When you find something that works, you keep doing it, right? That’s just common sense. Why on earth would you give up a strategy that has always worked in the past and creates surefire results?
Well, one good reason to give up a surefire approach is because it’s just not good for you. The side effects are not worth it. A lot of people used to say that they smoked cigarettes to stay slim. Well, even if it worked (questionably well) in the short term, it wasn’t exactly a fool-proof plan. As we now know, the long-term costs of smoking pretty much negate any reason to light up a cigarette, ever.
In law, there’s a metaphor called “fruit of the poisonous tree.” The idea is that any evidence obtained illegally is tainted by the unethical methods used to procure it. It leaves the ill-gotten evidence inadmissible, no matter how damning or vindicating it is.
My poisonous tree is using self loathing as a motivation and fuel for self improvement and achievement. The results have been remarkably positive, but I’ve run out of immunity to the fruit. The poison built up over a lifetime and I’m no longer able and—more importantly—willing to keep eating toxic fruit just because it used to help me be successful.
I’ve been working on releasing some very long-held strategies that have proven extremely effective in my life. Namely, I’m letting go of using self loathing as a motivation for self improvement. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I’m done with:
- Making myself wrong.
- Hating my body (the only one I’ve got, that allows me live this beautiful life on this beautiful planet).
- Hating myself.
- Doing things I don’t want to do because it makes someone else happy, or at least not mad at me.
- Fighting for everything.
- Grinding life out.
- Perfectionism as a badge of honour.
I don’t know who said, “You can’t hate yourself into a version of yourself you can love,” but let me tell you: I surely tried pretty darn hard to use self loathing as a personal development plan. And here’s the tricky part: it actually worked. I’m not kidding; being insanely self-critical propelled me to pretty good places in life.
It’s a terrible thing, I think, when an unhealthy habit creates success. You won’t want to give it up and no one else will want you to find a new way, either. At least not if they’re benefiting from it.
I excelled in school. I became a very good dancer, getting accepted into prestigious schools and university programs. Teachers loved me. Friends’ parents loved me. I won scholarships and awards. I mean, I literally WON TROPHIES for being brutal with myself, or at least for the results that my brutality generated.
Now, to be clear and practice some self love in this very moment, I am going to say that I know that not all of this happened solely because I hated myself and thought I was a problem to fix, though that last part is true. I believe I have natural aptitude and even talent in a lot of those areas, and I believe that who I am, at my essential nature, is kind and earnest and devoted and loving and lovable.
But that definitely isn’t the story I used to motivate myself. I was busy turning what I could be into what I should be, using my perceived faults, flaws and shortcomings as the stick to beat myself into a more acceptable shape. I used my self criticism and judgment as fuel to motivate me to try harder and do better.
I’ll never know if I’d have reached the same heights using self love instead, but I suspect I would have. I mean, in George Orwell’s 1984, the party uses hatred and fear mongering to unify people not because love and peace won’t work, but mostly because it’s easier to control people who are afraid and beaten.
I made myself easier to control by capitalizing on my fears of not-enoughness, brokenness and unlovable-ness.
I was turning myself inside out to make myself presentable and acceptable to everyone else, because one thing was for sure certain: who I was naturally was not those things. Not enough. Not okay. Not acceptable. Not lovable.
I see this in so many people who are driven. The results speak for themselves, for a really long time. It’s honestly impressive to see what self loathing can create in terms of results. The results can hide a lot of underlying pain and suffering, both from other people and from ourselves. So we keep doing it. After all, why fix what isn’t broken? The system works, so we keep using it.
It’s absolutely bewildering, though, when it stops producing results. And at some point, it will inevitably stop producing results. Suddenly, we need to find a new option and we either double down on the tried-and-true self flagellation we know so well, or we recognize that it’s time for a change.
At first, it’s easy to worry that when we stop using the stick and start focusing on the carrot, we won’t be able to motivate ourselves enough to do what needs doing. We worry that the only way we can get results is through self tyranny because that’s the only evidence we have. When we stop beating ourselves up, we worry that we’ll stop moving forward. After all, we need that self loathing for fuel.
You can burn fear and frustration and self loathing as fuel. It does work. But it’s a fossil fuel. From our dinosaur/lizard brain. It’s not good to burn. It makes our air unbreathable and our soul unhealthy. And yes, it might take a hot, uncomfortable minute to transition to solar panels, but I promise it will work and it will work better, longer.
Plus, if you’re being honest, I bet you, like me, would admit that you’ve been struggling to keep generating the results you used to create using your draconian methods. Being hard on myself has had increasingly dwindling returns for years now, and I bet the same is true for you, too.
Once we realize that catching more flies with honey than with vinegar also applies to how we treat ourselves, we can learn how to harness our commitment, discipline and desire through positive self regard and move ourselves and our projects forward through forgiveness, self acceptance and lovingkindness.
Solar panels work and so does self love. It’s worth the investment to make the transition.
While I wish I knew sooner that my methods were akin to eating poison and letting spiders bite me in hopes of developing superpowers, I don’t waste a lot of time on regret, because that’s a secret trap-door back into beating myself up. Instead, I’m more interested these days in checking in with myself to find new, softer-but-still-effective ways of moving myself forward. It’s not perfect, but I have space for that, too, the way I would have space for anyone else, and I’m at least as worthy of lovingkindness and acceptance as anyone else.