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How critical thinking transformed my life…

After overthinking screwed me up

I grew up in a family that valued intelligence above all. It also valued thinking. Not critical thinking, but overthinking.

There’s a crucial difference between overthinking and critical thinking. Overthinking has overtones of obsessing about a subject. Usually someone’s behaviour, often your own. You keep replaying what happened in your head, as if you’re trying to understand it. I say ‘as if’, because you’re not trying to understand it. You’re judging it. You ask questions designed to show that someone is right and someone else is wrong. Overthinking isn’t productive, it’s destructive. It stalls you, prevents you from moving forward.

Critical thinking is all about seeking to understand. It involves no judgement. You ask questions designed to elicit useful information. Questions that bring you closer to a deeper understanding.

Critical thinking had no role in my life as a child. We were expected to tow the line given by whichever authority figure was present. A parent. A teacher. A house mistress. It didn’t matter whether we agreed with what these authority figures were saying. We had to go along with it. Without question.

I remember school teachers sending me to stand in the corridor for asking questions. Not the “How do you do this?” sort. More the “Why is it done like this?” sort. At first, I asked them because I was trying to understand something. I either couldn’t ‘get’ their way or argument, or could see a different way or argument. When this was met with a show of authority instead of an answer, my reason for asking questions soon changed. I then started asking questions to amuse myself – and annoy the teachers. But this behaviour ground to a halt when my school threatened me with suspension. So I stopped asking questions at school.

I’d never even tried asking questions at home. I’d seen early on what happened when you did and didn’t like what I saw. So I learned to tow the line. At first, the questions I wanted to ask came into my head, but after a while, they stopped. I guess my questioning mind turned itself off through underuse.

It’s fair to say that I came to see asking questions as a sign of weakness. “Only unintelligent people ask questions!” I thought. Because intelligent people knew everything. They were always right. So said the prevailing wisdom around me at the time.

It’s also fair to say that this view screwed me up. Big time.

It screwed me up in many ways. First, I became scared of asking questions. I wanted people to think that I knew about whatever it was that was being discussed. That I understood everything. Which I didn’t. And in those pre-internet days, it was much harder to fake it till you Googled it. I got good at bullshitting – I managed to glean enough from people’s often baffled responses to get by.

Second, I became scared of trusting people. If it’s not safe to ask people questions, then trusting people can’t be safe. Contorted logic, I know, but that’s what happens when fear takes hold.

Third, I got myself into a lot of messes. When you don’t ask questions, you make a lot of assumptions. And assumptions make messes. I’ve never had an assumption of mine prove to be correct.

So life wasn’t always easy. But I learned a lot. After a while, I could see the patterns in my behaviour, and the results. And I took action. Despite my fear of asking questions and trusting, I wasn’t paralysed by fear otherwise. I took many risks and changed almost everything about my life.

After decades of relentless self-improvement work, I learned much.

  • I learned that where overthinking seeks to judge, critical thinking seeks to understand.
  • I learned that overthinking is toxic, and mostly self-directed. Overthinking is your inner critics at play, making you feel less than enough.
  • I learned that critical thinking is liberating and enriching. It opens your mind… and heart.
  • I learned that trusting other people is essential for a happy, fulfilled life. If you don’t trust, your heart remains closed to the amazingness others have to offer.
  • I learned that asking questions helped me learn to trust others. Asking questions allowed me to keep my heart open – to trust – whilst protecting myself from harm. The answers I received enabled me to make wiser decisions.

Today, I’m no longer an over-thinker… most of the time. I still have my moments, but they’re rare. I catch myself when I start to make assumptions, and flip into question mode instead. I catch myself when I start to judge, and instead celebrate the difference between us. And I trust, even though this makes me vulnerable.

I trust, because it makes me vulnerable.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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How to let your amazingness shine through

During some recent work with a client, one thing became crystal clear. She’d been dumbing herself down for most of her life.

This behaviour started during her childhood. A few separate incidents made her fear failure. She also felt very different from her family and friends. Her fear of failure and dislike of not fitting in turned her into a people pleaser. Before long, she was shape-shifting to become whatever was demanded of her. This behaviour was completely sub-conscious, and the changes she made soon became her persona.

Her true amazingness – the kind, creative, courageous, resilient and fun leader she really is – remained, for the most part, buried in her. Flashes of this person were occasionally visible to those closest to her, but the person she saw herself was the hyper organised, efficient, productive people-pleaser.

I found it so easy to recognize this in my client. Because it was true for me, too.

