Trigger change with helpful action statements, not self-criticism

Someone writing in their diary

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Many of you probably groan when you think of changes you want to make. It’s easy to be self-critical about everything you “should” do. But it’s far better to use helpful action statements instead of self-criticism.

They can point you in the direction of what you need to do. And at the same time, they don’t make you feel inadequate.

Challenges in life

In the last article, we saw how Alice identified challenges in her life.

Initially she phrased them in a negative, critical way. She described what she wasn’t doing, or what she thought she did badly.

Although she was flat out with work, study and family, she felt she wasn’t doing enough. That made her feel down and discouraged.

However, Alice’s attitude changed once she rewrote her list. This time she phrased each point in a more useful way. She wrote them as helpful action statements rather than self-criticisms.

For each issue, she wrote ideas about how she could fix it. This changed her focus immediately.

Change your mindset

Alice’s focus then changed from what she wasn’t doing right, to what she could do in future.

And that triggered a different mindset. Instead of being self-critical, she saw herself as a problem-solver.

It also highlighted a couple of issues she needed to come to grips with.

Alice had listed dozens of ideas to solve various problems. But they all needed time and energy to carry out.

Unfortunately she didn’t have much time to do what she needed or wanted to do. And she didn’t know how to ask for help.

Solving these two issues was vital for long-term success. And Alice needed to do this before she made other changes.

So now, she knew exactly where to begin.

Compare the two approaches

Alice listed changes she’d like to make in a number of areas or domains. (NB: The Family domain is given in the previous article.)

Below are her original unhelpful, negative statements for each domain. They’re matched with the newer, helpful action statements.

Read through both versions to see the difference in approach.

Which version makes it easier to pick an issue to work on, and gives ideas about what to do?

1 Social

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
I don’t contact others enough, or make myself available.I will contact two friends a week, and go out once a week with friends.
I don’t want to go out much and avoid large gatherings.I’m introverted and don’t feel the need to see people all the time. I do need to learn how to make social chit-chat so I feel more comfortable in gatherings.
I avoid having parties or family gatherings at my house.I will aim to have one family gathering every three months. I’ll make it as easy as possible by buying a lot of ready made foods. I’ll get my partner to help as well.
I feel uncomfortable when people force me to join in.I need to work out why I feel so uncomfortable joining in. I also need to say clearly if I feel uncomfortable.
I go along with everyone so I don’t rock the boat.I need to work out what’s so terrible about rocking the boat. Am I scared other people won’t like me or will disapprove of me if I do?

2 Work

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
I’m not imaginative with my lesson preparation.I can compare my lessons with others to see if I really am unimaginative. If so, I can get some ideas from books.
I don’t cope when I’m tired or stressed.I need to lower my stress levels and get more rest and sleep.
I sometimes avoid giving sports lessons.I need to learn some basic games to teach the children, so I’m more confident.
I don’t like taking assemblies or reporting at staff meetings.I will take some lessons in public speaking through Toastmasters, and will ask my senior for help with reporting at staff meetings.
I worry when my competence is questioned or I’m being observed.I need to recognise that I do a good job. Others who watch me will not think that I’m a bad teacher.

3 Study/volunteer

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
I won’t have the time to design educational materials when my course is finished.I’ll plan ahead to spend some time each week on using my skills.
I don’t spend enough time on study, and rush assignments.I’ll talk to my partner to see if we can find time for me to study.
I don’t have time to study another module.I may have to defer for a semester. I’ll talk to my partner about his commitments.

4 Health and exercise

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
I rush my lunch most days and eat unhealthily.I’ll make time to eat my lunch slowly over 20 minutes every day. I’ll pack it the night before with a healthy sandwich and a piece of fruit.
I drink 2 glasses of wine to relax in the evenings.I’ll learn other ways to relax in the evenings.
I get fast foods or prepared meals when I’m really tired.I’ll work out how to cook meals in advance and freeze them.
I don’t have health check-ups regularly.I’ll book in to see the GP in the next month to discuss health checks.
I’m putting on weight and have lost muscle mass.I need to use weights and resistance training more. I’ll work out three strategies to help keep my weight down.
I’m puffing more with physical exertion.I need to start doing some aerobic exercise to build up stamina.
I’m a bad role model for my kids with respect to health/exercise.I’ll be more mindful of buying less junk food and getting the kids to exercise more with me.
I worry the kids’ health will suffer and it will be my fault.I can only do my best. I’ll aim to cut junk food down to one meal a week.

