Why–and How–to Be Hard on Yourself

The media today is filled with different ways that people can be easy on themselves. There are books written about how to be kind to yourself, how to coddle yourself, how to nurture yourself and the list goes on and on. It is time for a change!

Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with being good to yourself. We should all be good to ourselves. We should be good to others.

But we should also be hard on ourselves. I know that this might not be a popular position in these “feel good” times. So, why do I think that we should be hard on ourselves? Great question. Here’s the answer:

  • To Grow.
  • To reach new levels.
  • To improve.
  • To be successful.
  • To learn something new.
  • To do something different.
  • To challenge yourself.

I think that the first one says it all: To grow. Growth is rarely easy or fun. Growth can be a painful process that we only appreciate AFTER the discomfort has subsided. But it’s hard to get there if you’re only going easy on yourself.

Success and growth don’t just fall into the laps of select people while always eluding others. People who are successful have to work hard. Not just very hard. But VERY VERY hard. INCREDIBLY HARD! Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote Outliers: The Story of Success, states that people who are wildly successful worked so hard at their chosen goal or profession that they “fell in love” with their work and that they were “hard” on themselves.

Think about your last growth experience or successful endeavour. Was it fun? Was it easy? I would have to answer as resounding “no!” to these questions. It was hard work, perhaps very very hard.

I have a recent example: I started doing the Insanity workouts with Shaun T. If you have missed the numerous infomercials, let me just say that Insanity is an extremely high intensity, interval workout session lasting around 45 minutes. During that time, Shaun T is pushing you to work harder than you ever have before. Even if you are already in great shape, he pushes you to go beyond that level to reach a higher level. Everyone works at his or her own pace but everyone works super hard. Shaun T is demanding, pushy and challenging. He takes no excuses and he takes no prisoners. It is insane.

Why would I do the Insanity workout? Why wouldn’t I just choose one of the many fun, jazzy, dancing cardio workouts on the market?

One word: Results.

I wanted results—a strong core, more muscle tone, cardio benefits and weight loss.

Did I get those results? YES!!

But I got much more than the physical results that I sought. I learned that I could transcend my limits, that I could push myself to do more, that I could take the pain and keep going. I learned that I was MORE than I thought that I was. I learned that I could do MORE than I thought that I could. I grew in ways that I never imagined: confidence, skills, focus, strength, toughness and resilience. And I continue to use these “superpowers” every single day.

Back to my questions:

Was it fun? NO!

Was it easy? NO!

Was it good for me? ABSOLUTELY YES!

Why be hard on yourself? Growth happens most often when pushing yourself outside of your “comfort zone.”

In his study of super-successful people, Malcolm Gladwell noted “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty fives days a year will fail to make his family rich.” Or fail to reach ANY goal.

What is the “right” way to be hard on yourself?

Another great question and here are a few steps to take to be hard on yourself.

  1. Select a goal that you want to achieve. I had a fitness goal so I chose a “hard” method towards achieving that goal. But any goal is possible like learning a new language or instrument, reaching a certain weight, starting a business, etc.
  2. Choose a rigorous and demanding way to achieve it. Make it “hard” and uncomfortable. If you want killer results, you gotta give a killer effort. A killer effort feels uncomfortable and difficult. It challenges you to prioritize, work hard and dig deeper. Here’s an example, say that you want to learn to play the cello. You decide to practice twice a week. If that feels doable, then decide to practice three days each week. If that also feels doable, then you need to practice more days each week. When you start to feel uncomfortable (practicing six days each week, for example), then you have reached the “hard on yourself” level. Will you “rise before dawn”?
  3. Work it! There is no substitute for hard work. You must push yourself hard and stay focused on your goal. Obstacles and distractions will appear. Ignore them. Or work around them. But you must put in the work. No excuses allowed. You will have to push yourself harder than you ever have before. And you will keep pushing yourself until you have reached your goal.
  4. Be kind to yourself. What?! Yes, being hard on yourself does permit you to be kind to yourself. Still no excuses accepted. Never disparage, insult or berate yourself or allow others to do so. (Shaun T never insults anyone during the sessions!) If you falter in your work, just move on. You can and should acknowledge your work and accomplishments. Congratulate yourself regularly. Feel and enjoy the benefits of your hard work and discipline. Tell others of your work and success. And, of course, set a new goal. Growth never ends!

In today’s “easy work” ethic, it can be difficult to feel and show the intensity and discipline needed to set and accomplish your goals. Just remember that there is no substitute for hard work, dedication and discipline. The rewards could be greater than you ever imagined!

Thanks Shaun T!



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