Why are we so hard on ourselves?

One of the most common reasons parents have brought their sports kids to me, over the years, centers around this comment:

“They’re so hard on themselves.”

But, this isn’t just limited to performance and kids now, isn’t it? Adults indulge in this just as much, but are better able to hide it in public, right?

The typical scenario for kids is that there is some sort of choke, mistake, or loss in a performance whether it’s sports or academics, and the kids beat themselves up for days.

You hear it in subtle negative self talk sprinkled throughout their conversations in a not-so-effective attempt at crying for help to resolve this endless looping in their mind.

Sports parents and coaches see it right there in the midst of competition with a visual body language change that destroys their ability to continue performing at their best.

For adults, maybe the most common situation I’ve heard in my work is in relationships, or potential relationships.

“What did I do wrong to cause that person to reject me?”

…let the self flagellation commence.

Here are two specific reasons we overdo self criticism:

Well, it is a complex topic but let me bring awareness to a couple of possible common reasons, the awareness (A. in the R.A.C.E. Formula) of which, I hope will bring you some energy of empowerment (R. Relentless in the R.A.C.E. Formula) to do something about it.

Reason #1 – “I need to be punished.”

Think about it…our parents or whoever brought us up, had the task of molding us into a functioning human being who could eventually take care of ourselves when they aren’t around, right?

So, you’re a 4-year old at the dinner table and you start throwing your food at the walls, for instance.

This is not good behavior for our society and the home now. The adult must find a way to correct this behavior.

The first thing the adult does is use words to voice displeasure with the behavior and to communicate what the correct behavior is:

“Mikey, stop throwing that food now. We do not throw our food. Food is either on your plate or going into your mouth.”

4-year-olds, being who they are, may not respond to that and may even rebel as they test their boundaries.

I’m chuckling as I write this because I remember this vividly with my own kids and I’m 99% sure I did the same thing to my parents. Spaghetti sauce does NOT clean very easily from white walls!

So, possibly skipping forward a few steps in an escalating process adults use to change undesired behaviors, it ends in, you guessed, some sort of “punishment.” Also known as “consequences.”

Now, here’s the kicker.

What’s the difference between punishment and consequences?

Intention and emotion in the delivery.

Consequences are what naturally happen to us in the adult world as a result of our actions. Reality doesn’t “punish” anyone.

Punishment, on the other hand, are consequences delivered with some embedded emotional twists from a human.

Multiply this simple scenario hundreds of times in childhood and it’s easy to see that we can form a very solid belief that undesired behavior will result in punishment if that is what a child learned by being punished instead of just experiencing natural consequences. (Here’s a good article about that for parents).

Performance = Potential – Interference

I teach my trainers to formulate the interference belief in words with their clients and so it might sound like this:

When I’m bad, I will be punished.

Now, flash forward to the teen years (or beyond) and this person has a “bad” game or does poorly at work or a relationship breaks down.

We all have a natural mechanism to look at what happened and see what we can learn in order to prevent the bad thing from happening again. That’s useful. However, that mechanism goes haywire when the “punishment” belief gets triggered,

…and nobody is there to do the punishing!

This goes beyond useful and into the destructive category and stymies growth and learning.

If this is you or someone you know, the belief program needs to go!

These belief programs will be obeyed and are THE CAUSE of such problems. It’s not about willpower or discipline. Your unconscious mind running these programs (sometimes referred to as “tapes”) is far more powerful than any willpower you can muster.

In fact, whenever you are unable to do something you want to do, such as eat right, exercise, quit a bad habit, etc. you are fighting this overwhelming power just as the same as too much self criticism.

Reason #2 – “I need to beat myself up to motivate me to keep improving.”

Literally, people think, consciously and unconsciously that if they stop self judging and criticizing themselves, that somehow, they will not push themselves to achieve their goals.

How does this belief program get formed? Again, pretty simple. A child performs something in front of their parent (sports or school grade, for example).
Parent tells kid on the car ride home what they did wrong (criticism).

id is HIGHLY MOTIVATED to get approval of parent and associates that motivation with the criticism. Concludes unconsciously and forms a solid belief:

“Criticism Motivates Me”

Whether parent or adult authority continues criticism or not, kid continues to self criticize well past what is useful.

The solution?

Start with the idea that there are better ways to boost motivation than self criticism and then deliver that message to the belief system:

In it’s essence, that’s what I and my trainers do for all of our clients. We go to the SOURCE of the problem and not just put a band aid on it.

Here’s an example of a band aid for self judgment and criticism.

“It’s ok to fail. Failures are good. You want to embrace your failures and mistakes”

Yes, we both know that there is a lot of truth in that idea, however, it will NOT do anything to reverse the belief systems that were created as I described above. It does not unwind the REASONS why people have those belief programs.

…and therefore, your great advice to “Just let it go” and “Put it behind you” etc. will fall on deaf ears.


Self judgement is a very valuable function our mind does for us. It’s useful, until it’s not useful. When it’s not useful, go to the source of the problem and eliminate it.

Let’s do this,