I’ve spent much of my life dumbing myself down so I could:

  • fit in
  • be understood
  • be liked
  • be seen
  • be loved
  • feel safe and secure
  • feel stable

I even dumbed down my successful 28-year marketing career, where I was a serious game-changer. I’ve hardly referred to it at all in my last four years of doing life purpose coaching.

Why?

I was afraid it would cause people not to like me, because they’d view me as unethical. I consider much of what goes on in the marketing world as unethical, therefore I must be, too, if I’ve worked there.

Wow. That’s quite the admission. But I was completely unaware I was doing it. I’d just gloss over those 28 years and hope that no one asked me about the work I did then. That they’d focus instead on the ethical work I was doing now.

You know what?

The SAME person worked in marketing and in life purpose coaching. I did.

I, who:

  • has the same values now as when working in marketing
  • has spent the last 30 years learning how to live a purposeful life
  • left organizations routinely as a result of being asked to do something unethical

You know what else?

My 28 years of game-changing in marketing taught me a lot. They made a huge contribution to the person I am today. They helped give me my voice.

My business career has given me some incredible skills that I now use to help my clients. My journey through that part of my life is now helping me let my amazingness shine.

If you want to let your amazingness shine, try this!

  • Understand who you REALLY are. The whole you – don’t leave parts of yourself out, as I did for years.
  • Learn to manage your inner critics – the voices in your head that want you to be liked, to fit in, to be understood, to be loved, to be seen, to feel safe and secure, to feel stable.
  • Create daily practices that reinforce the key life truths of presence, acceptance, forgiveness, letting go, non-judgement, maintaining your boundaries.
  • Understand that it’s YOUR life and that no one is coming to save you. You can choose what your life looks like.
  • Have personal goals that reflect the whole you – your emotional, spiritual, mental, physical and financial health, what gives you self-esteem, what makes you self-fulfilled.
  • Take action. Dreams without action remain dreams.

Whenever you feel less than whole inside or are struggling to imagine what a dream life might look like, pay attention.

That’s a sign your amazingness is trying to shine through.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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How to transform your life in 7 steps

 

Go to any bookstore and have a look at the Self-Help section. Do an internet search on Therapists/Counsellors in your area. Check out the Self-Improvement workshops on Meetup.

If you ever needed proof of how much we want transformation in our lives, there it is.

Why is that? What’s driving us to want to do this?

It’s because we know, deep inside, that all is not well with how we’re living. There’s a little voice urging us to do something about it.

Yet, despite all of this help and our deep desire for life transformation, we’re not having much success.

Because we don’t truly believe we can.

Our lack of belief keeps us stuck where we are. And being stuck reinforces this lack of belief, because it allows our Inner Critics to take hold of our thoughts – they’re the negative self-talk that plagues us.

Here are seven steps to transform non-belief into belief, and transform your life.

 1.  Collect some data on what your life looks like right now.

If you’ve got that little voice inside you telling you to change some things about your life, before you start, you need to know what your life is really like. That’s where data come in.

Do you know how you currently spend your time? What gets most of your attention? You may think you know the answer to this, but it will be a guess. The only way to know exactly how you spend your time is to track it.

Do you know how you’re truly feeling right now? If you do, write it down. If you don’t, give yourself some quiet time one day to sit with this, and write down what comes out.

2.   Analyze your data.

Break down your time tracking into activities – things like work, personal time, exercise, eating, care-giving, etc. Calculate the percentage of your time you spend doing each activity. Do the results surprise you? Does the way you spend your time reflect how you’d LIKE to be spending your time?

Do you feel the way you’d like to feel? Would you like to start and end each day feeling differently?

3.   List the broad changes you’d like to make to your life.

Base this on what you need to change in order to spend your time and feel the way YOU want to. This might include reducing your work hours, increasing your exercise hours, eating more regularly, spending more time with friends, sleeping more.

4.   Find out what makes YOU amazing.

What makes YOU amazing is what makes you uniquely you. It’s also who you really are. And this is the key to your happiness. Here’s a blog post I wrote about it.

5.   Start learning to manage your Inner Critics.

This subject is a whole blog post in itself! It’s also a life-long exercise. The starting point is to accept that these voices exert a huge amount of power over you, and then to try to identify the critics that are most active in you. Common critics include The Perfectionist, The Comparer, The Drama Queen, The Procrastinator, The Good Person. Once you’ve identified yours, talk to each one in turn, asking her to list everything that’s wrong with you. And then reframe their negative talk into positive talk – I find it helpful to imagine I’m talking to a friend about her ‘problems’, it makes me much more kind! I’m indebted to SARK & John Waddell and their book “Succulent Wild Love: Six Powerful Habits for Feeling More Love More Often” for this approach. Don’t be put off by the woo-woo book title – the content had a profound effect on how I interact with others.

