Why do we find it easier to beat ourselves up than big ourselves up?

Do you have a negative inner voice? Are you always focusing on what went wrong instead of what went right? If ‘failure’ makes you want to run and hide, here are some strategies to help you not only learn to live with it but celebrate it.

David Brown
David Brown

We asked David Brown, an interactive trainer in stress management & resilience, and a coach specialising in mindfulness and emotional intelligence at Potentiality Coaching, to answer questions about how to deal with failure, build resilience and learn a more positive attitude.

This is a transcript of a conversation in the Drive The Network Facebook Group.

Ann Hawkins Why do we find it so much easier to beat ourselves up than big ourselves up?

David Brown I think we have been taught that bigging ourselves up is a bad thing- like its arrogant, selfish or big headed. For many, we have been discouraged to feel god about ourselves…. and God forbid that we should say something good about ourselves. Praise is something we don’t accept well- from others or ourselves.

Getting things wrong seems to tweak something inside that confirms you are not good enough or a failure. We “enjoy” giving ourselves a hard time about it. In coaching circles we call it the saboteur. It gets hold of these things and the saboteur uses it as proof that you really aren’t good enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s part of the learning process. We can learn to take the learning from our failure and build from that.

Louise Moles Yes it can be challenging to learn this, and get into the habit of talking to ourselves the way we would encourage others.

David Brown Absolutely Louise. Taking the time to see ourselves with clarity is really helpful. Much of what the saboteur says is not true. With practice, we can notice what the saboteur says and then take a more dispassionate view.

Ann Hawkins Thanks David – is it also something to do with our internal belief system? For example, I take very little notice of what others say about what I’ve done – good or bad – if it doesn’t match what I feel myself.

David Brown Internal belief is what it is ALL about. How we view failure is based on belief. Do we believe failure proves we are not worthy, or do we believe failure shows us we have something to learn and improve on which can be developed over time?

Does everyone have an internal saboteur?

David Brown Yep. No exceptions. Some people manage it better than others. You can’t get rid of it. It’s part of your makeup (bit like Crusty the Clown ha ha ha!). You can steer your energy and mental focus away from it though, towards something much more empowering, creative and solution focused.

I prefer to see failure as something that is OK to talk about. If I get it wrong I failed. Not the whole thing. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure in life. I just means I failed at that one thing at that one time. Sometimes I can be a great husband/ coach/ teacher/ father/ son. Sometimes I could be better. Much better. In that moment I’m not being a great husband/ coach etc. If I fear failure, I put up resistance to accepting failure and therefore learning from failure. I have no problem with failure. I am aware that people don’t like the word as it has negative connotations. Therefore, I try to use it as little as possible with other people.

How to be more resilient

Berenice Smith Are there any daily practices we can do to improve our resilience?

David Brown Loads. For me, noticing the saboteur voice and then choosing to take a more positive approach is a huge one. It’s a 24/7 practice. If you don’t notice it and recognise its disguises, you can’t manage it. Once you can see it you can choose to thank it for its input and then then pick a mindset that is more supportive of you. For example, before doing this Ask The Expert, my saboteur was having fun with me saying no one would show up and that just goes to prove what a hopeless life coach I am etc. I said “Thank you for sharing” and thought about how busy people probably are and that THAT has NO bearing on how good a coach I am. It happens to me millions of times a day!

Berenice Smith I like the idea of making this saboteur an entity, that helps. It’s stopping over catastrophising too before it gets started.

David Brown Exactly. Taming Your Gremlin is a great book to work through and bring awareness to it’s tricks and qualities. In life coaching we have an alter ego to the saboteur, an inner leader you can also personify if that works for you that is the antithesis of the saboteur. It’s a wonderful counter measure.

As well as seeing failure as a positive thing, having lots of positive re- enforcement that make you feel good about yourself, life and others is a great resilience tool. Anything that improves, maintains and sustains mental and physical health will make you more resilient. Even in the face of failure. With a positive mindset you will find creative solutions to all your setbacks, challenges and barriers.

How to let go of failure and move on

Helen Lindop What’s the best way to let go of last year’s failures and move on?

David Brown At Huntingdon Drive last January, Emma Leach did a The Best Year Yet session, which reviews your successes and failures of last year and how the learning from these can be used to build a more successful year next year.

Failure tends to be painful. Like most things that are painful in the human experience, we try to ignore it or drive it away. However, a little time spent with the pain of failure, can bring fruitful insight into your strengths and what can be learned for the future. This also clears the space in your mind for more creative, solution focused attention rather than defending your position and doing the same thing again and again and again.

Helen Lindop Thanks, yes I’m using this book and have found it helpful. I guess it must be my sabateur who keeps popping up and saying ‘it didn’t work last year, why would it this year?’ so I’ll take your advice further up.

Limiting beliefs

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts My family’s motto growing up was ‘if at first you don’t succeed, give up’ it was intended to be humorous but I realised I was using it as a limiting belief. I had to change my perception to acknowledge that we all fail at stuff and we learn best from our failures.

Just because it didn’t work last year, doesn’t mean it won’t this year. You’re not the same person as you were and it’s unlikely you’d do it exactly the same way…

Helen Lindop Thanks Charlie, yes logically I know I have different strategy this year and there are good reasons why some things didn’t work last year, it’s just a question of telling the gremlin to shut up on a fairly regular basis.

David Brown That’s great news Helen. Yes, telling my Gremlin to shut up is a pretty regular occurrence and can be quite embarrassing in public sometimes.

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts What did you learn from your biggest failure and how can we ensure we see the lesson and learn from it?

David Brown Aaaaaah. Juicy. Thanks Charlotte. A recent revelation has been the slow demise of my martial arts business. I noticed I was losing clients who came for martial arts training and for ages I struggled to work out why. Then I realised, I was doing with them what I WANTED to do,not what they wanted to do. I was bored with what they wanted to do and I had moved on. Now, I have a really brilliant guy who does the martial arts bit. He’s much better at that than I ever was and he’s 20 years younger and hasn’t been teaching it for 25 years. Now I do the life coaching bit which is where I am really happy and people get much more of what they really want. Now the business has a far greater range and growing in both areas at the same time.

Take time to savour positive experiences

Louise Moles What do you feel when you experience failure? How does emotional intelligence help with celebrating?

David Brown Great question Louise Moles. I usually start with feeling pissed off. Can I swear on AtE? Then my saboteur kicks in and starts hauling me all over the coals about being good enough, liked enough…. you get the idea? Once I get the saboteur under control, I can begin to deconstruct what happened, what can be done better etc. Then I try again. I fail more than I succeed. I think that is the nature of growth. Given that failure is the majority experience, learning from those mistakes without self- judgement and self-recrimination is essential.

Celebration is an important part of resilience. In positive psychology, it’s called “savouring”. I wrote a Drive blog about it last year. Taking time to savour a positive experience makes it stick in the brain. Without that savouring or celebrating conscious choice, that positive experience has little positive effect in the brain. Savouring actually changes your brain structure and chemistry. Powerful stuff.

Would you like to know more? Get it touch with David Brown