We all have an inner critic that tells us from time to time things like, “You should’ve known better. You are such an idiot. You did it again, what is wrong with you. C’mon, you can do better than that.” For perfectionists this inner critic can be unrelenting—constantly telling us that if only we would have worked a little harder or had been more careful things would have turned out better—basically making us feel like we just don’t measure up. It is not uncommon for people to have a harsh inner critic. This inner critic, if left to run amuck in our minds, will often produce feelings of shame, self-doubt, inferiority, low self-esteem, and depression.
So, what are we to do with this voice? Ignoring the inner critic has not proven to be a very effective method. Trying to strong-arm it and beat it into submission seems to only cause the voice to get louder and more insistent. But we can turn down the volume on our inner critic. We can even learn how to see our inner critic as an ally rather than an enemy. Here are four tried-and-true techniques that can help:
1) Understand the Inner Critic’s Role: It is helpful to recognize that the inner critic is usually coming from a place of protection. The voice is a survival mechanism helping make sure you don’t go getting yourself into trouble by taking crazy risks or making major mistakes. The role of the inner critic is important to your survival, believe it or not. While you may become annoyed, even paralyzed at times with the messages you hear, the voice is committed to your well-being. So even though its attempts to protect you may sometimes be misguided, it can be considered a well-intentioned ally.
2) Discernment is a Critical Key: We get into trouble with our inner critic when we don’t recognize that the advice we are getting is often inaccurate. When we understand the critic’s role—that it’s trying to keep us safe like an overbearing, well-meaning mother—we can be more discerning with the content within the warning. As soon as you hear the critic’s voice, ask yourself, “Is my inner critic helping me here or hurting me with this advice?” We can reason with the voice once we understand that it does not speak absolute truth. For example, we can say, “I understand that you are trying to protect me and I appreciate that, but this advice does not really apply here. I have thought this through and it feels like I’m making the right move. I’ll course correct if things get out of control.” Also, if what you are hearing hinders your energy and confidence, ask the voice to step aside and continue on your way. Sometimes it is helpful to engage the voice and ask, “What’s the wisdom in the counsel? What might I be missing?” The strategy here is to be more objective with the advice you are getting so you can choose how to work with the inner critic, rather than being ruled by it.
3) Acceptance Leads to Freedom: A good rule of thumb to follow is to realize that the inner critic isn’t going anywhere—it’s likely here for the long haul. Besides, efforts to try to ignore the critic, banish it to the basement, or beat it away, only end in frustration. This futile cycle of trying to defeat the voice only leads to more self-criticism for not being able to win at this game. Instead of trying to defeat the voice, try the tact of acceptance. With acceptance we become more relaxed and comfortable with the inner critic, recognizing it is a part of us, even a useful part at times. With acceptance we allow ourselves to become friends, getting to know this voice intimately. As you make this transition to acceptance you will probably find that the voice becomes less harsh and caustic over time.
4) Investigate the Origin of Your Inner Critic: All inner critics are not alike and just like us, their behavior can change over time. Some people have an inner critic that is very harsh and unrelenting. Others may have one that sounds like a loving but paranoid parent. Some critics are loud and frequent, while others are more gentle and subtle. Understanding the origin of your inner critic can be very helpful in learning how best to deal with it. If you are wondering how to determine the origin of your inner critic, the best advice I can give is ask—simply ask that voice, “Where do you come from?” and listen to what you hear back. For most people, their inner critic can be traced back to their childhood, often born out of their interaction with their parents or other influential adults who may have been hard to please. But not all inner critics come from our childhood. We’re influenced by many different factors, including competition with our peers, societal pressures, the media, our intimate relationships, and our own attitudes about winning and losing. Once you understand where your inner critic originated from, you’ll be in a better position to recognize when it’s providing good wisdom or dishing out unhelpful criticism.
These four techniques that we reviewed can help you interact more effectively with your inner critic and turn it into a powerful ally rather than a destructive combatant.
(Excerpt from my new book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
“Live in the present moment!” You may have heard this advice before, perhaps from a wise grandmother or your local golf pro. But keeping our minds focused on the present moment seems to be a very challenging skill to master. If you are like most of mankind you may spend a fair bit of your mindshare either wallowing in the past or forecasting fearful “what if” scenarios into the future. Unfortunately, when we are in this scattered state of mind we tend to be less productive in our daily tasks and less effective in our interaction with other people. Can you relate to this in your own life?
