If you’re as old as I am then you remember the cartoons from the ’80’s and ’90’s. The ones where one of the characters would be visited by two alter-egos that sat on each shoulder. One would always represent what was good, kind, and right and was portrayed wearing angel wings and sporting a halo. While the other represented something negative, usually anger, hate, or revenge. This character was depicted as the devil, probably colored red with a pointy tail and horns. Ultimately, it was the decision of the character in question as to which voice he listened to.
Like the characters in these old cartoons we to have the proverbial angel or devil sitting on our shoulder whispering things in our ear. Which voice we decide to listen to ultimately impacts how we think, feel, and perform. The “little devil” otherwise known as our “Inner Critic” speaks to us harshly. Usually, this voice is filled with negative criticism telling us that we aren’t enough. Not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, you get the idea. While the “little angel” or our “Compassionate Coach” is there to support us, guide us, and help us move forward in a gentle, kind and compassionate way. At the end of the day, it’s up to us which voice we decide to listen to.
So how do we separate ourselves from the incessant badgering of our Inner Critic and begin to listen to our Compassionate Coach empowering ourselves to perform at a higher level and gain more enjoyment out of our everyday lives?
- You’re not alone- For me, it really helped to understand that I wasn’t he only one experiencing a dominant Inner Critic. In fact our mind’s negativity bias is completely natural and is built into us for our survival. For most of human existence we lived in a world that was far more dangerous than the one we live in today. We’re programmed to have negative situations and events stand out in our minds for survival. While for most of us we no longer live in an environment where death could be lurking around every corner this survival mechanism hasn’t caught up. So instead of remembering which plants would kill us, which animals to avoid, and which tribes we shouldn’t go to war with our mind remembers other negative events. The goals that weren’t met, the people we disappointed, the instances where we “failed”. It’s completely natural and common for this voice to be a dominant force in our lives.
- Get separation- Try, as best you can, to separate yourself from the Inner Critic. Understand that while you are having certain thoughts those thoughts are NOT who you are. One of the techniques that really helped me was to give each voice (The Inner Critic and The Compassionate Coach) a name. Take a moment, close your eyes, and picture each voice as an actual person. Most of us wouldn’t allow (let alone believe) the things we tell ourselves if it was coming from someone else. If someone were to come up to us and say half of the things the Inner Critic says we’d instantly eliminate that person from out lives. Yet because the voice is in our own mind we take what it says and allow it to impact our lives. Give each voice a name so that you can separate yourself from it which will allow you to then decide whether or not you want to listen to what it’s saying.
- Become present- The Inner Critic is a function of the ego and therefore is focusing on events of the past or possibilities of the future. A mindfulness practice will allow you to develop the ability to focus on the present moment, the place where the ego doesn’t exist. I know for myself when I engage with my Inner Critic I’m usually ruminating about the future. Regardless if I’m daydreaming about potential victories or imagining future failure the Inner Critic is usually there giving me his opinion. When we’re completely present, when we’re in the flow, the inner critic disappears because we’re giving what’s in front of us our full attention. A mindfulness practice will help you become aware of when your Inner Critic is active and allow you to refocus your attention to the present moment. Over time you will develop this mental muscle which will give your Inner Critic less and less power.
- Connect to your Compassionate Coach- At first you might find it difficult to call on your Compassionate Coach and listen to what he/she might have to say. I know for me the years of the Inner Critic being the dominate in my life made it difficult for me to listen to an alternate voice. However, just like any other skill the more you consciously and deliberately connect to and listen to you Compassionate Coach the more this voice will show up in your life.
As people who are interested in high performance our self-talk is crucial to how we think, feel, and perform. Which voice we decide to listen to can have a detrimental impact on both our performance and our overall enjoyment of our life experience. It might be difficult at first, to separate yourself from your Inner Critic and to call upon and listen to your Compassionate Coach yet over time this practice will deeply impact your performance.
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life…
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
“One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.
“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf will win?”
The old chief simply replied,
“The one you feed.”