family law supervisor, relationship counseling, wellbeing coaching, Mindfulness teacher

How to deal with a squawking Inner Critic.

A few months ago I was at my desk writing a to-do list for the launch of my new coaching practice and I could hear the chirruping voice of my Inner Critic. It sat on my shoulder, like a pirate’s parrot, repeating over and overNot ready! Not ready! Not ready! I was about to leave the judiciary and start a new career and it felt like six months was far too little time to bring to reality all the ideas I had.  Inner Critic was anxious to remind me that I could learn more, write more, market more, eat more chocolate… oh, wait, that last one might be all me. But you get the idea. 

We all have voices in our heads that push us in negative ways, whipping up fear, panic and inadequacy. You will have your own particular song playing as a loop under your every-day work. Maybe it’s Not clever! Not keeping up! Not like everyone else! The worst thing we can do is sing along and let the rhythmic lullaby-like repetitions send our potential to sleep. Nor is it such a good idea to try to ignore the voices. Stuffing fingers in our ears and la,la,la-ling as loud as we can is not the best way to show up in the world either. I know. I’ve tried both methods. What I eventually learned is that the way to reduce the power of that insistent ear worm is to have some dialogue with it.

The first question you might ask is: Where did it come from, this song? Who wrote it and taught it to you? Dig deep to get this answer.

For a long time in the transition process of retraining I spoke about how the judiciary operated at such a high pace that I felt I was imprinted with a stamp, reading Hurry Up and Do More! (And be perfect while you are at it). Doing eight or nine hours of work in a five-hour slot plus all the preparation, some paperwork and a few extra urgent matters was the name of the game. Hurry Up!

Coaching is a slow game. My role now is to offer a space for people to breathe and think and get to deep transformational reflection. Whilst at first I loved having my own coach give me that, it was a challenge to slow down enough to be able to offer it to another. Over the three years of training I felt I was slowly winding down. As I detached from one job and attached to another I felt like a marble spinning ever slower down a funnel as the centrifugal force on me lessened and I was able to drop into a new role with its new demands. I work in a very different way now – not less, but different. And yet there in the background….

Not ready! Not ready! Not ready!

Lockdown came and I took a mid-morning stroll in the streets around my home. Not a soul was in evidence. Not even a twitch behind the curtains. From nowhere I had a fleeting reminder of the church I was taken to as child, a Pentecostal church with its doctrine of the rapture. One day the Saints will be taken up to heaven and everyone else will be left behind. I smiled at the memory and left the thought float out of my mind. It’s not something I ever subscribed to as an adult. 

Then I logged onto an online conference. A speaker explained how different groups saw the concept of time in different ways. The Jewish faith for example has an emphasis on the here and now and the Christian on the life after death. Suddenly the penny dropped. Are you ready? The constant refrain from that old childhood teaching. Are you ready for when it happens? Ah! That’s where it comes from!

The second question to ask is: Does this belief still serve me now?  Is it true now? If it does, then that’s fine. Embrace the voice and let it motivate you. This is not a post about which religious belief is right or wrong. Quite possibly your voice doesn’t even have a religious origin. It’s about whether old things we carry are what we choose to take into the future or whether they are clinging to us like barnacles on our psyche, hampering our ability to glide ahead. At one time the voice may well have been saying something very necessary and appropriate, but its time has gone.  

For example, I had a client whose voice said Everything must be done. Everything must be tidy an, in its place, and you can’t leave unfinished things. When he dug down he found that it came from a childhood time when his blind mother required him to make sure everything was put in its place or she might trip over it.  Once it was a very useful mindset. However, this generalised attitude was now leaking into his adult work life and causing him to never ever feel that his work was done, that he could never take time to follow his calling for a new creative project. 

If you decide that the belief is outdated don’t just toss it aside. It will only come back like a child tugging at your hand mithering for attention. Treat it gently and ask it kindly. What do you want for me? What is your intention? Often the actual practice your voice is screeching about is no longer apt, but the underlying intention is still valid.  For my client, paying attention himself to every detail was his way of caring for others and meeting their needs, preventing disaster and keeping them safe. It actually made him sought after in his job.  For me, the childhood teaching was meant to remind us to be good people every day, to live according to our core values every day.

The final question is one not for your voice but for you. How can you take that intention and make it relevant to you today? My client began to think more about what details he personally needed to pay attention to and what he could say No to or could train someone else to do. He started to see his core purpose was to help others succeed and that his new project was a different way to do just that. Going through these questions enabled him to begin to open up space to take on a project he longed to do.  

When I hear the Not Ready! now, I take it as a reminder to ask myself if the work I have put on my list for today meets the core values of my new practice. If it does, then I am on track. My practice operates today in the here and now and not in the mythical future. It not based on fear of some cataclysmic future event, it’s based on how I can help others make their lives better right now. Being ready doesn’t mean having everything I could possibly achieve done right now. It means preparing myself each morning so I am truly present and available for my clients today. Being ready doesn’t mean getting stuck in preparation mood, it means being willing to be of service right now. It means showing up and fulfilling my role right now, without my head stuck in the future. It means offering the experience and knowledge I have right now even though I know in ten years time I will have even more to offer. 

So now when I hear the voice Not ready, not ready, not ready!, I use it as I might use a bell in meditation, to draw my wandering attention back to my chosen focus. I have learned that when I hear the voice, it’s because I have let my attention drift from what I can do  here and now to serve a client or to further my practice and I gently bring myself back to my chosen mindset, to doing the best I can do right now. That’s not to say that I don’t have plans, that I don’t have ideas, (I have notebooks full of them) but I don’t get panicked anymore that I have to do them all by next Tuesday. Life is a journey and actually if by next Tuesday, I had everything done that I might think about doing in my new career, the rest of life would look very boring indeed!

What is your Inner Critic saying to you today? How can you reframe that message to help you live the way you wish to?