Are you wrestling with negative thoughts and judging yourself harshly?

Kangaroos boxing-harsh on self

I had a friend in high school who exclaimed after every test, “I’m sure I failed it!” She would agonize over some perceived mistake – maybe an item she left out, or a misspelling – and mope for days until the results came out. She always got an A+, an A or at worst, an A-.

We can beat ourselves up and judge ourselves harshly when we do not measure up to our expectations. Perfectionists do this regularly. Negative thinking may be implanted early in life and not even be evident to our conscious mind. In cognitive behavioral therapy, “Negative Automatic Thoughts” (NATs) cause emotional problems. By identifying our negative thoughts and arguing with them, we can change our moods and our behavior.

Cognitive therapy was the brain child of a psychoanalyst, Aaron T. Beck. It’s an ancient idea. The Greek philosopher Epictetus was quoted: “Nothing else is the cause of anxiety or loss of tranquility except our own opinion.” We can change that opinion. Here’s an easy way to do it:

Note your negative thoughts. If you get stuck trying to identify them, read Burns’s book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

  1. Examine the evidence. Pretend you are in court, presenting your case. What evidence supports the NAT? What is against it? Now be the judge and make a ruling. If you come up with “yes, but” thoughts, repeat the process.
  2. Write the thoughts and your arguments in a journal or on the Four Thinking Hats to Explore and Remove Cognitive Distortions mind map you can download from:

It takes conscious effort and persistence to overcome our negative self-judgments. But the results make it worth the effort. Imagine being free from the distress these thoughts cause. Imagine reclaiming the hours or days lost to depression or anxiety over your perceived imperfection.

If you want to know more about this, read my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, available at a low introductory price both as ebook and print book.

How I failed the NOW test (but won with a “B”)

I had looked forward to flipping as fun and fulfilling, and instead it seemed like Rosemary’s baby, a scary disappointment.

Photo Credit: ©Ema Drouillard; Digital illustration by

rosemary NOW baby

In 2004, when the housing market was red hot and everyone and his brother were buying houses with ARMs and no down payment, I flipped houses as a sideline business. A friend convinced me it was an easy way to make money. It wasn’t long before I discovered it was time-consuming and stressful.

I was spending every weekend visiting open houses. At night I was reading books on how to make money rehabbing houses. I was spending time with contractors when I could even get hold of them, trying to figure out why everything was taking so long. Our contractor failed every inspection. I found out later he had paid someone to take the licensing exam for him.

Our realtor, like me, was practicing law full-time and working on real estate on the side. The first house sat on the market. One day I went through it and thought, this is such a beautiful house. Why doesn’t anyone want this? The staging was lovely, I had planted the back garden and the side strip, there were flowers in bloom, but the house did not sell. It was a jewel box, but small, before tiny houses got trendy.

Finally the house sold, and I got a new agent and contractor to work on the next house. There were similar problems and that house sat on the market a long time. I had come to hate the flipping business. I had looked forward to it as fun and fulfilling, and instead it seemed like Rosemary’s baby, a scary disappointment. I got my money out. The only houses I have remodeled since were my own.

We made some money, so I can’t say the business failed. What failed was the “NOW” test. No, this has nothing to do with right now, more it is whether you should start something now. The way you phrase the problem, decision, goal or project creates the solution or invites failure. Besides creating a sense of urgency, the “START NOW” acronym reminds you to ask and answer the questions of “what,” “when,” “why,” “how.” You need a doable objective, with specific actions and dates. If you invest some time into phrasing it well, you are well on your way to achieving success.

When I decided to go into real estate, if I had answered the eight “START NOW”questions I discuss in my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, I would still have gone into that business. It was only later that I realized that just because I like houses, didn’t mean I liked flipping them. I learned in the School of Hard Knocks that it’s not a business to go into part time. Only later did I realize that to make money in the business, one had to do a lot of the work oneself and had to do it nearly round-the-clock.

The “START NOW” questions must be reexamined as you go along. The answers can change based on experience and shifts in the marketplace. At some point, I realized that I no longer could answer the last three questions — the NOW test — with any enthusiasm. I no longer wanted to put the time and effort into the project that success requires. Besides from the money, which wasn’t much more than passive investments were making, I wasn’t getting the satisfaction one gets from achieving success. The stress outweighed the benefits.

That day I wandered through the house and thought, why doesn’t anyone want this lovely place, I was seeing a successful outcome to the renovations, but without a successful outcome from a quick sale. Without the money from this house, we couldn’t invest in another one unless we took a loan. The loan would have wiped out or overly narrowed the profit margin. So we were stuck with a lovely place and nothing to do while it sat on the market.

I now regularly revisit the START NOW questions to see if my reasons for doing something are still sound. Am I still willing to make the effort required for the project to succeed?  If not, I should work on the exit strategy built into the process when I began. If I fail the NOW test, I need to revisit my Plan B or “bridge back.”

If you want to know more about this process and how to apply START NOW, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, is available at a low introductory price both as ebook and print book.

To get a free copy of the eight START NOW questions in a 2-page PDF, with examples of how to apply them to your problem\decision\goal\project, click here.

How can you get out of the perfectionism trap?

A technique to combat paralyzing perfectionism: Replace "it just isn't done yet" with "broad brush strokes."


Do you put off or avoid doing something because you believe you cannot do it well? Do you fail to finish projects because you think what you’ve done is not good enough? Do you go over your work repetitively seeking minute improvements?

Perfectionism can paralyze us. It can keep us from enjoying activities and finishing projects. And it annoys other people.

Life is not an endless report card, and striving to get an A+ for everything we do sucks all the joy from life.

There is a way out! my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, available at a low introductory price both as ebook and print book, I describe a technique I have found effective. 

Use Broad Brush Strokes

There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence. Perfectionism is the pathological side of the endeavor coin. A way to train yourself out of this is to create a mental image of broad brush strokes. This reminds you that you don’t have to do something perfectly, just get the bulk of it done well. As a reforming perfectionist, I trained myself to say those three words. “Broad brush strokes!” now pops into my mind without effort. I might do more than just broad brush strokes, but I am not doing it with that sense of the need to do it perfectly. So there is less stress and I can accomplish things well but with less effort.

Ask yourself, is the extra effort to make it perfect worth the delay? The strain? The annoyance it causes others? Unless you are a scientist or medical doctor and lives hang in the balance, will it matter to anyone that your project was only 98% excellent?

Make your goal excellence, not perfection, if it is an important project. If it is cleaning the kitchen or dusting or mowing the lawn, go for 85%. Get comfortable with lesser degrees for the smaller projects and save your energy for the bigger ones.

Do you have a technique for getting out of the perfectionism trap? I welcome your ideas.


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