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Entries Tagged as 'self-criticism'

Lessons from My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Wonderful Day

October 1st, 2015 · 9 Comments

ace key

It was one of those important and tightly-scheduled days where everything needed to go as smooth as silk, so of course it didn’t.

My daughter and 20-month old granddaughter were coming to visit me in Miami from New York for my birthday.  I had allowed a thirty-minute window before rush hour to get the baby’s car seat from my storage unit. Then I’d have just enough time to tidy the house, start dinner, and drive to the airport.

Lesson #1: Expect the unexpected, especially when it’s really inconvenient. We set ourselves up for stress and turmoil when we don’t allow time and space for unforeseen events.

I vaguely remembered having some confusion about the storage unit key the last time I was there, so I grabbed the box of extra keys from my desk and drove off. I congratulated myself for my brilliant foresight—every key I owned was with me.

When I got to the storage unit and couldn’t find the right key, I began to worry. In my upset and rush, only found one key that was the right size.  But it said “Ace” on it, so I assumed it was a duplicate key from the hardware store.  Since I’d never duplicated the storage key, I left without trying it in the padlock.

Lesson #2: Don’t make assumptions when you are upset or in a hurry. Your thinking isn’t as clear when you are stressed.

Lesson #3: Don’t give up without trying, especially if the effort is minimal.

On the way home, my worrying increased. I couldn’t imagine where that key was. I considered a rapid succession of possibilities–my desktop, a purse, my jewelry box, a bowl in the kitchen. I forgot to quiet my racing mind, even though I teach and practice mindfulness and stress management.

Lesson #4: We perform better and think better when we’re calm. Take de-stressing action at the first sign of upset. Disconnect from unhelpful thinking, regularize your breathing, and allow your body to relax. 

Instead, I rushed home and rummaged through every nook and cranny that could harbor a key. No luck.

My heart began to pound.  Thoughts flooded my mind: Where is the nearest baby equipment store? Do I have time to buy another car seat? What if I can’t find one nearby? Can I get one delivered by tomorrow? That will cost a fortune! What will we do in the meantime? We’ll be stuck in the house!

I caught myself and stopped the runaway train in my mind. I focused on my breath and grounded myself by feeling my body.  I began to calm down.

Lesson #5: Better late than never. 

I looked through the key box once more and picked up the Ace key.  That has to be it! I didn’t even try it! How dumb! How hard would that have been? I shouldn’t have been in such a rush! What’s wrong with me? 

Lesson #6: Let yourself be human.  Humans make mistakes. Irritation and self-scolding only drive up stress levels and make mistakes more likely.

Again I calmed myself, then drove back to the storage unit. The key fit! The door opened! Life was good!

My daughter’s plane would be landing momentarily.  I texted her that I was on my way, dragged the heavy seat down to my car, and headed for the airport. At a red light, I opened my purse to get my phone so I’d be sure to hear her text telling me where she’d be waiting.

But I couldn’t find my phone. I pulled off the road and searched purse, pockets and car. No phone.

I remembered that I’d texted her just before I took the seat to the car. Ack! I bet I left it inside the unit.

My thoughts raced more intensely than ever: I’m going to be late! The airport will be bedlam! I need my phone to know where she’ll be! I won’t be able to find her! How did people ever find each other at airports without cell phones? This is a disaster!

In an instant, my hands began to tremble and I was no longer able to think clearly. 

Lesson #7:  Stress begets stress. Cortisol—the hormone that prepares us to run or fight for our lives when we’re in fear–has a half-life of about an hour.  This means that an hour after an initial stress response, half the cortisol is still revving us up, and an hour after that, half of that half is left, and so forth. Each time we react stressfully over a short time frame, more cortisol is dumped into our systems before the prior load has dissipated. So our reactions come more quickly and more powerfully.  By this time, after multiple doses of cortisol, my reactions were swift and overwhelming.

I turned around and headed back to the storage unit for the third time. When I arrived, I raced upstairs through the warren of hallways and opened the door to my unit. The phone wasn’t there. I felt the blood drain from my face.

I remembered that a group of men were down the hallway when I’d picked up the car seat. I must have left the phone on the floor in the hallway and those men—those thieves—took it! If they get through my ridiculously simple password, they’ll have access to my bank account information. My identity will be stolen! Why didn’t I use a better password? Why did I keep information like that on my phone? The weekend is ruined!

I urgently felt the need for a plan, but I was so confused.  Halfway to the airport, I turned around.  I’d go home, call my daughter, and ask her to take a cab. Then I’d delete the confidential information from my laptop and hope it would sync to my phone before those thieves messed up my life.