Research studies have shown that when our mind is filled with regret from the past or fear of the future we unwittingly trigger the “fight or flight” response causing the body and mind to go into “watch out” mode. When we see, think, or even feel that we might be in trouble, the amygdala in our brain releases chemicals that trigger this hyper-alert state in the body so we can either get ready for battle (fight) or get ready to run (flight). This defense mechanism is essential for our survival and was especially useful back in the days when we lived out in the wilderness and were often at risk of being attacked by an animal. But in today’s modern society, unnecessary overstimulation of the “fight or flight” response can become a hindrance in our day-to-day activities.
So is it possible to curb those anxious feelings and be in a more calm state where our thinking is more fluid and our actions more on target? Yes! The secret is to keep our thoughts, our mind, our attention focused on the present. Here are a few techniques to help us be more “present” in our lives.
Refocus your attention in the present
When you feel your mind regretting the past or fearing the future, you can catch your thoughts and redirect them to the here and now and say to yourself: What is the task at hand that I can focus on right now? What can I do today to move toward my goals? The more you practice bringing your thoughts to the present the easier it becomes. And over time your mind will tend to stay more in the present.
Be in the moment when you interact with people
Be present when it comes time to play with your children. I have come to love those moments when my youngest daughter says “Daddy, will you play with me.” When I am truly present with her and caught up in her make believe game I feel at peace and in sync with her. These times truly are some of my favorite moments in my day.
Here are some tips that can help in your interactions with others:
1) Look the person in the eye and let them know you are present with them.
2) Really listen to what they are saying.
3) Avoid thinking about what to say next. Simply respond instinctively to what you are hearing. Your subconscious mind knows what to say and how to say it.
4) Be aware of the nonverbal cues. Notice their posture and facial expressions.
5) Listen for opportunities to be of service to this person today.
Notice your surroundings
As you move through the day remind yourself to take in the beauty around you; notice the vibrant colors, feel the temperature, feel the breeze on your face, watch a majestic bird in flight. Taking a walk in nature is a great way to sharpen the senses and hone this skill of becoming in tune with your environment. As you practice this technique you’ll notice that it really helps keep the mind focused on the here and how.
A great exercise to do when you feel your heart and mind racing is to consciously breathe deeply through your abdomen. Sitting down with your hands on your belly, simply inhale deeply through your nose to a count of 6, hold briefly for a count of 2, and then slowly exhale to a count of 6. Breathe this way 8-10 times and notice your body relax and your mind become more present and quiet. You can do this simple exercise anywhere, anytime—even while sitting in a meeting, riding the bus, or driving your car.
Practice, practice, practice!
You will find the more you practice these exercises the better you will get at keeping your mind focused in the present moment. As you get better at staying in the present moment it will lead to a more peaceful heart and a quieter mind, which are critical keys to finding more joy in life no matter what your circumstances may be.
When life is weighing you down one of the best ways to maintain peace of mind and a sense of well-being is to breathe. Now, that may sound a little ridiculous. After all, we breathe unconsciously and don’t even think about it, right? But, therein lies the catch. We don’t think about our breathing much and over time, with the pressures of daily life, most of us have defaulted to shallow chest breathing which dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen we take in. Shallow breathing actually causes a lot of unnecessary misery for us.
In today’s frenetic, high-stress world, most of us sit, stand, and move in ways that undermine our breathing and our physical and emotional health. If we were to sense and observe ourselves in action for a moment, we would notice an enormous amount of unnecessary tension throughout our bodies—this tension is usually stored in our shoulders, back, jaw, face, throat, belly, hands, or chest. As we become more aware of our body tension, we would also notice that it usually escalates when we are in a hurry and feeling stressed, which for many of us is almost all the time. This tension throughout our body often impedes the natural, harmonious movement of the diaphragm and its coordination with the secondary breathing muscles causing a shallow breathing pattern.
