Welcome to #practices4life—practical tips for living a happier, healthier, and more peaceful life from Jim Blake, CEO of Unity World Headquarters at Unity Village.
“Here I share techniques I have learned for living a more balanced life. Some of these can be mastered, while some we will “practice” for the rest of our lives. The important thing is to keep trying because with every effort, we get better. And improvement is the goal—to make this life experience better for ourselves and those around us.”—Jim
Greetings, friends. I hope you are enjoying the scents, sights, and sounds of the summer—it is the season of sizzling food on the grill, bare feet on freshly mowed grass, a cool dip in a pool, and concerts in the park. It is also my hope that our work with thoughts, perceptions, and experiences impacts your daily reality as you savor your summer.
We have mostly been working on handling things that occur outside of ourselves. As we move forward, I would like to focus more on the self, starting with self-talk and exploring the detrimental effects of the negative inner voice.
Sadly, many of us remain unaware that we are indeed our own harshest critics. We move through our days with the endless chattering mind we learned about earlier—and much of the time it is blathering on about us! It is judging how we look, what we should or should not have said, whether we are in the right job, the right house, the right relationship, and on and on. You name it, we have an internal opinion about it and it is usually overblown and out of touch with the reality of the situation.
This may not even be our own voice. If we grew up in a household with critical parents, relatives, or siblings, we may hear one of their voices and not even realize it. In fact, recent psychology suggests that in the case of the passing of a critical parent, adult children struggle mightily with the grieving process because of a profound sense of relief, combined with a tremendous sense of guilt and shame for feeling freed and relieved—all without a great deal of understanding of these feelings. Fortunately for some, guided professional grief counseling navigates them through those emotions, ultimately allowing them to focus solely on grieving the actual loss of the parent.
So why is it important that we manage this critical voice if we all have one? This negative self-talk and negative thinking has an impact, a ripple effect, if you will. It leads to needless pressure on ourselves as well as anxiety, fear, anger, and if left unchecked, even depression.
For example, how many times have you left a meeting or a social situation where you felt like you had really blundered and were terribly embarrassed, only to have your friends, coworkers, or others barely remember the situation? This is the power of our inner critic. Something we created in our minds to be mountainous turns out to be barely an anthill. Think about the minutes, hours, or sometimes days of energy, emotion, and stress that we put into these scenarios—we can find ourselves spinning from the anxiety and fear created by the negative self-talk.
Even as we commit to something as simple as a morning workout routine or a healthier diet or a new mindfulness practice, we catch ourselves skipping a step or missing a day and the inner critic starts in—often leading to a complete abandonment of the initial effort, over one perceived mistake.
What can we do to better manage the mental chatter of the inner critic? First, be deliberate about observing our thinking and become aware of the inner critic. Some experts advocate giving it a silly name to add some levity. After all, it is hard to take the inner critic seriously with a name like Negative Nellie or Toxic Tom.
Once we notice it, here are some options:
- Ask ourselves this: Would we talk to a friend this way in the same situation? What would we say to a friend in this same situation? Whatever we would say to a friend is what we should be saying to ourselves.
- Try to minimize the situation into the reality it deserves. We know the tendency of the inner critic is to overemphasize. By taking a step back and examining the reality of the situation, we can identify the actual size of the problem and be completely confident in how we move forward in dealing with it, if it needs to be dealt with at all.
- Stop the spiral of supercritical thinking by saying, “I see that I am having a negative, critical thought; is this the ultimate truth, or can I see this differently?” In almost every case, if we are responding from our highest self and not from emotion, we will be directed to a higher level of thinking that results in liberation from the problem that sent us down the spiral in the first place.
- Stop holding ourselves to ridiculously high standards that no human can possibly meet. Adherence to perfection is simply not a standard we hold anyone else in our reality to, yet we seem to expect it of ourselves. We must learn to embrace our own imperfections with compassion and understanding and at the same time balance that with the will to do better as we become more aware. Thus, the reason for our practice—to become more aware so that we can do better!
Becoming aware of and maintaining at least some semblance of control of the inner critic will most certainly put us on a path to a more peaceful existence. This will help us achieve a happier and healthier life as we navigate an already complex world. No need to beat ourselves up along the way! May we find the compassion and patience for ourselves that we would feel for a child that is learning and growing, because we are learning and growing.
This is our practice, and practice makes progress.