5 Financial

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
I spend too much on junk food and clothes.I need to work out exactly why I’m spending money on these things.
We don’t have a financial plan and don’t prioritise spending.I’ll suggest to my partner we sit down to discuss these issues.
My partner and I need our own bank accounts.I’ll discuss this with my partner and start the online applications.
My partner’s job is uncertain; he’s had his hours cut recently.We need to talk about how we’ll cope financially if he loses his job.
He needs to retrain in case he loses his job.We need to talk about what else he could do if he loses his job, and to encourage him to start looking now.
I don’t have superannuation or health insurance.I need to do some research about which ones would suit us best.

6 Leisure/hobby

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
I don’t spend enough time on my interests.I need to work out ways of finding time for myself to spend on my interests.
I want to improve painting skills and learn the piano.I can look at videos online about painting and practise along with them. I need to work out if I could fit the piano into my week at present.
I want to read more and go for nature walks.I’ll suggest we go out for walks more with the kids, and I’ll set aside 15 minutes every night to read.

7 Relationships

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
We don’t take the kids to playgrounds or parks much.I’ll suggest we go to the playground or park twice a week in the evenings.
My partner and I only talk about the kids or house.I can suggest we make more of an effort to talk about other topics, and listen properly to my partner.
We don’t have any time without the kids.I can suggest we work out how to have one evening a month without the kids.
We don’t ask each other about how we’re feeling.I can let my partner know this upsets me, and suggest we start noticing each other a little more.

8 Home/garden

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
The kid’s rooms are cluttered and disorganised.In the holidays I’ll sort through their things with them.
I’ve got heaps of clothes I can’t wear or don’t like.First I’ll decide what I really hate, and then what I don’t like and doesn’t suit me. I can take them to Goodwill so someone else can use them.
I don’t have a space to do artwork or study.I’ll see if I can rearrange the house in any way to clear space for a small desk for me.
The paintwork on the kitchen table and chairs is scratched.I’ll work out it it’s worth repainting them, and if so, plan a time to do it.
I don’t clean the bathroom or kitchen enough.I can teach the kids how to clean the sink and bath, and how to load the dishwasher. I can put up a roster.
I get behind with washing.I can ask my partner to help, and teach my kids to use the washing machine as they get older.
I have too many cook books and magazines I never use.I can go through them and take the books I don’t want to Goodwill.

9 Self-development

Original negative statementsHelpful action statements
I don’t practise my relaxation skills.I’ll set a reminder on my phone to relax every hour.
I don’t put into practise what I learn from my reading.I’ll note down a few ideas from each book, and look over these once a week to see how I can use them.
I find it hard to ask for what I want or need from my partner.I’ll learn how to be more assertive, and practise saying what I would like.
I put myself down a lot when I’m tired or discouraged.I need to notice I’m doing this and tell myself it’s not fair. I’m doing my best.

Basis for setting goals

You probably thought the helpful action statements were more useful than the original critical version.

However, notice they’re not written as proper goals. Most of them are fairly vague statements. They don’t give much detail about how Alice would go about doing these things.

At least they give her a starting point. She can then pick one or two items to work on, and use the helpful action statements as a basis for setting goals.

Of course, she needs to be realistic about how much she can take on.

It’s impossible to work on everything at once. She needs to prioritise which areas or issues she will work on. Once she’s sorted those out, she can move on to another.

Over time, she’ll gradually work through her list of issues. With determination, she can make her life flow more smoothly.

So follow Alice’s example.

Use helpful action statements instead of self-criticism. Encouraging yourself rather than being negative is the best way to start changing.

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