Sometimes the Inner Critic can seem almost schizophrenic.
I saw the most evidence of this when I was first making the decision to quit my job teaching English and move into coaching full-time rather than part-time.
Before I made the decision, my Inner Critic was having a field day with how I was selling out on myself by staying in a job (teaching English) where I was not feeling fulfilled. I was a life coach after all—shouldn’t I have quit the job by now to pursue my dreams?
Then, once I decided to quit, my Inner Critic went nuts with how I needed to be more responsible, how I should save up more money before I let go of a job. Wasn’t I paying attention to the news and the economy and all of that?
Rather than quit the job outright, I was finishing up the semester—in part to satisfy the Inner Critic’s need for financial “safety” and in part because I thought it would be out of integrity for me to just up and quit on the students. On a number of days, my Inner Critic bashed me for not just up and quitting. “I mean, you always play it so safe!” the critic said. “I can’t believe you call yourself courageous!”
Then my Inner Critic became a seductive saboteur. It happened that my final semester of teaching was a semester when I was due for an evaluation by my fellow teachers in the department. When it was suggested during a pre-observation meeting that I re-do a lesson plan, I was resistant because I felt overwhelmed and didn’t really want to put the time in. However, I agreed that I should take another look at my lesson plan before the actual observation. My critic played right into that when I thought of re-doing the lesson plan, later: “Just take a load off. You’ve got so much going on, it’s like you’re working two jobs. And you just moved. And this evaluation doesn’t matter anyway, does it? You’re letting go of the job.”
And then, of course, when I didn’t take the observer’s advice, this was reflected on my final evaluation and my Inner Critic was right there to tell me how out of integrity I was, how much I was failing my students, and to worry that now others in the department might hear that my evaluation, while satisfactory enough to “pass,” was lacking, and that I wasn’t a good teacher.
Some of you might find that your Inner Critic tries to appear logical. This might show up as a seemingly logical and necessary message, wrapped in a whopper punch tone of voice such as:
“Well, if I, your Inner Critic, didn’t tell you to get your fat ass off of the sofa, you’d get even bigger. You need me to tell you not to stuff your face with that crap food, or you’d be worse than you already are!”
Or perhaps your Inner Critic has said something along the lines of: “You know, it’s your fault if you read other people’s websites and wish you could start your own business, but then you never even open an Etsy account. I mean, come on. That’s not criticism, that’s just being honest.”
That content may be accurate—maybe it really is time to get moving and shaking with health or following a dream. However, the way that the Inner Critic is speaking to you is not kind. You have a right to determine how anyone speaks to you and to ask for respect. How about asking it from ourselves, first?
A handy tool—one that I first learned through doing couples counseling work with my partner—is the concept of “Re-do, please.”
Whenever either myself or my partner says something that feels unloving to the other, we’ve committed to asking for a “Re-do, please.” We’ve practiced and trained ourselves to say it in a very simple way, almost as if we’re shrugging as we say it, so that the delivery has no energetic push to it. When someone asks for a “Re-do, please,” the other person rephrases what they have said more kindly and respectfully. This becomes a tool for respectful speaking.
You can “Re-do, please,” your Inner Critic.
When you hear a bunch of “shoulds,” you can say, “Re-do, please,” and ask the Inner Critic to rephrase.
Maybe right now your Inner Critic reads this and goes, “Is she crazy? I’m not going to talk to myself! I’d feel so stupid doing that! That sounds like it would take a ton of time and energy. I’d have to police my thoughts.”
If Inner Critic’s having a negative response, I kindly offer your Critic a ‘thank you’ for noticing that this is something new and different (and thus, unsafe). Here’s what I might say to your Inner Critic:
“Thank you for noticing that there is fear. Thank you for noticing that I am suggesting something that is so weird, it makes me appear ‘crazy’ to you for suggesting it. Thank you for noticing that this would take more time and energy than what you’re currently accustomed to. Thank you for noticing that at least for a little while, it might feel like ‘policing’ thoughts.”
Then I invite you to try it out, anyway.
Who says you have to do any of this perfectly? If you were to use “Re-do, please,” just once today, wouldn’t that be an example of you, powerfully embracing just one less negative thought? Most of us would never let strangers speak to us the way that we speak to ourselves. Using tools to be committed to respectful communication with others and with ourselves is powerful.
Exercise: Start using “Re-do, please.”
This is not one of those exercises that you can check off the list and be done with. It’s a practice. You step into it, you notice where you fall out of it, you step into it again. This is one of those times when resistance is likely to come up, telling you that it’s not worth the effort or time. Be aware that you are doing the heavy lifting now—and it will pay off later.
Kate Swoboda is a life coach, speaker and writer who helps clients to lead unconventional and revolutionary lives through practicing courage. She’s the author of The Courageous Living Guide, and creator of the Courageous Play and Create Stillness retreats–as well as The Coaching Blueprint, a resource just for life coaches. When she’s not writing, coaching, or leading retreats in Italy and San Francisco, she can be found sipping chai in libraries, buffing up on her Italian, training for her next road race, or getting all bendy-stretchy on the yoga mat. Learn more at http://www.yourcourageouslife.com .
Editor: Malin Bergman