By: Patrick D. Goonan
The first part of this series looked at general attitudes and the the high level view of making changes that last. This second part will talk about the value of a disciplined mind and skillful means to achieve your goal.
If you read Part 1, you will know that I advocate an attitude of compassionate self-discipline. No one has ever gotten better from a good beating whether it was administered from the outside or self-inflicted. However, we beat ourselves up daily via our largely unconscious voices in our head. If you have meditated or even if you haven’t, you probably know from your own personal experience what I am talking about.
So, how do you deal with a harsh inner critic? First, you must be aware of these negative voices, which means creating some reflective distance from them. A good starting place is simply catching yourself in the act of beating yourself up. When you make these kinds of nonjudgmental observations, you can eventually pause and decide what to do. In other words, when you can hold the negative self talk more as object than subject, you are less likely to go on autopilot and therefore, can exercise more choice in the moment. This process is called disidentification because what was previously unconscious and identified with self is now held at a reflective distance from the consciousness that is observing it. In other words, it becomes an object in the stream of thought.
In order to make this process more effective, it helps to quiet the mind through exercise, relaxation practices or meditation. It’s a matter of becoming more mindful of what is going on in the moment so that your higher or deeper self can intervene. In fact, keeping a journal of your automatic thinking is a good way to raise your awareness. By raising your awareness, you raise your control. Over time, this could develop into mastery, but in order to get there you must have a clear vision and a deep commitment to yourself and this process.
It is not surprising that most of this automatic thinking is the result of conditioning and is now an engrained habit. In addition, the effects are amplified by various types of cognitive distortions. In other words, not only is the thinking off the mark, but there is other thinking going on about your own thoughts that makes the situation worse. Some examples of this are tunnel vision, exaggerating particular aspects of an issue, over generalization and selective attention. There are many more, but the principles are the same for working with all of them. These distortions are a type of filter that you unconsciously apply to your already negative self-talk! In general, these patterns go unnoticed until you really start paying attention and slow it down via something like the methods I mention above.
Now, you are more aware of what is going on from your journal entries or other practices. If you review these written entries daily, you can ask yourself, is this really true? How do I know it’s true? In many cases, you will pick up on the underlying assumptions of that negative voice and how the emotional content is exaggerated just by slowing the process down via journal work. This increased awareness will help you catch yourself in the act more often, leading to more insights and more confidence in your ability to recognize these tendencies. You may also notice where these ideas came from and at what age you adopted them. When you read them back, it is often useful to ask yourself how old you feel after reading one off. This will give you a clue as to what age you might have been when you adopted this pattern.
It is also helpful to do a written imagined dialogue between your adult self and the wounded child part or inner critic. In other words, you can write a few sentences to your inner child and then write a few sentences as the inner child. Working back and forth this way, you open up communication between your healthy adult self and the disowned part of yourself. This will help you to integrate this disowned part of yourself back into the larger you that is capable of holding a space for this other wounded aspect of your personality.
There are many ways to work with your inner critic or other disowned parts of your personality. However, in all cases it’s just as important to keep in mind how NOT to work with them. Beating yourself up doesn’t work nor does blocking these things from consciousness. Certainly, a compassionate stance toward yourself is helpful and I would add an attitude of openness and curiosity. I like to call this general approach being an Indiana Jones of your own mental processes. This attitude alone will help the issues come to the surface and start to unravel on their own. Don’t believe me, try this attitude on for a few days along with my suggestions from Part 1 and leave a comment below.
Your mind is a lot like a stormy lake and to see deeper, it helps to calm the waters. This is why I suggested some practices above. To get good at this, especially where you can notice what is going on in the moment, you have to practice every day or at least often. Tiger Woods did not become a great golfer by hitting a few shots, more likely he made thousands of shots with awareness and openness. The idea isn’t much different here and it requires patience and dedication. If you can look forward and visualize success, it will make the whole thing easier.
In Part 3, I will talk about dedication and making ones intention sharp like a sword. This crystallization of intent will get your passion behind your purpose. If you have a good boat (stable mind), a rudder (a specific intention) and wind in the sails (passion through intent coupled with commitment)… you will arrive at your destination.
For some people, this process is more difficult than for others. If you have very dark thoughts or are overwhelmed by anxiety then I would consult a qualified professional to help. However, for average people with average negativity, these guidelines should help.
In general, it is wise to have a sense of humor realizing your will never be perfect. Your not alone, neither is anyone else including me and I work with this stuff everyday. However, you will be much more at peace if you can become a connoisseur of your own remaining neurosis rather than requiring yourself to be perfect before you give yourself permission to be happy. The time to be happy is this moment, don’t postpone it… the future never comes! Happiness is a STATE of consciousness, not a destination to arrive at in the future.