There is a famous quote from the bible, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and while it sounds like a good idea, I don’t recommend it. I might be bringing upon myself the wrath of Christians everywhere but that’s not my intent. I understand the intention behind the statement and, in the perfect world…with the perfect person, it would be great advice. But it’s not a perfect world and I haven’t yet met the perfect person. Why I don’t recommend treating your neighbour as you would yourself is because we’re not, by and large, very nice to ourselves. We’re extremely critical and unloving of ourselves. We have an inner voice (sometimes referred to as the inner critic) and it doesn’t pull any punches! Worse than that – we actually believe what it says.
The darkness, the loop of negative thoughts on repeat, clamours and interferes with the music I hear in my head. ~ Lady Gaga
Imagine yourself walking home from a night out on the town and you pass a drunk on the street. He turns to you and says, “You’re a loser…you’ll never amount to anything!” Would you believe him? Of course not! But isn’t it true we say things to ourselves that are much much worse. We tell ourselves we’re “not worthy” – “I’m stupid” “I’m ugly” “I’m fat” “I’m a miserable person” “I’m unlovable” [Fill in your own here]. If we treated others this way no-one would be talking to anyone! It’s ridiculous, don’t you think? We say such awful things to ourselves and, because that little voice is in our head (i.e. no one is saying it to us) we never dispute it. We take it to be the truth. But it’s not the truth…it’s far from the truth. Everyone has these intrusive thoughts but the real truth is, they’re not your thoughts! Take a moment to digest that statement – they’re not your thoughts. We’re trained to think this way. How we think is shaped by society, culture, our peers and of course, our parents (whose thoughts were shaped by their parents, whose thoughts were shaped by their parents, and so on). The intention behind these thoughts, like everything our unconscious does for us, is to protect us and keep us safe from harm. This is largely emotional harm – the type of harm that damages our (shudder) esteem or identity. By telling us we’re stupid, the unconscious mind might be reminding us that if we put ourselves out there we might fail or be rejected. Failing or being rejected can lead to pretty strong unpleasant emotions and most people will go out of their way to avoid them. Therefore, by doubting ourselves we keep ourselves safe. However, the longer-term pain of mediocrity can be much greater; the emotion of regret is hard to resolve for a lot of people.
Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results. ~ Willie Nelson
So, if these thoughts occur automatically, how do we defeat the inner critic? Well, firstly we need to stop using language like ‘defeat’ and ‘critic’. Remember, your inner voice is there to support you, to serve you, to keep you safe. So rather than battling against it, work with it. Negotiate with it in the same way you might someone who is providing advisory services to you. If an advisor says something you don’t feel good about, you’re likely to engage in a conversation with her. Do the same with your inner advisor, it’s there to serve you. We have conversations in our heads all the time so it’s perfectly normal to consciously engage in these types of inner dialogues. The only difference between your inner advisor and my own is mine talks to me with an Irish accent. A word of warning though, if you start having conversations with voices coming from your feet, then I’d go and talk to a professional…voices in your head is fine, voices in your feet, not so fine.
Sometimes having a conscious strategy to deal with these voices is useful. If I asked you, how do you know when to listen to your thoughts? I imagine you might say, “I’m not sure, I’ve never thought about it.” This is true for most people. When I work with my clients on dealing with unresourceful thoughts one of the things I ask them to do is to develop a strategy for first acknowledging the thought and then consciously dealing with it in some way. Some prefer to imagine those intruding thoughts as the sound of a yapping dog tied to a lamppost and they see themselves just walking on by; or as the sound of a fire engine passing them on the street, the sound becoming more and more faint in the distance. What could your strategy be? How do you know when to listen to your thoughts?
If you’d like to know more about how to more effectively deal with negative thoughts, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.
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