Listen To Your Inner Critic
Renita T. Kalhorn
You Said, I Heard
Rob, a client of mine (though not his real name), recently
took a one-week vacation from work, a much-needed break from
a highly stressful, fast-paced corporate environment. Upon
his return, one of his colleagues welcomed him back and noted
that Rob's team had worked hard and been very productive during
his absence. Rob's first reaction, as he relayed the story
to me, was: "I knew it, they're going to find out they don't
need me here - I might get fired."
Now, all evidence would point to the contrary. Rob has recently
been promoted to a high-profile position, his boss has openly
praised his performance and charged him with increasing responsibility,
and Rob is being invited to exclusive company events by the
executive management. In all likelihood, the colleague was
complimenting Rob on his excellent work in managing and training
his team to be autonomous and perform so well even when he
is out of the office.
So why did Rob have such a different take?
The Constant Critic
Moments like this occur to all of us throughout the day; something
happens and we quickly jump to an interpretation. It doesn't
take much to spur the mind into action and, drawing from an
extensive repertoire of personal references and biases, it
will readily produce a stream of "self-talk" - commentary,
critique and analysis - that may or may not accurately reflect
reality. For many of us, conditioned by high expectations
and a competitive society, this self-centered thinking often
defaults to the critical or negative: "Why can't I ever do
things right?" "That was a stupid thing to say." "I look old/fat/ugly."
Moreover, as you've probably noticed, the mind is rarely satisfied
to produce a thought once and leave it at that. Oh no, once
it latches onto a notion, the mind likes to hammer the point
home, repeating and reiterating and bringing it up every chance
it gets. (Researchers have found that familiar ideas and impulses,
in fact, forge physical pathways in the brain along which
obsessive thoughts travel - your habitual thought patterns
are literally creating ruts in your brain!)
Notice, however, that I am referring to your thoughts as separate
from you, the human being sitting there reading these
words. You are not your thoughts. Rather, your mind
is like a bubble machine, relentlessly churning out thoughts
that create a stream of stress, anxiety or dissatisfaction
- until you realize they are as ephemeral as soap bubbles.
Here are some techniques to try if you're feeling henpecked
by your own mind:
- Get some distance. First, have a seat at the back
of your head and take a few deep breaths. See if you can
pinpoint where in your body you feel the anxiety or stress
- is there a tightness in your chest, or a gnawing in your
gut? Then, try to watch your mind. It may take some careful
attention to decipher specific thoughts from the swirling
undercurrent but if you wait patiently, they will start
- Put out the welcome mat. There's no need to resist
or judge yourself for the obsessive whirl of thoughts. In
fact, Zen scholar Hubert Benoit suggests doing the opposite
and welcoming them in. He says to his image-making mind:
"Do what you please, but I am going to watch you doing it."
As soon as he starts to think of this and that, he says
to his imagination: "So you want to talk to me about that.
Go ahead, I'm listening."
- Pay attention to the story. Now that you've welcomed
it in, what does your mind have to say - what kind of stories
does it spin in explaining the situations and events of
||Does it create "all or nothing"
scenarios, extrapolating dire consequences from a
single misstep? "If I mess up this presentation,
I'll be fired…it's a tough job market out there, I
won't be able to find a job where I earn this much,
I won't be able to make my mortgage payments, I'll
lose my apartment and be a bag lady at the age of
||Does it make things personal?
"It's my fault, I always screw up." "What's the matter
||Does it engage in defensive
pessimism? Your mind may downplay the positive
aspects of a situation to limit expectations and feel
less pressured - reviewing, for example, all the times
you've been stood up as you're heading out to meet
a blind date.
- Get the facts. Once you've heard all the imaginative
stories your mind has to tell, try distilling the facts
of the situation. Ask yourself, "Okay, what really
happened here?" There any number of reasons someone might
yawn during your sales presentation or recital performance:
it doesn't necessarily mean they're not interested in making
a deal or think your playing is boring.
Perhaps because you didn't spend as much time preparing
as you would have liked, you're anticipating and interpreting
their reactions as if they had been privy to your
inner anxiety. But the only thing you know for sure is,
they yawned! Sticking to the facts helps you not get mired
in the negative emotions that can derail your performance
or trigger you to over-react.
- Try a little kindness. Finally, when you find
your critical voice racing at full throttle - "I'm such
a loser!" "I hate my thighs!" "My playing sucks!" - ask
yourself, "Would I speak this way to a dear friend? To a
young child?" Presumably, the answer is no, and you realize
that for the same reasons you wouldn't speak so harshly
to someone you cared about, you shouldn't be so harsh with
For one thing, non-constructive criticism rarely works.
I remember playing tennis one day, my first time that season,
and feeling very uncoordinated - not hitting the ball solidly,
not getting into position. Every time the ball went in the
net or out of bounds, I said disgustedly to myself, "Come
on, what's wrong with you, just get it in the court."
After about 30 minutes of mounting frustration with my lame
performance, something clicked and I decided to pretend
I was my own coach. I started talking to myself in the third
person, giving gentle advice and encouragement, and saying
things like: "Okay, remember to keep your eye on the ball."
"Good, now make sure to bend your knees." Once I made it
less personal, I started to relax and play better.
Of course, adopting these habits will take practice - your
inner critic has had years of conditioning! But if you can
learn to view its voice more as that of a batty old uncle
babbling away than that of absolute truth, it won't have the
same power to derail your emotional equilibrium and you'll
be better able to stay connected to the present moment.
2006-2007 Copyright © Renita T. Kalhorn All rights reserved.
Peak performance coach Renita T. Kalhorn is a Juilliard-trained
pianist with an international MBA and a first-degree martial
arts black belt. She specializes in helping entrepreneurs
and corporate professionals achieve extreme focus to reach
the top of their game at work. Subscribe to In The Flow,
her FREE monthly newsletter and receive her FREE Energy Playbook,
Find Your Flow! 21 Simple Strategies to Banish Tedium,
Reduce Stress and Inspire Action at http://www.intheflowcoaching.com.
Article Source: Renita
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