Listen to the audio version of this post here.


If you and I are in touch on anything like a regular basis, you’ve heard a lot from me about sparkling communication.

How to speak more powerfully. How to write with greater impact. How to listen deeply; it’s the real key to communication.

And we’ve covered how to connect with different audiences. Keynotes for a crowd. Intimate exchanges with colleagues. Conversations with potential clients, customers, or employers about why they need what you offer.

Not to mention putting it on paper or in pixels—writing business letters, emails, and social media posts to make an impact.

If your replies to me can be believed, some of my suggestions have had some influence on the way you communicate with, well, with all kinds of people in a variety of settings.

What about the way we communicate with ourselves?

We’re a couple of months into 2021 now, on our way to meeting the goals we set for ourselves back around the first of the year. Or not.

Personally, I’m doing well with one intention I set for this year. On the other hand, I’m falling short on another specific objective.

What do I have to say about that? Not to you. I mean, what do I have to say to myself?

And, more importantly, what do you say to yourself when you find yourself not quite measuring up? Do you respond to yourself with compassion? Or is it all self-criticism?

There’s a notion out there that we need to whip ourselves into shape. You’ll hear people say often, and sometimes with a certain amount of pride, “I’m my own worst critic.”

It may well be true. That doesn’t make it productive.

In fact, Inc. sums up the research pointing us in the opposite direction. Turns out that “seeing weaknesses, failures, and mistakes as a natural part of life better motivates people to improve weaknesses and improve performance.”

It may seem paradoxical, but bullying ourselves for missing the mark doesn’t inspire better work in the future. To the contrary, “taking an accepting approach to personal failure may make people more motivated to improve themselves.”

And that tough (on ourselves) talk doesn’t lead to mental toughness or discipline. In fact, the research says self-criticism increases stress, which in turn makes us more likely to procrastinate and less likely to achieve our goal.

This notion that going easy on yourself is a quicker path to success than self-flagellation gained currency with Carol Dweck’s work. If you’re not familiar with the Stanford psychologist’s famous research on mindset, it’s worth getting familiar.

The gist is that each of us tends to fall into one of two camps when it comes to our views about talent and success. Here’s how Inc. sums them up:

  • Fixed mindset: Intelligence, ability, and skill are inborn and relatively fixed–we “have” what we were born with. People with a fixed mindset typically say things like, “I’m just not that smart,” or “Science is not my thing.”
  • Growth mindset: Intelligence, ability, and skill can be developed through effort—we are what we work to become. People with a growth mindset typically say things like, “If I keep working, I’ll get it,” or “That’s OK. I just need to try again.”

You can see how limiting a fixed mindset is.

“I’m as good as I’m going to get at this, no matter how hard I try, so I might as well settle for my current level of expertise or ability.”

If I’m saying that to myself, the odds are pretty slim that I’ll be eager to try a new approach, or seek help to get better, or take any kind of action at all. In a way, it gives me an “out” – I don’t have to put in the work to develop a skill; it wouldn’t do any good anyway.

(I confess I’ve had that fixed mindset about certain activities. Especially anything that involves athletic skill of any sort. Oy.)

On the other hand

When my performance is less than perfect and I can accept it as part of the process, I’m primed for growth. Failure is just one step along the path to success in the long run, right? When I keep this in mind, I’m more motivated to keep moving along that road.

And it’s generally true that we can get better at almost anything with time and practice, maybe some coaching, and encouragement.

Reading this refresher on Carol Dweck’s work, I kept coming back to one thought.

Most of us are so much harder on ourselves than we would be on anybody else.

Maybe it’s just me? But I’d guess I’m not alone in saying things to myself that I wouldn’t dream of saying to a friend. Or a colleague. Or even a total stranger.

You too? Do you find yourself criticizing your work or your appearance or your performance in language you wouldn’t use with anyone else?

How about if we both agree to cut that out?

Here’s my challenge for you.

Pay attention today to the way you communicate with you.

  • The language you use as you’re pondering or musing.
  • The words you say out loud when you’re talking with a friend about something you did, and how you did it.
  • The look you give yourself in the mirror.

Notice all of it. Consider if there might be a more compassionate way to communicate with you.

Post a comment here to share your experience.