There are many ways to (correctly) solve a problem. —I’ve always thought this and even more so now after reading an article called “The Most Successful People Are Extremely Hard on Themselves” by Max Nisen. Nisen outlines two different approaches. in the first more common approach people take, people look to place blame everywhere but on themselves. In the second, Nisen says the most successful people, are introspective and go through a ‘merciless self-examination’. But are the most successful people the hardest on themselves? I’d say they aren’t always extremely hard on themselves, but they do know when to be critical and when to let things go.
As a competitive individual, I constantly strive to make myself better—whether it’s at tennis, in school, or on the job. From a young age I’ve been self-critical and obsessively introspective in an effort to build up my weak points (like my volleys in tennis). On the other hand, my introspection has also been a hindrance; its had the power to mutate activities I found enjoyable (like different projects at work) into activities I come to dread because of the associated stresses. But why? Shouldn’t the idea of finding and accepting personal shortcomings to transform our weaknesses into strengths, make us better people? Not exactly. Being overly self-critical can have more negative impacts than positive ones. What do I mean? The importance we give to aspects of our lives—like analyzing our mistakes—has the power to negatively affect other parts of our lives like our mood and interactions with people. Those who are overly self-critical are in a never-ending race towards an intangible goal. It’s like you are running in front of a speeding train that just keeps going faster and faster. How many times have you lost a game (of tennis, basketball, football, or the like) and been grumpy the rest of the day? Maybe you snap at your husband/wife for putting too much sugar in your coffee, because your mind is on a hamster wheel of self-criticism. Most of us have been there and it’s not fun. And for those that reach stardom and history pages (like Ludwig Boltzmann, Nikola Tesla, and Britney Spears), the immense pressure they put on themselves drove them (one can argue) to madness. So a better question might be, “how can we be successful and happy?” And to that I say, balance. Find a balance between being forgiving and critical of your mistakes because you’re trying your best to correct them and we’re all human.
Sometimes when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed I like to travel back to that comforting mindset of childhood nostalgia. For me, it’s the movies I grew up loving as a kid. One of my favorites was the Disney retelling of the classic Olympic zero to hero story of the Jamaican bobsled team in “Cool Runnings”. In a solemn pre-race pep talk between the coach and the sled driver, who is obsessing about winning the gold medal, the coach reminds him, “Kid, if you’re not enough without it [the gold medal] you’ll never be enough with it.” I’ve always remembered that line. It has helped to temper the voice in my head that has always pushed me to work harder and longer because success, titles, awards, and perfection is what matters most. What we need to remember is that deep down there is a more important data point that we all should strive to find within ourselves … happiness. How do you find balance?