How to stop beating yourself up for not achieving all your goals this year

It’s nearly the end of October, and like most others, I am grimacing at goals that have gone off track and the disappointing stats on some targets I’d set for myself at the beginning of this year.

I am quite reproachful of myself so I gave myself an earful about being lazy, unfocussed and careless – the usual spiel.

Cracking the whip like this helped me sober up a little, but my efforts were still erratic. This is a pattern with me – I beat myself up for not meeting my targets and then I feel so much worse that I give up on myself and tell myself I’m a lost cause – that just gives me a free pass to be even more unfocussed and the self-critical reprimands seem so much more justified.

I didn’t think too much of this until very recently.

A close friend of mine was ranting about a bad week at work. He had messed up an important assignment – part of it was due to unavoidable circumstances but he also said some of it was his fault too.

Every third sentence was a personal attack directed at himself; he called himself a disappointment, a failure and a lost cause. He was so sad that the situation had gotten so out of hand that he wasn’t proud of who he was anymore – needless to say, he took it pretty hard.

In fact, he was even considering quitting his job – this person is someone who takes a lot of pride in his work so this self-critical reaction was something to expect.

I was mildly concerned so I stopped him from this unhealthy cycle of self-flagellation.

In all fairness, the issue he was talking to me about wasn’t all that bad – sure it was inconvenient and it had caused some issues for other people but in the scheme of things it just wasn’t as horrible as he was making it out to be.

So, I gave him a little pep talk and told him that even if he messed up, he could own up to it and make amends – his tone of writing himself off and being overly critical was doing more harm than good.

I told him that he should not treat himself so badly.

He didn’t seem too convinced.

Instead he said, if you were in place you would be beating yourself up too – so how can you tell me to go easy on myself.

And he was right.

We’ve all done this at some point or another.

When we mess up, we take it pretty hard; forgiveness and understanding are not so easily given.

We reserve the harshest criticisms for ourselves.

If other people in our lives mess up, we comfort them, we acknowledge they did something wrong, but never do we write them off as we do to ourselves.

I think this is a harmful double standard.

Instead of using compassion and positivity to heal ourselves and instruct ourselves to get back on track – we may actually be letting the self-monitoring/self-policing activity hurt us.

At least I know that I have done this to myself too many times with mixed results. This approach works for me but only in the short run, it just isn’t sustainable to make myself the bad guy every time I mess up.

Curiously as I was grappling with these questions, I got to know of a book called Self Compassion. It’s by Kristin Neff.

It makes a strong case for the idea that one deserves as much care and compassion as anyone else – it eliminates this double standard I spoke of earlier where one is extremely hard on themselves while not subjecting others to the same level of criticism.

I found it very comforting to read though I was skeptical at first. I thought this was just another ‘get out of jail free’ card to become complacent but the book was a lot deeper than I expected.

With simple exercises and logical arguments, Neff offers a healthy alternative to pegging one’s self esteem on whether or not we achieve our goals, and a simple method to treat oneself compassionately and be more accepting of one’s faults.

The message is, it’s okay to be hard on yourself but not to the point of damaging your sense of self worth. If you struggle with finding that balance like I do, please give the book a read.

Love and kindness,


Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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