I just love when people say I can’t do something because all my life people said I wasn’t going to make it.
— Ted Turner
It’s a great quote, but, unfortunately, once said, many of us internalise the negative things we’re told and use them as foundations for a life that isn’t as fulfilled as it could and should be. They become our beliefs that hold us back and cause us to doubt our abilities, sometimes to the extent that we just never really try.
You may have noticed if you read my blog about the difficulties I was experiencing in committing my 2016 goals to paper, that I can fall foul of my inner critic as easily as the next person. I’m human and sometimes my ability to ignore or deal with that critical little invoice inside me fails and I end up going around in exasperating little circles of self-doubt and frustration.
At times, this leads to a complete breakdown of action and of course, without action, goals not only stall, but in some cases actually wither as the previously gained ground is lost again. This is clearly evident in weight loss/control goals and any fitness or health related goals. Even as I look back over 2015, progressing my health and fitness goals has been a struggle.
So where does this leave me as we reach the half way point of 2016? In a nutshell, it’s been challenging. I had surgery earlier in the year and was told not to exercise for at least three months! Argh! Combine this with lots of rest and plenty of lovely food and it’s a recipe for weight gain (done) and exceptionally lowered fitness levels (and done!).
About four weeks ago, I finally reached ‘enough is enough’ point and really, really needed to get a plan worked out. I felt that a set of personal ‘rules’ to live by that would slowly but surely move me in the right direction was required. Furthermore, to achieve success, I needed to not only think up the plan, but also commit to the actions that I deemed necessary to my success.
But have you ever tried this whilst listening to the tiny voice in your head telling you that it’s a stupid idea, or, ‘you tried before and failed, so what’s the point?’.
My inner critic can be quite subtle. It’s not loud and brash, so that I don’t even get started. No, it’s more of a negative questioning that goes on in my mind. This is kind of how it goes: I think it’s a good idea to commit to walking regularly to slowly improve my fitness. In the longer term, this may lead to walk-running and finally running. Sounds like a good plan, I think.
But, my negative buddy is already thinking about the cold and wet weather or the hot weather (it doesn’t discriminate!), the time it will take (you’re already really busy, don’t over-do it now…notice how this little voice sounds caring?!) and my personal safety (where will you walk/run? Is it safe there?…caring again!).
We need to be particularly mindful of our caring-inner-critic. It’s so easy to fall prey to the notion that it might be for the best if we didn’t take the actions, so that we can avoid the possible dangers…like getting wet!
But where exactly has this outlook got me? Well, basically, right where I started plus some!
You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
— Louise Hay
So have we been brought up with the notion that criticism will bring out the best in us? My amateur understanding of how the brain functions tells me that we are certainly negatively biased, based on an outdated system of looking at our world and assuming that it’s a dangerous place to be.
I’m sure most people are familiar with the idea that the ‘ancient’ part of our brains had to deal with sabre toothed tigers and other fear-inducing predators. Is it any wonder then that we have a tendency to see the world through slightly pessimistic eyes?
Should we be surprised that we are so ‘careful’? We’ve had it drummed into us since we were quite small that the world is a dangerous place and that we should be careful, not take too many risks and stay within our comfort zones.
As we absorb these messages and let them mix with our pessimistic brain’s preferences, we inevitably hear that voice criticising our every move. Furthermore, the voice gets louder and louder the further outside our comfort zone we push ourselves. It uses judgments and demeans our ideas and actions in an effort to keep us in our tiny, comfortable box.
I wonder though, do we really hear ourselves?
We think we do, of course, but mostly our responses are just habitual. We never actually stop and think to answer the question honestly! Have you seen the meme that goes something like this: ‘careful what you say, you’re listening’, uh-oh…are you really?!
We all seem to have a special talent for finding critical things to say about the world, about others, and about ourselves!
Unfortunately it appears to be the cultural norm to be critical, or, at best, less than enthusiastic.
How often, when asked “how are you today?” we respond with a bland and habitual “oh, I’m ok thanks” or “could be better”. These are not exactly inspiring us to be or achieve our best. Instead they keep us locked in the average or mediocre world which is the custom.
So what can we learn from this? For me, it’s knowing to constantly remind myself that my inner critic is just doing what it does. The ‘advice’ for the most part is unhelpful and potentially self-limiting, and realistically has no basis in the facts of my life now. I can choose to succumb to the advice and effectively give in to waves of procrastination and distractions. Or, I can mentally thank my inner critic for reminding me of the pitfalls, but keep moving anyway. In the end, it’s *always* a choice.
And what of my plan? Well, it’s up and running. Inevitably there have been setbacks…funnily enough because I keep running out of time and the weather’s been too hot or too wet! Oh the irony! But, in spite of this, I am making progress. I’m more aware, even as I write this, that I’ve already been giving in to my caring-inner-critic. Subtlety has been in play and I therefore need to be more vigilant.
In the end, we will never eliminate our inner critic, at best, we may tame him or her. Our main tool is self awareness bolstered by a good plan that we review for progress regularly.
In creating a life that you love, you will inevitably go head-to-head with your inner critic, but remember, he or she is probably mired in the past, hanging on to outdated beliefs that no longer belong in your world of today and especially tomorrow. Stay alert, notice the tugs to stay put, but keep moving anyway. You’ll be so glad you did!
Photo: Symphony of Love