June 8, 2012

And She’s…Out!

My daughter came home from her softball game last weekend with tears in her eyes.

“We lost by one run,” she said, with her lip quivering. “And guess who was up to bat last, with the bases loaded and hit it right into the first baseman’s glove?” I gave her a hug and started to say, “At least you hit it, sweetheart.” But she wasn’t listening. With slumped shoulders and hanging head, she was clearly reliving the fateful moment when, in her mind, she lost the game for her team.

Later that same night, I ran into one of her teammates. When I mentioned the tough loss, she said, “It’s okay. We only lost by one run. And did Sally tell you that she got a great hit in her last at bat?” When I looked confused, she elaborated, “She smacked it really hard. It’s just too bad the first baseman caught it. It was an awesome hit.” With that, she bounced off, ponytail swinging, clearly nonplussed by the day’s events.

We are our own worst critics.

Not only do we judge ourselves more readily than we do the people around us, but we are harsher, sharper and meaner with ourselves than we would ever dream of being with someone else. If left unchecked, our sharp-tongued inner judge can wreak havoc on our self-esteem. This mean-spirited, perfectionist critic can take the pleasure out of our activities. The damage we inflict upon ourselves can be as vicious and insidious as taunts from any bully or “mean girl” out there. Worst of all, because it is our own thoughts doing the damage, it’s a whole lot harder to tune out.

I come face to face with my own inner critic regularly on my yoga mat. “I can’t believe you can’t do that,” she snarls. “Are you kidding me? You’re such a chicken,” she taunts. “What is wrong with you? After all these years you still can’t get into that pose? That’s ridiculous,” she scoffs. Certainly, I’ve never met a yoga teacher who has ever been so condescending to me. And thank goodness for that! As a teacher, myself, I know that words like these do not inspire. Rather they deflate, defeat and deter a student from continuing to practice.

Facing down my inner critic on my yoga mat is as much a part of the practice for me as the stretches themselves. Once I learned to recognize these thoughts for what they are—a snarky, useless, bad habit – it has been easier to tune them out. When I’m really on my game, I sometimes manage to nip these thoughts before they fully form. When they do take shape, however, I’ve become quite adept at turning them on their head. “Maybe I can’t do that,” I’ll think, “But just see how much my body has changed! I’ll get there soon enough.”

Each time I cut my inner critic off at the pass, I am doing more than avoiding a little psychic collateral damage. I am chipping away at a destructive thought pattern. I am wearing away at an ingrained habit. The same way that, a little bit at a time, a creek can create a canyon, I am slowly but surely changing myself and the way I live. As I become more and more proficient at turning self-judgment into compassionate acceptance, this same compassion will naturally become my “go to” response to others.

While I would have loved for my daughter’s awesome hit to have sailed into outfield leading to one or more runs for her team, there is something I would love even more. I hope that, over time and with maturity, she will learn to shush her inner critic. I would love her to be as gracious, compassionate and loving with herself as her teammate was with her last weekend. That would be a real “home run!”

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