Mud pies and pigtails
Do you remember when you were a child making mud pies, covered in mud, then suddenly remembering your mum had asked you to stay clean as grandma was visiting this afternoon? Oops! Too late. Do you remember when you cried over some mishap or perceived injustice, and your face screwed up, tears making clean tram lines down your muddy face? Did you care? Did you attempt to fix your face, your muddy clothes, or your behaviour? No, not even when someone would spit on a handkerchief to try to clean you up. You were enough, and you knew it. Children are happy being themselves without inhibition. When does this disappear?
When you can be yourself, when you can shrug off the internal and external critics, and you accept yourself, cellulite, snot and bad hair days, you are pretty close to self-love, accepting yourself for who you are. Self-care is having a bath and lighting a candle, self-love is not questioning your need to do so.
To me the inner critic is a manifestation of the outer critics. It seems to have formed from fragments that society has thrown at us, some well-intentioned, others not. Some of these fragments appear to share the same source. If we think about our inner critic we might recognize where some of these things came from – an ex-partner, a jealous schoolfriend, even our parents of siblings. What we should do is thank our inner critic for looking out for us, but that we don’t need its help, we can do it.
When I really want to do something but that niggling voice is telling me to put on my makeup, don’t write that article, you’re not good enough, I try to think of that girl in the muddy dress, scabs on my knees where I’d tripped trying to keep up with the boys, pigtails flying wild because the curls kept escaping. I try to channel that unfettered consciousness of self, without the self-consciousness. I aim to be assertive and gentle and manifest that self-love. I am still learning.
Have you ever felt inadequate? Like a fraud? Like you don’t belong where you are? That someone is going to expose you for who you really are? This is imposter syndrome.
I bet you do some awesome things but perhaps you don’t just realise it because your inner critic keeps cutting you down. I sometimes struggle with this too. Many people struggle with imposter syndrome, even really successful people.
Don’t fall into the comparison trap. There’s no need to compare yourself to others. You’re not them. Focusing on someone else’s accomplishments and using their success to beat yourself up is a terrible waste of time which only leads to despair. Let others inspire you but don’t let their success fuel your inner critic.
There’s nothing wrong with being a beginner. Regardless of how long you’ve been coaching, there will be times when you are a beginner. Are you learning a new skill or technology? You will have legitimate feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. This is normal. You’re going to stink at it for a while. Keep moving forward and getting better. It’s ok to ask for help!
Surround yourself with awesome people. Find people who will not only encourage you, but who are transparent about their own struggles. It helps to know you’re not alone. When someone gives you positive feedback, don’t dismiss it. Write it down. Collect these moments to silence your inner critic.
Keep a record of what you’ve done day to day, week to week. It might feel like you’re not making progress, but if you look back over the last six months, you can see just how far you’ve come. Have a personal retrospective, not a pity party. Make a list of actionable goals and things you can improve.
Share your knowledge and time to teach others what you know. You may think the things you know are obvious and simple. It might surprise you to know there are lots of people who would love to know what you know. For me, giving talks, running podcasts, and writing these articles have been things that have caused me most anxiety and feelings of imposter syndrome. At the same time, hearing stories of the positive impact I’ve made on people has been one of the key strategies to combating my inner critic.
Be brave and seek a mentor. I am very grateful to have my dear husband in my life who has been my cheerleader for many years. He has the gift of encouragement. He knows how to listen to my struggles, and always seems to uncover the gold nuggets in what seems like trash to me.
Be a mentor. Invest in someone. Encourage them. Help them to see their potential, and to believe. When they accomplish great things, you know you played a part.
Be you. Give yourself freedom to fail. Celebrate your success. Keep challenging yourself. Go, and be awesome.
How to turn your inner critic into an inner champion
I have spent hours over the last few days mentally flogging myself for how I handled a situation with a stranger in a shop who was not socially distancing and not wearing a mask. I keep rehashing the scenario, wondering why I didn’t respond better. Why I didn’t say x or y, or not say anything at all. Lots of thinking, lots of reflection. Lots of self-admonishing. And not a lot of kindness.
It’s frustrating getting into these negative loops. Beating ourselves up over things we can’t change. It doesn’t help us move forward or improve. It just eats up our time, attention and energy. It pulls us deeper into the darkness when we want to be in the light. So how can we turn that negativity into something useful? Something that will allow us to recognize the mess-up and move forward.
Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness, support and concern you’d show a good friend. Responding to our mistakes with kindness instead of judgement or self-criticism, allows us to cope more effectively with hardships and increase our levels of well-being and emotional resilience. It’s not easy at first if you’ve spent years beating yourself up for mistakes. If you’re having a rubbish day, being mean to yourself won’t fix it.
When we make a mistake our amygdala, the part of our brain designed to respond to threat, goes into overdrive and activates our self-critical gremlins. At its most basic level, the inner critic and its negative self-talk, is trying to help us. From our brain’s perspective, any threat is cause for alarm. When we put our foot in it, our brain gets the signal for danger and cascades a reaction to respond to the emotional threat in the same way it would to a physical threat, by increasing blood pressure, adrenaline, and cortisol and getting ready to confront or avoid the danger. Our biological stress response hasn’t caught up with the times and sets off a self-protection loop, if we let it.
Self-compassion is the counterbalance to self-criticism. It sets off a mammalian caregiving response helping us feel safe and connected, triggering the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, effectively shutting down the internal alarm system. It allows us to acknowledge our mistakes without suffering. It allows us to learn from our mistakes. Developing our capacity for self-compassion is associated with increased emotional intelligence, wisdom, life satisfaction and feelings of social connectedness.
Shifts won’t happen overnight, but through repeated exposure and continual practice we can help turn our inner critic into our inner champion. Ask yourself one simple question. ‘if this gremlin took on a more encouraging voice, what would it say to me?’ By rephrasing your self-talk into the voice of a compassionate caring champion, you can accept mistakes and take steps to correct them without the needless suffering of self-inflicted emotional abuse.
We are constantly telling our children the importance of being kind to others, but there’s almost no one we treat as badly as we treat ourselves.