In highly charged situations notice that we tend to take rapid shallow breaths, and we feel the heart pound and muscles tighten as adrenaline kicks in. This is the sympathetic nervous system in our body working in high gear, and it is stimulated in times of stress—we know it as the “fight or flight” response. When this automatic response is triggered it causes the release of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream putting all systems on high alert. Very helpful if you are about to be attacked by a bear in the woods, but in everyday life this high-stress state can become detrimental to our health and happiness over time.
Abdominal Breathing Exercise
To begin the exercise, sit down and place one hand on your belly. With your eyes closed breathe comfortably for a few breaths and feel your belly rise and fall with each breath. On your next exhalation, breathe out slowly through your nose, counting to 6 in your mind. At the bottom of your exhale, pause briefly for 2 counts, and then inhale slowly to a count of 6. Expand your belly as you breathe in. At the end of your inhalation pause briefly for 2 counts, and then exhale slowly as you count to 6 in your mind. Slow, rhythmic breaths – inhale…pause…exhale…pause. Breathe this way 8-10 times.
This abdominal deep breathing exercise is a great way to help your mind and body relax. It is also a helpful cure for people who get migraines or stress headaches because a major cause of headaches is lack of oxygen due to shallow breathing. Over time with practice, this exercise will train your body to naturally breathe through your abdomen even in stressful situations.
Take a time out a few times a day and practice abdominal breathing. You will discover this to be one of the single most helpful tools to improve the quality of your life.
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
Wanting to be “in control” is part of the human condition. It appears to be our natural tendency to go about trying to control things in our life so we can have some sense of assurance that things will not fall apart. But here’s the deal: What if in reality we are not in control of things? What if the notion that you are “in control” is an illusion?
Consider for a moment how we constantly make plans and yet many of them don’t actually turn out the way we envisioned. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans,” an old saying goes.
A wise colleague of mine, who is a psychologist, said to me several years ago these words: “We think we are in control but really control is an illusion in the human psyche. We try to organize, plan, and perfect things in the hopes that all this busy work will minimize the chances of something bad happening. But in reality this hyper-vigilant attitude of trying to control everything is what causes us much unnecessary grief and anxiety.”
We really don’t know the future, much less control it, yet we like to think we do. We face a chaotic and complex world, and our natural instinct is to control it however we can. But, our predictions are often wrong and our plans often go awry, and that can be a difficult pill for most of us to swallow. It seems easier to believe in the illusion of control rather than face the prospect that we don’t have as much control as we thought.
It really comes down to releasing our attachments to the way we want things to be—whether that be having a person act the way we want, or having the world work the way we want, or having our plans turn out perfectly. When you make the decision to let go of those attachments you will experience more peace and ease flowing into your life.
It takes more trust to live like this—it takes trusting in a Divine Power higher than ourselves; trusting in the twists and turns of life; realizing that the grass is not always greener on the other side; believing that if you learn to work with the current of the river rather than frantically trying to steer into what you think are “better” waters, you’ll actually end up where you’re supposed to go, and you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more.
If you want to a see this principle in action watch the movie Buck, a documentary about the natural horsemen movement. In this inspiring true story you get to see the amazing effects of Buck Brannaman’s gentle horse training method, which is drastically different than the old style of breaking the horse’s will with a strong hand and forcing them into submission.
Buck was the primary individual who inspired the character of “Tom Booker” in the Nicholas Evans novel, The Horse Whisperer, and was the lead equine consultant for the film of the same name. Nicholas Evans gave high praise to Buck when he said, “The one who truly inspired me was Buck Brannaman. His skill, understanding and his gentle, loving heart have parted the clouds for countless troubled creatures. Buck is the Zen master of the horse world.”
Now, let’s clarify what it means to ease up on the reins in our own lives. I am not recommending forgoing appropriate self-control. There is wisdom in having self-restraint—such as being able to control our temper so we are not quick to judge and react in a regrettable way. Certainly a measure of self-control is a critical part of navigating life successfully. What I am recommending is letting go of the need or desire to control circumstances, or people, or things that are often outside of our circle of influence.
What I have learned in my own life validates Buck’s gentler approach with horses. If you ease up on the reins a bit and let go of the need to control every aspect, you will have more peace, success, and joy in your life. And after all, isn’t that really what we are after on this walk of life.
