The Inner Critic’s Greatest Hits

I used to think the idea of being kinder to yourself was a bunch of fluffy woo-woo lovey-dovey nonsense. 

I couldn’t connect the dots on how to apply it whenever the inner critic took over and put some its favorite hits on repeat.

Like the classic hit, titled “What the literal fuck did you just do?”

Or the one that made it to the top of the Heatseekers Chart, “WHAT’S wrong with you? You’ll look like an IDIOT.”

Or the emo crowd’s favorite, “You don’t ever do enough.”

Let those play over in your head enough times and it’ll keep you walled inside a safe existence, too scared to venture outside the lines.

But through much time and grace, I’ve found that being kinder to myself doesn’t mean your self-talk is lovey-dovey all the time or it’s positive self-talk 24/7. 

Quite the opposite.

The inner critic still lives with me and often times is the voice of reason for the moment at hand.

Being kinder just means that it’s not the ONLY voice you let in your head. You recognize it’s only one perspective. 

Instead of defaulting to the inner critics as truth, I let other thoughts in, kinder thoughts, thoughts that remind me I am enough. Thoughts that help me trust myself rather than doubt. 

Self kindness isn’t a blindness to your shortcomings.

It’s dancing with the tension that there is opportunity to improve AND you are also good enough as you are. 

The AND is important.

You need both sides for balance.

Why not me?

The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…

Epictetus, Discourses 2.5.4 – 5

Things happen.

Events are neutral by definition.

Most are outside of our control.

But we as humans love to sort them into neatly labeled categories like good or bad. 

Rather than fighting the urge to categorize, we might as well learn to control the choices we make about what those events means. 

When something bad happens, we can despair and bemoan the world woe is me or agonize over why me?

This is one option. 

And I won’t judge you if you take this route (I’ve chosen this path plenty times before). Playing the victim absolves us of any responsibility about what to do next. 

Over time, this thinking leads to learned helplessness. And you could eventually convince yourself you don’t have any other choice but to play the victim.

Or we can ask ourselves why not me?

Perhaps your current challenge requires grit, courage, determination, patience, resilience, empathy or persistance to overcome. 

Every experience has a lesson to learn from it. Figure out what that is and own it. Choose to lean into the challenge and be open to learn what it has to teach you.

Take pride in being the type of person that isn’t afraid to face a challenge and turn it into an opportunity for growth. 

There will always be external events that positively or negatively impact us. 

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice. 

We get to choose how we define these events.

That’s something that no one can take away from us.

The Process of Being

One of the reasons why so many high achievers are unhappy: their expectations rise faster than their accomplishments. Success is most satisfying when you have high aspirations but modest expectations. You can set ambitious goals without taking for granted that you’ll attain them

Adam Grant

I used to think that being a high-achiever was something worth chasing.

I viewed it as a badge of honor.

I now believe it’s more a way of living in fear. 

Fear that I’ll never be enough – the tension between a deep-seated desire to make an impact in the world and a fear that I’m not doing enough. 

So I try to do everything.

I try to be the best at everything I touch. I set goals based on these high aspirations and a belief that I’m certain I can achieve them. 

But, you can’t call yourself a high-achiever if you ain’t achieving.

And that’s the tension that comes from defining yourself as a high-achiever. The focus is always on the outcomes. 

If there has been a singular hard lesson-learned from this upside-down year, it’s that we have zero control over outcomes. 

The silver-lining of this year is that chaos can also be a great catalyst for change, whether by choice or by circumstance. It’s an opportunity to stress-test your beliefs.

I’ve intentionally spent the better part of the year digging into the ideas I’ve formed around achievement, specifically on the focus around outcomes. 

I recently had a conversation with my fitness coach about the perspective shift it requires to live a healthy life and I thought it translated well beyond the boundaries of health and fitness.

We were discussing the success I’ve had in the year since I started with him. We began talking about what 2021 would look like if I were able to maintain the results I had seen thus far. 

And he said something that was counterintuitive. 

Once you reach a certain level of fitness, it’s tempting to want more and move the goal post further out, but it’s a trap. The shift has to be from one of continuous improvement to maintenance. 

He goes on to write about it on his blog:

This sounds easy but it can be especially hard to maintain due to boredom and the ideas communicated to us by media and our circle of people. It is quite profitable to teach you that once you've achieved one goal you should immediately replace it with another, higher one. Fighting back against this more is better model that is part of consumerism and capitalism is a must for your long term health.  

Once you reach a certain point your perspective needs to shift from an achievement and outcome driven focus to one of showing up for the practice with no incentive other than the practice itself. 

The journey becomes the focus. 