6.   Re-evaluate what failure and success mean to you.

In my experience, society has a HUGE influence on how we define failure and success. Using our own definitions can be transformative. Think about someone whom you consider to be a success. What traits does she have? How does she live her life? Then have a look at what your Inner Critics have to say about your ‘failures’. Is there a mismatch? Are your ‘failures’ the opposite of those things that YOU feel make a successful person? If they’re not, they should be! If a big ‘failure’ of yours is that you’re overweight, and ‘slimness’ doesn’t appear anywhere in your success list, then… you get my point.

7.   Create goals that reflect who you are and what you want… and live by them!

Again, too often, our goals come from external sources. They shouldn’t. They’re YOUR goals for YOUR life. They also need to reflect the whole you – all of your needs, wants and desires. Writing down your goals is the starting point. Living them, day in, day out, is next! If you don’t spend your time consciously on what matters to you, you’ll end up back at step one. Spending your time in an uncontrolled way, on things that don’t really matter.

Breaking down transformation into steps helps make it manageable, helps you see that you can do it. And this makes you believe that you really can transform your life.

So you do.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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You cannot be a perfectionist and be happy

I used to be a perfectionist. I would spend hours and hours getting something “right”, making sure that it was done to the very best of my abilities, that I had thought through every single angle and approach, either endorsing or ditching each one, and that I had every last scrap of evidence in support of my case. It was a completely exhausting process, and one which stressed me (and those around me) out big time. But, it was always worth it, I reasoned, because when I had finished with it, it was perfect. And perfect was great, right?

Only my academic life escaped this perfectionism – for some reason, I didn’t really care how I did at school or university, much to the dismay of my father. In all other aspects of my life, however, perfectionism reigned. I HAD to be the perfect daughter, granddaughter, friend, girlfriend, wife, employee, marketer, researcher – whatever my role, I had to be perfect in it.

You see, I grew up in a household that didn’t tolerate failure – being right and perfectionism were the only options. I got away with my lack of perfectionism around my school work only because I was judged to be pretty perfect in other ways. Lucky me. Being right and perfectionism were also sold as two of the key attributes of being successful. Which, of course, we were expected to be. The family formula was perfectionism ==> success ==> acclaim ==> happiness.

So, everything had to be perfect. Then I would be, too.

And, if I was perfect, I would live happily ever after. The End.

Except that I didn’t.

I didn’t live happily ever after. I was miserable.

The family formula was wrong. Perfectionism ≠≠> success ≠≠> acclaim ≠≠> happiness.

Even before realizing I was miserable, I had noticed a few flaws in the whole being-a-perfectionist thing. Being stressed out was one – it just didn’t feel good. Being irritable was another – snapping at other people wasn’t me. And then there was the ulcerative colitis, which descended on me in my late 30s. There’s nothing quite like losing control of your bowels to make you take a long, hard look at how you’ve been living.

After taking stock of everything, I had to acknowledge quite a few things.

  1. That I wasn’t actually Superwoman. That I couldn’t take on all of my problems and everyone else’s, too.
  2. That I couldn’t work endless hours at something I didn’t enjoy.
  3. That life wasn’t one big competition. That I didn’t have to be better than, or more perfect than, or more right than anyone else to be of worth.
  4. That being a perfectionist was a mask I wore to avoid facing other realities in my life, mostly fears. The perfectionist in me came from my inner critic.
  5. That I couldn’t be right all the time (i.e. perfect) AND happy.

Those last two points were biggies. They demanded nothing less than a complete overhaul of how I’d been living. Sure, I needed to make life changes in order to address the other points fully, but they were relatively small in comparison what I had to do to in order to resolve the last two.

So I devoted the next 15 years to making these life changes, and now I’m doing much better. I am no longer miserable, I’m happy – and enjoying whatever life throws at me. Whenever I feel myself defaulting to that perfectionist type, which I do from time to time, I stop, acknowledge it, and change what I’m doing.

Perfectionism makes you competitive, anxious and unhappy. This is not what life is about. The parts of your life that are within your control are meant to be fun.

Make whatever life changes you need to in order to be happy. It will take a lot of work, but, believe me, you’re worth it.

And they all lived happily ever after. The End.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).