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
- Henry David Thoreau
In the end, what really matters? That’s what Richard Leider, author of The Power of Purpose, wanted to know. He spent over twenty years interviewing people in the final years of their lives asking them: If you could live your life over again, what would you change? From this research 3 Universal Truths emerged:
1. They would have paid more attention to the big picture. They spent so much time being busy that life just seemed to pass them by.
2. They would have taken more risks. They wish they’d found work that was more meaningful to them, and the courage to be better friends, parents, sons and daughters.
3. They would have left a legacy. They wish they had made more of a difference.
Fortunately we don’t have to wait until our sunset years to make these discoveries. But, tragically many of us make these realizations closer to the back end of our lives rather than the front end.
In the seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning, Psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl made some profound discoveries about the human condition while enduring years of unspeakable horror in Nazi death camps. He discovered that one’s fulfillment was determined largely by internal rather than external measures. At the core of his theories is the belief that man’s primary motivational force is his search for meaning. Does your life have purpose? Is it going in the right direction? Do you feel complete?
Many of us have grown up with a great deal of pressure to do, to accomplish, and to make a name for ourselves all in an effort to feel worthy in one way or another. At some point in our lives we may find ourselves asking what is the point of all this busyness, of all this striving, what race am I trying to win? Am I accomplishing all this stuff so I can receive some pats on the back or public recognition? Am I walking the path that aligns with my higher true self, does this fit who I really am, does it bring my joy?
Your 80th Birthday Party
So what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? What is your soul’s higher purpose? Have you thought much about these questions? If not, here’s a fun exercise to help get inspiration flowing: Imagine it’s your 80th birthday party with all your loved ones, friends, and colleagues gathered around to celebrate with you. One by one they stand and give you a tribute. What would you hope to hear? Take a few minutes and write down some tribute statements that you would love to hear at the twilight of your life. This is a great, thought provoking exercise that can help you become more aware of what is truly important to you, to help you tap into the deep desires of your soul and to realize the kind of legacy you want to leave behind.
To help with the development of your tribute statements consider the following questions:
1) What activities energize me? What do I enjoy doing? How can I incorporate more of these kinds of activities into my life?
2) What activities can I let go of that deaden my spirit?
3) Is my ladder leaning against the wrong wall? Is it time for a career change in my life?
4) What relationships do I need to change and how I can I improve them?
5) How can I help those I love to be more in alignment with their soul’s purpose?
6) How can I make a difference in people’s lives? How can I make a difference in this world?
Taking the first step on this pilgrimage takes some courage, and it requires some faith to continue with the transformation process. But, for those sojourners who travel inward to the heart center and learn to hear and follow the inner guidance of their soul, they will find at the twilight of their lives that their regrets will be few and their joy will be great. And if you happen to be thinking that it is too late for you, remember, if you are still living my friend, it is never too late to tune into the wisdom of your heart.
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
Laughter truly is a great energizer for the body and mind. Several medical studies have revealed that laughter is a powerful antidote to many negative conditions including stress, pain, conflict, and anxiety. In an extensive medical study in 2005 it was shown that laughter, along with an active sense of humor, can actually help protect you against a heart attack, according to cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. “The old saying that ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ definitely appears to be true when it comes to protecting your heart,” says Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology. The most significant finding in the study was that people with heart disease responded less humorously to everyday life situations. They generally laughed less, even in positive situations, and they displayed more anger and hostility. “The ability to laugh—either naturally or as learned behavior—may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer,” says Miller.
So, if you are looking to improve your overall health, consider the following summary of benefits that come from this cheap, easy-to-use medicine that has no negative side effects:
1) Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and mental stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.
2) Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter literally decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thereby improving your resistance to disease.
3) Laughter triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural feel-good chemical—they promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
4) Laughter protects the heart. A good sense of humor improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
So, no matter how difficult life may feel at times, no matter the number of problems on your plate, do your best to have a good laugh each day—and if you find yourself in a season where a genuine laugh is hard to come by, try putting a smile on your face at least once a day. Humor has a magical way of lightening our burdens, lifting our spirits, and improving our health!
