Why You Shouldn’t Be So Hard On Yourself


in Stories

Why is it so hard to take all your stuff, box it up , and move it a few blocks down the street?

Last week, I moved from my first apartment in Boston (with roommates) and settled into my own place.

Sounds peaceful, doesn’t it?

Not as much as you might think.

Just the physical act of moving all my stuff from one place to another was enough to cause a 10-day breakdown in some of the routines I’d built — including my gym habit.

(TL;DR – I specifically chose my gym so that it was on my way to work. Now it’s not.)

This is what psychotherapists call a “pattern interrupt” — meaning a forceful, sudden shift in a typically predictable behavior by an external force. I moved, my pattern was interrupted.

And guess what? I felt guilty.


First, because above all else, I’d made commitments to myself to follow through with my routines.

But also, because I’d made that same promise to you.

Then, I realized something: Whenever you have a major life change, other areas of your life can’t help but be affected.

Sometimes the change is sad or painful:

  • You had a bad breakup
  • Your dog died
  • You just got fired

But other times, the change can be positive:

  • You won the lottery
  • You had a baby
  • You moved into a new place

Both of these categories can be very stressful for their own reasons.

And when you start to encounter these “pattern interrupts,” it’s very easy to drop the ball in other areas of your life.

Your first instinct then, is usually to be overly-critical of yourself.

“I really should be doing _____…”

“I can’t believe I missed _____ again…”

“Why can’t I just _____…”

Whenever you feel like beating yourself up, will you do me a favor?


It’s not worth it.

Studies that show it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile — which means we all should smile more, right?

Here’s something to think about: It takes more energy to mentally berate yourself than it does to just accept a “slip up” and move on.

Yes, we set goals for ourselves with every intention of hitting them (and we even build devices, ahem, to help us).

But sometimes, we’ll still fail.


But when we add self-bullying to the equation, we just discourage ourselves further, and we get even less done.

I’d like to talk about this more – but I want to hear from you.

Let’s work on some of this “self-bullying” together.

Can you think of the last promise that you broke for yourself? After you broke the promise, what was the internal conversation you had with yourself? Sketch the whole thing out for me in the comments below (or you can email me if it’s too personal).

For instance, if you promised yourself that you wouldn’t eat pizza for a week – but you ended up eating it anyway, did you call yourself names? Did you try to “punish” yourself by depriving yourself of something else?

Talking about these inner monologues is really important in helping to unravel them and get better in all areas of our lives, so I’m really looking forward to hearing your responses.

Let me know.


Connor Grooms April 26, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I’ll generally just make sure I’m better the next day. Negative self talk isn’t productive. If a problem persists, I try to find the root cause or come up with a solution that can’t fail. For instance, I have a terrible habit of hitting snooze for several hours. My body clock was out of wack- I slept from 7am to 3pm generally. So now I have my VA call to wake me up in the morning. I’ve given him specific things to say and rules (like do not hang up before 3 minutes are up) that force me to get up. You can’t snooze a phone call. And since I’m paying him, it doesn’t make sense to not pick up the phone. It’s not perfect, but I’m up at 9am most days now.


George April 26, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I had started a process of adopting new habits last year, but it all got interrupted during the winter holidays, excessive snow (meaning I couldn’t take morning walks, which was one of my habits), and budget (learning that eating healthily costs more than I can currently afford). I just resigned myself to giving up, to telling myself what I always have, “Well, it makes sense that you’d fail, because that’s what you are: a failure. You always fail at stuff; you always have, and you always will.” It’s taken a lot of doing, but I’m still getting over such feelings, and I’ve made some good progress.


Aubrey April 25, 2014 at 9:23 am

First and foremost, my promise to stay away from trigger locations was, and still is, a top priority on my list. Unfortunately I broke that rule the other day. In turn, I put myself through a twelve round knockout fight with none other than, myself. I shouted things like why do you keep repeating the same mistakes, why can’t you figure this out, and will I ever learn. Very self-defeating.


Betty April 25, 2014 at 7:39 am

This is pretty much daily for me. As a stay at home mom of two teenagers it is hard to ever feel like I am doing enough or doing things “right”. Thank goodness for friends and wine.


Tyler Colby April 24, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Completely on point. I’m going through a 30-day transition period where I’m employed now, but have to find a position before the end of the period or I’m terminated. I’ve been beating myself up, but it hasn’t been worth it. So I stopped whining and set up informational interviews, reached out to old connections, and pulled out all the stops for finding a new job. Good advice, Maneesh.


Wan April 24, 2014 at 2:57 pm

“Can you think of the last promise that you broke for yourself? After you broke the promise, what was the internal conversation you had with yourself? ”

There’s a lot of promises I made and some of them made me feel guilty after I broke them. One particular example is when I made a plan for one day and told myself that I’m going to follow every inch of the plan.

It turned out that things happen and it’s not possible to commit to the plan fully. It makes me feel bad that I can’t complete the plan because 1) It looked perfect 2) I promised that I’ll follow it. In the end, plans(or any kind of promises) wouldn’t turn out the way you want it no matter how strong the promise you make to yourself.


Maris April 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I skimped on my math homework and ate 6 cookies last night. I’ve mostly mastered not feeling shame and moving on, but I never do seem to learn my lesson.


Lindsay April 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm

I had a similar epiphany last night. Every night I floss my teeth, but its amazing I haven’t broken this habit because almost every time I’m halfway done brushing my teeth, I think, “what’s one night without flossing?” But then I floss anyways because the habit is so strong. Last night I decided to stop wasting mental energy debating on whether or not I would and just accept that my teeth weren’t clean until all parts of the process was complete. It’s much more calming now.

I shall attempt to apply this same thought process to waking up in the morning instead of debating how many more minutes I can get away with. I heard a good tip recently to put on warm things as soon as you get up so that’s not an issue.


Annie April 24, 2014 at 10:51 am

Maneesh, this is an interesting column. In design school I teach—-over & over—:”Failure is your friend”. Even so, the societal expectations, from the time we are very small– of winning, being the best, getting As etc—make “failure ” a very hard concept to work with.
It IS much easier to blame and berate oneself than to say inwardly: ” Hey Self, is the world going to come to an end because I missed a gym day/ate that pizza/drank too much?” And, weirdly, that kind of self blame /punishment becomes the new accomplishment—a strange kind of free pass. Think about it.
I’m going through a divorce now, and I’m striving to avoid the blame game whenever possible because nobody wins that one. Not me, not my soon-to-be-ex, not my kids—no one.
For the divorce, I was in traditional therapy, but I quit because I realised that that whole [Freudian]world is about wallowing in self blame & shortcomings. They become your new best friends, without ever having to actually change your behaviour. Sorry, Maneesh, I got carried away. Anyway, thanks for a great column!


simone April 24, 2014 at 10:40 am

This past couple weeks I’ve felt guilty because my entire schedule became out of whack. A couple weeks ago I got rear ended pretty bad on the highway. Even though it was just an unpredictable shit happens and I’m happy to escape from it in one piece I now have to Heal up. Which means no working out. So I started supplementing the time I would be working out for more writing time. That seems to help my guilt factor for now.


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