Friday, August 4, 2017

Meet Your Inner Critic

I should really get up and exercise in the morning.
I should really organize my bedroom closet.
I should really eat better.
I should really be better at saving money.
I should really manage my time better.
I should really call my grandmother.
I shouldn't really share my ideas at work.
I shouldn't be watching TV right now.
I shouldn't buy these shoes for myself.
I shouldn't go out with my friends this weekend.

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you?  Do you have a mental laundry list of all of the things that you think you should or shouldn't be doing?  How many times per day does the thought cross your mind that you should or shouldn't have done something or said something or eaten something or bought something?  Do you have an inner voice that is constantly telling you what you should do?  If the answer to these questions is YES, then let me take this opportunity to introduce you to your Inner Critic.

"Hi! I'm your Inner Critic.  Originally, I am from your childhood but now I live deep in the the valley of your subconscious mind.  My favorite hobbies include taking long, dark walks down memory lane, cooking up a lot of shame, and hunting dreams down and stopping them in their tracks. I actually have a few hanging over my mantle.  My favorite movie characters are the Dementors from Harry Potter. I really identify with how they can suck the ever-living soul out of a person.  My favorite song is Creep by Radiohead.  Oh!!  And my two very favorite words in the entire English language are should and shouldn't!!" (Just as an aside, my Inner Critic sounds like a valley girl.  Feel free to read this in Morgan Freeman's voice, the voice of Sadness from Pixar's Inside Out, Arnold Schwarznegger's voice or whatever voice your Inner Critic takes on.)

That's right.  Every time the words should or shouldn't run through your head or pass through your lips, that is the voice of your Inner Critic.  But why does that voice play over and over in our brains all day long?  As we have established, your Inner Critic resides in your subconcious mind.  And what exactly is your subconscious mind?  To put it in extremely easy to understand terms, your subconscious mind is a script that contains your life story.  Your script can be broken into three parts: Act I (the past), Intermission (the present), and Act II (the future).  During Act I, we met some characters, the story line was developed, the characters were faced with some conflicts and struggles, there were some fun, upbeat dance numbers and some gut-wrenching solo performances.  None of these things can be changed because Act I is over.  It happened.  For better or for worse.  During Intermission, we take care of business (i.e, wait in line for the bathroom, buy Raisinettes, stretch out because those seats are really tight and the person in front of us is really tall so we need to lean to the side to get a better view of the stage.)  Intermission is when we make the most of the time that we have right in the present moment, all the while reflecting back on what happened during Act I and imagining what might happen, what we hope will happen during Act II.  Act II hasn't happened yet though.  And for all of our imagining and hoping about what will happen, there is no way of knowing and it is completely out of our control.  However, the writers of our script like to believe that they have complete control over what happens in Act II.

So who IS writing your script.  It's your life so it must be you, right?  Well, sort of.  Your script is being written by a team of writers made up of past experiences, societal and cultural expectations, the people in your life, your hopes, your dreams, and your fears.  Imagine that you are sitting in a large conference room with this team of writers.  Everyone is sitting around a large conference table shouting out their ideas for the script.  You are the one at the head of the table holding the pen.  It is your job to take all of the ideas that are being presented to you by the team of writers surrounding you and create an outline of your script.   Your outline of Act II may have looked something like this:

  • Go to college and sow your wild oats while still maintaining a perfect GPA (just like your older sister who had a blast in college, made lifelong friends who were bridesmaids, and was a superstar student)
  • Get a job in finance with great pay (because your parents have made it clear that once you graduate from college they are moving to a condo in Florida so will need to support yourself and your dad told you that finance is where all the money is)
  • Get an apartment in the city and do city dweller type things like eat at cute cafes, shop at trendy boutiques, sip martinis at the swankiest clubs, watch Indie films (just like everyone in every television show or movie you have ever watched)
  • Meet your soulmate and get married in a beautiful oceanfront wedding ceremony on some island somewhere (because you saw this amazing wedding theme on Pinterest)
  • Buy a house in the suburbs with four bedrooms, a sick kitchen, and backyard that is great for entertaining (because from everything you've seen in movies, magazines, social media, and your rich cousins this represents the ultimate success in life)
  • Have two kids who you will feed homemade organic baby food and who will not watch any television and will definitely not ever sleep in your bed or drink soda all while maintaining your pre-kids body  (because you have read a lot on the internet about a lot of stuff about parenting so you are pretty sure that you have it all figured out.  )
  • Live happily ever after (because you have an outline and a script and if you stick to it everything will go perfectly and you couldn't imagine ever wanting anything more)
So the outline of your script is complete and you feel pretty good about.  It feels like a great plan and you are eager to start Act II.  Then Act II starts happening.  And while some of what you wrote down on your outline is sort of happening, there is stuff happening in Act II that looks nothing like what you planned.  Like hating college because it is so hard and your roommate listens to her music so loud every minute of the day and the dining hall food is terrible and you miss your friends from home.  Or finally getting a job 9 months after you graduate which pays you nothing and has terrible hours.  Or living in an apartment that is the size of the bedroom that you grew up in that has a mouse problem.  Or getting married too young and realizing that the person you married is nice and all but definitely not your soulmate.  Or getting that amazing house in the suburbs but feeling trapped in a community where your neighbors' values are not in alightment with yours at all.  Or having trouble getting pregnant and then when you finally do have kids you are so exhausted that you don't care if you or your kids eat as long as you can just be left alone for 20 minutes.

Enter your Inner Critic who is lurking in your subconcious mind screaming, "THIS SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING!"  Your Inner Critic is like a director of a play who is trying to get a bunch of Improv actors to stick to the script.  It desperately wants to go according to plan and becomes extremely judgmental when things don't.  We live our lives trying to exert control over every aspect of our lives.  We form opinions and expectations based on the messages that we receive everyday from the world around us - our parents, our friends, our children, our bosses, our co-workers, social media, advertisements, movies, television shows, books.  More importantly, we develop our sense of self-worth based on these messages.   Somewhere along the line we started to subconsciously develop the notion that our worth is measured by how closely our lives stick to the script that we have written in our minds about how our lives SHOULD look. Our Inner Critic takes on a much louder voice than our Inner Truth. Our Inner Truth is who we are at our core which is love.  Our Inner Truth is that we are always enough no matter what.  Our Inner Critic shouts inside our brain that we ARE NOT love, that we are not worthy, unless we stick to the script.  When our lives deviate from the script due to our choices or other people's choices or things that are out of our control our Inner Critic becomes judgmental or defensive.  We lose compassion for ourselves.  We start to buy into the narrative that we are not good enough.  We experience shame.  We experience guilt.  We experience insecurity.  We experience fear.  And when we experience these feelings, we cannot experience authentic living which ultimately leads to fulfillment.  We will never feel fulfilled because we will constantly believe our Inner Critic.

How could life be different if we tapped into our Inner Truth and silenced our Inner Critic?  How would our perspectives change if we viewed life through the lens of what COULD happen versus what SHOULD happen?  If we focused on possibility and opportunity rather than judgment?  If we surrendered control so that we can be open to whatever flows into our lives?  What if we silenced our Inner Critic and put down the pen, stop writing the script and have faith that no matter what happens in Act II nothing can make us less worthy of love and belonging and happiness?  If we realized that although we are extremely invested in the script, it doesn't actually exist.  That the script is an illusion and believing in the script and trying to stick to it only places limits on our happiness and potential rather than ensuring it.  How is your Inner Critic limiting you?  What can you do today to flip the script?

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