And perhaps the same can be said about high-achievement. 

At some point, the focus needs to be less on the quantity of outcomes or the next level of achievement and more on the quality of the journey – on finding the few key areas of purpose in your life and committing to them and their practice.

It means you can’t do everything.

It’s the shift from high-achiever to purpose-driven achiever. 

It’s a focus on the process of being rather than the process of doing.

Want versus Will

I have a bucket list. I started it in my early twenties. 

I liked the idea of it. I especially loved dreaming about things I wanted to do and adding to it.

I’d regularly add to the list as I got more ideas on what I wanted to do before kicking the bucket. 

After several years, I realized that I’d added a lot to it, but hadn’t crossed much off the list. 

I looked at my list to try to understand why – why had I failed to make progress?

Didn’t I want these things? 

Absolutely.

But I had failed to frame it correctly.

Want is vague. Want doesn’t drive action. Want straddles a fence. Wanting something is easy.

My list is now a list of things I will do.

Definitively. 

Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Will makes want a reality. Will is why my list has a significant number of items now crossed off. 

The language we use is important and frames everything. 

Stop wanting a meaningful life. 

Will meaning into it. 

Practice

“Repetition is the mother of skill”

Tony Robbins

When things are easy, should you take the easy route or seek one with more obstacles? 

When the stakes are low, should you choose the path of comfort or discomfort?

When resources are abundant, should you take advantage or practice doing with less? 

When others walk the beaten path, should you follow suit or push against the status quo?  

As the old adage goes, you play like you practice and you practice how you play

So, when things get hard, will you be prepared for the road ahead? 

When the stakes rise, will you be ready for discomfort?

When resources dry up, will you know how to be resourceful?

When change arrives, will you be prepared to lead?

The Impermanence of Achievement

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the thing you only hoped for

Epicurus

It’s surprising how quickly things can normalize.

The thing I once dreamed of achieving becomes a thing of the past once achieved. It gets incorporated into the background of my day-to-day.

That job I dreamed of getting, the promotion I fantasized over, the lifestyle I daydreamed about someday achieving, the most important goal I am focused on right now will soon be but a fleeting thought.

NERD ALERT TANGENT

This is known as the Adaptation-Level Phenomenon in psychology. It's the tendency that people have to quickly adapt to a new situation, until the situation normalizes. Once the new situation is normal, another new experience is needed to raise the level for what is new or exciting as each new thing becomes the norm.

Achievement hits my body like a drug, spikes euphoria, and quickly fades, leaving me to find the next thing worth achieving. It matters not how big the achievement is, the high fades and life normalizes. 

And of course I search for the next thing, because that’s what we’re sold. From a young age, the capitalist world, convinces us that we need more. That whatever you need is scarce and you need to amass as much as is humanly possible. There is always something more that you don’t have enough of in your life.

But, the pursuit of more comes with a hidden cost. You accept this reality as truth and step onto the hamster wheel without realizing that, no matter how fast it spins, you’re not actually better off. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to have goals and seek achievement. But, how many times are those goals ours and how often are they goals we’ve been conditioned to seek?

The world wants you to get back on the hamster wheel, because there’s money to be made on more. 

It convinces you there is a bottomless well of emptiness that needs to be filled. 

And as long as we’re busy filling the well, we’re too busy to stop and learn how to be content. How to find gratitude in the things we already have and realize that happiness won’t ever come from more. 

Because, more normalizes and begets a desire for more. 

Our greatest challenge is learning to sit still and unpack the things we’ve been sold to believe are the path to happiness. 

Only then, can you get off the hamster wheel, because you no longer have a need for it. 

You’ve taken the first step towards living with purpose.

Your Head is a Big Fat Liar

It’s not good enough, will never be good enough.

Who are you, anyways? 

You’re not an expert. You know nothing.

Why would anyone listen to you about this?

The voice in your head

That’s just your head being a big fat liar (a bit overdramatic, if you ask me). It’s just doing what it can to protect you from danger.  

But, if you think about it, what’s really at stake? 

What if it fails (and it may fail)?

Have you never failed? Were you maimed by it? Eviscerated, perhaps? I doubt it even came close to such.

Instead, let’s treat our head like the big fat liar it is. Pay it no mind. Recognize that its lies are a sign to push through the doubt rather than stop.

I promise, it’s good enough. 

Now that we’ve cleared that up, get back to work. The world needs your talent and leadership now, more than ever.

Bonus! This post was part of a challenge with a friend and fellow blogger, Matt Fried, to write a post with the same title. Check out his version of “Your Head Is A Big Fat Liar” also published today on his blog, mattfried.co