting the writing done?  Do you call yourself lazy, distracted, a time waster?  And do you think by doing this, you are making yourself stronger and more likely to get the writing done after all?

Well, guess what.  You are only making it worse.

Contrary to popular belief, being hard on yourself doesn’t make you a better person, and it doesn’t help you to get more done.  In fact, it is a recipe for disaster and often backfires to produce the exact opposite result – further avoidance of the task and a gradual slide into non-productivity purgatory. The solution will shock you – forgiving yourself for not doing what you intended to do and trying again.

I know what you are thinking.  If I am not hard on myself.  If I give myself a break every single time I don’t live up to my expectations, I’m just going to descend into permanent sloth.  I won’t get anything done if I take all the pressure off of myself.

That is actually a myth, and I am going to explain to you why.  

Your Brain is Wired to Make You Happy Now

When you tell yourself that you are such a loser for not having written today or not having finished that task, you are using a form of external motivation known as introjected regulation.  That’s a fancy psychology term for using guilt and self-imposed anxiety to motivate yourself to do a task.  If you were just a little harder on yourself, you would be more focused and get more done . . . or so the reasoning goes.

Ironically, not only does this not make you more productive, it is likely to make you even less productive because of the way your brain reacts to feelings of guilt and anxiety.  Just as your brain is wired to keep you safe from the saber-toothed tiger and make sure you don’t starve, so it attempts to make you happy when you are not. Self-imposed guilt and anxiety turns on the quick-reward-seeking part of your brain and moves you towards activities that are going to make you feel better NOW.   These include, but are not limited to, further procrastination on just about anything that is not writing, endless scrolling through social media feeds, and downing that pint of Ben and Jerry’s in the freezer. None of these strategies are going to make you a best-selling author, so you might as well be nice to yourself.

Happier, More Effective Ways to Increase Your Productivity

As with any dysfunctional relationship, it’s hard to let go of the inner dictator even if you accept that he’s not helping you at all. If you can’t evict him completely from your brain quite yet, here are some strategies to use while you ignore him.  After a while, you will realize that these are much more effective at increasing your productivity with the added bonus of making you feel a whole heck of a lot better.

  1. Practice self-forgiveness and compassion.  I know this sounds very new age and as if it requires some sort of communing with the universe, but it’s actually a lot simpler than that.  The next time you skip your writing or put off some other important task, resist the urge to make a mental list of all your faults as a human being and just resolve to do better the next day.  Don’t ruminate on what you could have, should have done.  No shoulds allowed.  Make a plan to write at a specific time the next day, pencil it into your calendar and leave it at that.
  1. Tell the inner dictator to shut up. This technique will also sound goofy, but I have tried it and can attest that it works really, really well.  The next time you catch yourself self-berating, tell the inner dictator out loud to stop being such a pain in the brain.  I would suggest you not try this in the middle of an office meeting or at a family gathering, lest there be some confusion as to who you are directing your comments to.
  1. Talk to yourself the way you would to a friend. If a friend told you that they were just a lazy, good-for-nothing loser for not writing or finishing that paper, how would you respond?  Would you say “Oh, wow, Judy, you are SO right!  You ARE such a loser!” ? Probably not, or you would be a pretty lonely person with no friends.  Don’t talk to yourself with any less respect and compassion than you would talk to others.
  1.  Have a plan to get back on track when you slip up.  Slip ups are going to happen.  You will not be perfect.  (Write this on a sticky note and put it somewhere you can see it if you can’t remember this). Planning ahead for how you will get back on track when you slip up will help you recover more quickly when it inevitably happens (and it will happen).
  1.  Give yourself permission not to write. You don’t have to write 7 days a week, or when you are on vacation, or at any other time that you designate.  Set up a realistic writing schedule with breaks  and take your breaks guilt free.
  1. Set realistic expectations. If you vow to write four times a day for one hour each, then you are just really making it super easy for the inner dictator to berate the heck out of you.  That is NOT realistic.  Set realistic expectations so that you don’t create opportunities to berate yourself.

Try one or all of these and see how they work for you.  And notice the next time you are procrastinating what kind of conversation you are having with yourself. Remember that the goal is to get back on the horse – not to feel bad for a while and then get back on.  

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