If you are anything like me, you have been reminded and then forgotten that you are your own worst critic more times than you can count.
Each time I would think, “oh right, I’m being too hard on myself” and then the next day I’d be back to my old tricks, wasting massive amounts of energy and time praying at the altar of my own lack of worth.
This energy-draining dance can be a very effective way for us to avoid ever growing into the grandest, shiniest version of ourselves we were born to be. And it’s funny that the more creative we are, the more ways we can waste time imagining ourselves failing to look, act, or be perfect.
Once we are in the grip of self-criticism, it can be pretty hard to escape, but there are some simple things we can do to loosen its hold. Here are five ways to stop beating yourself up and re-purpose your energy more productively.
1. Breathe and connect with sensation.
When we let our thoughts take over, our breathing becomes shallow and we trigger our sympathetic nervous system response, or “fight or flight” mode.
In this mode, our heart rate increases and we make decisions from a place of fear and anxiety as our adrenal glands power up to fuel a quick escape. In this state, making wise decisions with our eye on the big picture becomes nearly impossible.
Stop for a moment and just notice your breath. By connecting with the breath, you can get underneath the spiraling thought patterns. Breathe deeply into your belly while bringing your awareness to the sensations in your body.
It’s difficult—and maybe even impossible—to stay worked up and freaked out when you are rooted more deeply in the experience of your whole body/heart/mind. Once your breath has deepened and you are feeling your body, you can…
2. Develop new habits.
When we think about something over and over, it wears a kind of groove in our consciousness. Just like a cartwheel in an old dirt road, any extra thought-energy you have will find its way into that groove and get stuck there, depleting your energy even further.
Take the first step by choosing to drop a self-defeating thought when you notice it, and actively deciding to focus on something else. Choosing more productive thoughts will start to create a new groove as your default.
3. Schedule your day and start to say no more often.
Softening your inner critic can be difficult when you are stretched too thin. Multi-tasking—especially when it is unstructured—keeps your nervous system in a constant state of anticipation and anxiety.
To counter this, create a rhythm for your day that you can comfortably follow. Wake up and go to sleep, eat your meals, and exercise at about the same times each day. Check in with your energy before agreeing to do something additional.
When you are connected to your breath and the sensations in your body, it becomes much easier to recognize when taking on another commitment would send you over the edge.
When you have regularity in your routine, your nervous system expends much less energy anticipating the next thing. This sense of natural flow leaves less space for doubting; you just move forward because the flow carries you forward. There is a reason kids thrive on regularity—it instills in them a deep sense of trust in what they can expect from the world.
4. Eat warm, moist food.
I know it may sound unconnected, but it is pretty well-documented these days that our mind and thought-patterns are deeply influenced by what goes on in our gut. According to Ayurveda, dry, processed food contributes to a feeling of dryness and instability in our body.
When we eat warm, moist food—especially home-cooked—we feel more grounded and fulfilled. From this more rooted place, we are less likely to spin off into worlds of worry.
Think about starting your day with hot cereal, eggs, or even soup! Warm, moist food especially serves our needs in the fall and winter when the cold, dry weather can leave us feeling cold and contracted inside.
These four approaches to dealing with my little inner critic voice have not completely defused it. In fact, now it specializes in rearing its head at the moments I start to expand beyond my comfort zone. But I have learned that when it tries to distract me with its drama, that is the signal for me to:
5. Lean in and carry on.
Even when you are not sure of what you are doing, moving forward with commitment will help you avoid self-doubt inertia. You can always make small adjustments as you go. We usually learn a whole lot more from our failures than our successes, anyway.
When you stumble (as you surely will), pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and carry on. After all, your path may be twisty-turny as all get out, but it is the only real path for you. So you might as well get on with it.