How to Do Self Improvement Without Beating Yourself Up

Painting of two blended personalities representing treating yourself well during self improvement
Are you a coach or a tyrant?

Are you an ambitious person? The type who’s always chasing a goal and trying to improve yourself?

If self improvement is your thing, then let me ask you: when you fail, how do you treat yourself?

Do you rush to your own aid, or do you deliver 40 lashes?

I used to beat myself down for my mistakes. The only way I could operate was to apply pressure. Before I tried something, I would put an imaginary gun to my head and demand one thing: “Get it right.” It rarely got me anywhere.

It’s a delicate art to find a balance between progress and wellbeing.

Discipline, work, and stepping out of your comfort zone are essential for success, but how do you combine those principles with treating yourself like a friend, or rather, someone you’re responsible for?

In trying to find this balance, you can adopt two different paradigms. You either become a Tyrant or a Coach. Let’s explore how these paradigms function.

The Tyrant Paradigm of Self Improvement

If you operate under the Tyrant self improvement paradigm, this is how you think:

  • You cripple yourself with pressure. Before you do anything, you expect the worst of yourself, so you compensate with harsh self-talk. And if you fail your task, you’ve reinforced your negative expectations, and you feel unmotivated to try again.
  • Your flaws are more obvious to you than your good qualities. You are more concerned with punishing mistakes than celebrating victories.
  • You are a slave to your own standards. You only respect the ideal version of yourself. If you aren’t ideal, then you’re nothing. You only see the deficiency between yourself and perfection.
  • You feel you deserve little, even if you work incredibly hard.
  • You refuse to ask for help. Help is for the weak.
  • You only value outcomes and you define your worth by the results you get. (Wanting good results is not tyrannical, but Tyrants only appreciate themselves when everything goes according to plan).
  • You are ignorant of your feelings, and your self inflicted pain.
  • You have adopted someone else’s idea of success, and your life is ruled by “should.” Your success is fabricated by society, peers, or family members. Other people’s expectations trump your own.
  • You’re not willing to be vulnerable with anyone, or be honest about how much you’re struggling. You say to yourself, “No one wants to see who you are.”
  • You try to “prove” your worth to the world. You act from a place of never being enough.
  • You see other’s success as threatening and demoralizing. They are beating you in the race to be acknowledged. This serves as another excuse to punish yourself.
  • You do not allow time for rest, and you often sacrifice your health for work. You want to hustle, don’t you?

The Coach Paradigm of Self Improvement

The Coach is the self improvement paradigm of compassion and encouragement. Here’s how a Coach thinks:

  • You forgive your mistakes and see them as a necessary part of the process.
  • You have faith in your abilities, and in your worth, so you don’t pressure yourself to perform. You trust yourself instead.
  • You treat yourself like a work in progress. You recognize both your flaws and what you’ve managed to change for the better.
  • Instead of rewarding an outcome, you reward effort. You praise yourself for the risks you took, the fears you faced, and the work you put in. You derive satisfaction from things you can control.
  • You are capable of self-validating, meaning other people are not your primary source of self worth.
  • You are willing to risk vulnerability to reach others, receive feedback, and get help.
  • You see the value in any progress made toward a goal, no matter how small.
  • Your goals are self-determined and not contaminated by other people's  "shoulds."
  • You see other’s success as inspiration, and you seek to learn from them.
  • You work intensely to achieve your goals, but you also understand the value of rest, health, and socializing.
  • You strive for excellence because it suits you. You have something you wish to create and share with the world.
  • You treat yourself like you would a close friend.

You Have a Choice

The only significant difference between these paradigms is how much you care for yourself.

A Tyrant cares about suffering to meet a standard. To posture for others and show the world their success, so they can finally feel like they’re worth something. A Tyrant only knows how to self-loathe and self-sabotage.

A Coach cares about striving to reach a goal. Showing yourself compassion does not mean you don’t work hard, insanely hard even. It means you work for yourself, and for the causes you intrinsically choose. A Coach is on their own side.

If you are taking steps to become more of a Coach, just remember that it’s ok to still feel like a Tyrant sometimes. Don’t punish yourself for punishing yourself. Even the most successful people get discouraged, jealous, and insecure.

You create a balance between progress and wellbeing by treating yourself like someone you deeply care for. You pick them up when they fall. You recognize their efforts and victories. And you admire them for even trying.