inner-critic

Five Ways to Calm the Inner Critic

The other night I had one of those self-loathing episodes where my inner critic was unleashing all the dark thoughts and anxieties started to float to the surface. What am I going to do next? Why am I still in the same place? Why is everyone hating on me? 

It was very unresourceful and had eaten up about 5 hours at night and pretty much exhausted the following morning. It felt like an addiction to bad thoughts to feed the inner critic of upsetting, angry thoughts that are oh-so-entertaining to the critic.

My emotions were all over the place. My thoughts were all over the place. My drive and motivation to “be happy” was non-existence but there was that slight satisfaction of inner-non-peace or dis-ease (as the gurus call it that) that felt great. I know, messed up!

Though, even though amongst all the self-loathing and drama, I still asked myself, repeatedly might I add, “What the hell is really going on?” until I came to an epiphany.

Imagine looking into your current state – I don’t have a job, no relationship or relationship is a mess, there’s so many deadlines at work/school, I’m not ready to go back into work, issues with work colleagues or friends, household chores, debt, weight/image issues, car problems, pet problems, children problems, problems, problems, problems.

Whilst being full from the examples from unjust people, blaming of the universe and pointing fingers at all the possible issues that other people have caused me, the underlying factor was that I still hadn’t attempted or completed the work that I had intended to complete that day.

The issue here isn’t that I had a bad past or a scary future, the issue here was that what was present in front of me was messy, incomprehensible or just something that I felt like I couldn’t handle at the moment and so instead of resourcefully understanding what is in front of me, I started to look at the past and future because I couldn’t focus on the present.

Many a times as coaches we like to reinforce to our clients to focus on the present; to live in the present. When people look into the past too much, especially looking at the bad times, could lead to spouts of depressing thoughts. When people look into the future, especially looking at the gaps from now to there, it could lead to anxious thoughts of “Shit, why am I not there yet?”

This is where the interesting part is, is that when we look at the present moment and we feel overwhelmed with all the things we “have to do” and because we currently don’t know how to do it, we avoid it – just like avoiding to clean up after a big party, “I just don’t know where to start” (dishes, cups, empty bottles, food scraps, fallen decorations, deflated balloons – I don’t even have a party but am dreading to clean up this mess).

Imagine looking into your current state – I don’t have a job, no relationship or relationship is a mess, there’s so many deadlines at work/school, I’m not ready to go back into work, issues with work colleagues or friends, household chores, debt, weight/image issues, car problems, pet problems, children problems, problems, problems, problems.

Tell me, how will you feel motivated to clean up this mess either physical, mental or psychological – doesn’t it make more sense to just binge on self-loathing thoughts because at least while you’re doing it, you don’t have to do anything else. I mean, where do we even start?

Bingo!

You will always lean into doing something regardless or whether the return is resourceful or unresourceful as long as it feels right at the time.

This is really the source of all coaching consultations with my clients – the feeling of being stuck in the thoughts from the past and future, when really they are avoiding to set in motion the “goals” that they want to achieve in the present moment.

The danger is falling into the trap of believing that the procrastinating thoughts are actually real and that we feel like we are crazy, psycho, unhappy, being hated, being a nasty person when really, we’re just trying to find a way to escape what is really in front of us – which is to tackle the issues in the present.

How do we resolve this? 

1. Be real with yourself and acknowledge the fear and thoughts that we have. Respect that these thoughts have occurred but reassure yourself that these thoughts are only just thoughts – they are not really the problem. A lot of my clients seem to think that it’s not ok to have “bad” thoughts and that we need to stay positive all the time. That’s a terrible myth that society has conditioned us to believe in. It is absolutely ok and normal to have bad thoughts and it is also absolutely ok to let them entertain you for a while. Yes, the key phrase here is “entertain you for a while”. Just like a movie, it will end.

This is also the same with the self-loathing and name calling. As much as we have been taught to accept the good things about us, simultaneously we have to accept the “bad” things about us as well. When coaching leaders, I see many reinforcing that they are “driven, hard-working, inspirational” but feel the need to skip over the “bad” leadership traits that society has taught us not to be such as “cut-throat” (which means being decisive and knowing what is required), “telling-people-off” (which means to hold your staff accountable to their responsibilities, can’t be nice to everyone) and “being-bossy” (which is a sexist term for female leaders whom should be praised for having natural-executive-leadership-skills as per Sheryl Sandberg). A balanced appreciation of the “good” and portrayed as not so good is necessary for all leaders because we can’t please everyone (and we don’t have to).

2. List the actual “issues” or things you need to do in the present moment. What can you actually do, what do you need help with, what are things that you cannot fix immediately (I don’t think you can lose those 10 kilos withing a day). Be realistic with what you can do and you may have to list them in lists of what you can do right now, what you can do in a month, what you can do in a year. This can be “goal setting” or it can be seen as “trying-to-organise-my-current-thoughts-in-a-productive-manner-so-that-I-can-stop-freaking-out”.

3. Break down each “issue” into what you can do now. We all learn differently, some require a visual “brainstorm” or “mind map” to give them an idea of how they can tackle an issue, whilst some might benefit from a recording of thoughts and lists that can later be played back. Either way, sometimes having a game plan or a “recipe” might help with understanding how you approach the task better prior to actually doing the task so that you can feel more prepared if you are feeling like you are not sure what to do.

4. Tackle each issue step by step. Some people like to start with the easiest things first; some like to tackle the most difficult things first; some like to prioritise by deadlines; some like to do the things they like first; however you do it, do it and you can start as small or as large as you like.

5. Give yourself a pat on the back for each item you complete. Positive reinforcement is necessary to keep you motivated. Whether it’s to give yourself a reward such as food, going to the beach, taking a break, having a coffee or just literally giving yourself a pat on the back – something positive is going to help you feel better about the experience and getting your endorphins pumping.

Next time you’re feeling pissed off at the world …

Just remember that when you are feeling like you hate the world or that the world hates you and you start to dig into the past or look too far in the future – ask yourself, what is it that you are avoiding to do in the present, what is really going on in the present because that’s usually where there shit really is.

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