How many of us live every single day with nagging self-criticism? For those of us that can say yes to that question, it’s a nasty secret to carry around, smiling on the outside but beneath the surface, there is a near constant sense of dissatisfaction. “If only” this had happened, “I should have” known better, “what’s wrong with me”, “of course” that happened.
I know from where I sit, self-criticism works at deflating my motivation, I get discouraged. On the other hand, If I try and use that criticism as motivation, as in “get it together”, any progress comes with a sense of irritation rather than reward. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation, but what can be done about it? It’s so automatic, and the thoughts are in my voice, coming from me, right?
Are you familiar with the T.V. show “The Big Bang Theory”? The show is in its 10th season and nationally syndicated, so it seemed like a reasonably good reference point. If you are familiar with the show, you are likely well acquainted with the character Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon routinely offers his thoughts and evaluations, mostly unsolicited, as if they are fact. As viewers, we are “in” on this gag that Sheldon has a blind-spot when it comes to empathizing, and that his comments aren’t necessarily true or helpful. The fact that Sheldon is “off” is much of what makes the show work.
It’s funny how close Sheldon’s tendencies compare to our own self-critical minds. Our minds at best want to help, at worst don’t know when to shut up, and there is something that is “just off” when it comes to how helpful criticism really is. Those thoughts are rarely caring toward feelings, they are not wise to the complete truth, and are not helpful in actually making things better. If you took the harsh things you say to yourself, and instead had Sheldon sling them at you, imagine how you would feel? Take a moment and imagine it. For me, it kind of resembles that shift like when I allow myself to gripe about friends or family when I get annoyed, but if a stranger says something critical about them, they better watch out. That context changes everything.
The next time your mind hands your self-criticism, try repeating it in Sheldon’s voice and see if it still lands the same way. I know this feels kind of silly, but when I try it the words seem to sound more foreign, they don’t feel automatically true, and I kind of make that face that Leonard makes like, “really”? It creates some distance from those words, and in that space, I have more room for clarity. I don’t have to get stuck evaluating whether the thoughts are true or false, they can just be thoughts, thoughts that I know are not helping. When we can let go of unhelpful thoughts, it opens up room to focus on what is important. Opening up and focusing on what is important is much more likely to work in your service and be helpful, than getting stuck in an old reflex designed to tear you down.
One final note, if you aren’t familiar with Sheldon or he just doesn’t work for you, try out someone else. It truly doesn’t matter who, but the better you can imagine and hear this 3rd party in your mind’s eye the better. As long as those critical thoughts sound like you, they are able to sneak below the radar as “true” and “from you”. The more important question is “who do you want to be, and how do you want to get started today”?
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Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.