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
We make judgments all the time about people, places, and things. Our mind naturally works that way. But often times the conclusions we come to about others is inaccurate because we are not seeing the whole picture. I am reminded of an account of a person traveling on a subway who was terribly annoyed by the rambunctious behavior of some young children on the train. The children’s father seemed lost in his own thoughts, seemingly unaware of their obnoxious antics. “Can’t that man control his own kids?” thought the annoyed passenger. “How rude of him to allow his kids to disturb other passengers like this. What a jerk!” When she finally had enough she approached the man suggesting that he restrain his children. He turned to look at her, his eyes full of pain. “I’m sorry,” he said, “my children and I have just returned from the hospital where we said goodbye to my wife and their mother for the last time.” In an instant her anger turned to compassion.
Notice in this story that the man’s grief understandably blinded his awareness regarding his children’s behavior. Notice how the woman was also blinded by her indignation, leaving little room in her head and heart to see the situation any differently. Oh, what a difference perspective makes! With a broader perspective comes more understanding, more compassion. And when we have more compassion we can see others, even our “enemies,” in a better light.
Next time you find yourself making a harsh judgment call about someone, remind yourself that you may not being seeing the situation clearly. I love this advice from Marvin Ashton: “If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care. Be one who nurtures and who builds. Be one who has an understanding and forgiving heart, and who looks for the best in people.”
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
Here is a random act that caught me by surprise one day. After a stressful morning with several challenges flooding my head on this particular day, I took a break to get a bite to eat. I waited in line at the restaurant, placed my order, and then to my amazement I was told that my lunch was already paid for. “Are you serious?” I said. “Yes, someone in front of you paid for your lunch,” she replied. “Who was it? Are they still here?” I asked. “Can’t tell you,” she said with a smile. Immediately I felt a lift in my heart and in that moment I had forgotten about the pressing issues I was struggling with at work. I sat down and enjoyed my lunch as I scanned the room wondering who the kind person was. Is it him I wondered…maybe it is that lady over there? What I noticed was the warm feelings I had for a perfect stranger whom I’d never met. And I venture to think that the kind person was having good feelings in their heart as they saw me scan the room with a little smile on my face.
Another random act of kindness happened one day when my wife Katie was driving down a main thoroughfare on the outskirts of our neighborhood. This particular road is a “speed trap” where cars are often pulled over by the police. On this particular day Katie saw a woman pulled over and in tears as she was being written up for a ticket. My wife felt a strong impression to help this stranger out. So she pulled a U-turn, stopped behind the police car, and waited for him to finish his work. She then approached the car and expressed to the woman that she wanted to help her out and pay for the ticket. “Are you kidding?” The woman was shocked yet very grateful for the gesture. A couple of weeks later she stopped by our house to say “thank you” and shared a bit of her story—she was recently divorced and struggling to raise her kids on her own. My wife was glad she followed the prompting to stop that day and help a stranger in need.
An act of kindness does not have to involve money of course, and it need not be extravagant. It can be as simple as pulling your child or your companion into your arms today and telling them how grateful you are that they are in your life. Doing a good turn daily is a very effective way to renew our energy and lift the spirits of both the giver and the receiver, and anyone else that may get a chance to see the random act unfold.
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
Life moves pretty fast these days, and it appears society’s pace is only increasing. At times we can be so focused on getting things done and rushing to our next appointment that we miss some of the beauty in life along the way. This aspect of life was illustrated in an experiment in a busy metro station in Washington, D.C. Here is the published account of what happened as told by reporter David Ord:
A man sat at a metro station in Washington, DC and started to play the violin. It was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.
During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by, and a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a three-year-old boy. His mother tugged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.
When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew that this was the world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars! Two days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell was sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100.
I am told that Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and the priorities of people. The question is: In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the finest musicians in the world, playing some of the best music ever written, just because we think he is “no one”—and yet we will pay a great deal to hear that same person if we think he is “someone”—what are we not noticing about ourselves?
(This story was told by David Ord, a Namaste Publishing author)
John's passion is in helping people get unstuck so they can experience their true potential. Before starting his own practice he spent 16 years coaching, consulting, and presenting to Fortune 500 companies, teams, and individuals on how to breakthrough their barriers and magnify their talents.