My heart thundered as I crawled through rush hour traffic. My mind was reeling: This is taking forever! My daughter must be exhausted. I bet the baby is starving! And my phone is gone! Those thieves are laughing at my stupidity! This will take weeks to sort out!  I blinked back tears.

Lesson #8: Stress can hijack us emotionally and cognitively. By this time I was exhausted and my thinking was very compromised. Driving in this state could easily lead to an accident.

Luckily I calmed myself enough to realize that driving was my only priority at that moment.  Everything else could wait until I got home.  It wasn’t easy. But I got very present and focused on my driving.

Once again, I began to calm down. At a red light, I saw the clear purples, pinks and blues of the evening sky. I remembered the beautiful birthday gift of my daughter’s visit.  I thought about reading stories to my granddaughter.

My thinking cleared up: Everything is going to be okay. The only thing I know for sure right now, is that my daughter has to take a cab and my phone is gone. Whatever else happens can be straightened out when and if it happens.

Lesson #9: Keep things in perspective. Identify what is really at stake, not what your runaway mind is imagining.

About a block from my house, I heard a pingggggg that sounded exactly like a text coming in. A few moments later another pinggggggg. It was a text.  My phone was somewhere in the car!

I pulled into my driveway and found the phone lodged deeply under the passenger seat. I didn’t waste a moment trying to figure out why I hadn’t found it earlier. I called my daughter, apologized, and asked her to take a cab.

Tears welled up in my eyes again, and I laughed aloud at the same moment. All that for nothing! Except perhaps a good story of how not to deal with unforeseen events, stress, and upset.

Lesson #10: When all else fails, find something to laugh about, including yourself. In the School of Life, laughter always earns you extra credit.

My stories could wait. I had just enough time to shower and get dinner ready before my special guests arrived. But before I did that, I went inside to my desk and put a label on the storage unit key. That fake duplicate key would never fool me again.

Tags: fear · laughter · self-criticism · stress

Maps to Manage Your Mind Chatter, Part II: Tips from a Self-Taught Master

March 27th, 2011 · 2 Comments

“The Camp” Courtesy of Judy Fuller.

“What makes you think you can paint?  You’re not an artist.  You’re kidding yourself!”  This is Judy Fuller’s inner voice at two a.m., when she wakes up churning about a painting she’s working on.  Judy is a self-taught artist whose extraordinary, luminous landscapes of the Florida wetlands are sold for thousands of dollars at an upscale gallery in my neighborhood.

Judy’s bright smile, twinkling eyes, and obvious success might suggest that she never hears a mean-spirited voice like this.   Not true.  Like the rest of us, Judy is human.  Like the rest of us, her mind can spin out of control.

“What do you do when you hear that voice?” I asked.  We were both at a party in the gallery, and by chance, happened to begin chatting.

“I just tell myself that I’m tired, that I worked hard today, and that I deserve to rest now,” Judy tells me.  “I remind myself that I’ve worked through blocks like this before, and I remember how wonderful it feels when I finish a painting and it pleases me and I just know it’s beautiful. That’s the truth.  The voice in the middle of the night isn’t.  And I get up the next morning and go to work again.”

“I have a post-it on the studio light switch. ‘The painted ponies go up and down.’ I see it at night when I turn off the lights.  It prepares me to remember the truth if the voice comes in the middle of the night.”

Judy’s not only a self-taught artist; she’s also a self-taught coach, who coaches herself when she hears the nagging, nay-saying inner voice that keeps so many of us from our dreams.  She gently reminds herself of the truth.

Here’s exactly how Judy stops her mind-chatter from stopping her:

1.  Pay attention to what is happening. Judy didn’t avoid the voice. She didn’t surf the internet or eat a quart of Chunky Monkey ice cream straight out of the container.  It’s important not to distract yourself at this point.

2.  Be compassionate. She spoke to herself gently and kindly.  She didn’t make herself wrong for having the thought, and didn’t berate herself further.  In other words, don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up.

3.  Find “the why.” Judy found reasons why the harsh voice was acting out.  She was tired.  She had been working hard.  She had an artistic problem that was unsolved.  She was discouraged.  You can similarly ask yourself: why could this voice be speaking out?  What’s it afraid of?  What’s it trying to tell me?

4.  Find evidence that the critical message is untrue. Judy reminded herself that she’s heard from this voice before, that she produces many beautiful paintings and loves what she does, and that her work in on display in galleries and is purchased by others.  This kind of specific, detailed, truthful evidence is exactly what we need to find when we are disputing the mind chatter that threatens to derail us.

5.  Acknowledge the real truth. Judy remembered what is true for her and what that truth feels like–when she finishes a painting and sees its beauty, she feels it, too.  In those moments, there’s no doubt.  She knows she’s an artist.  When you land on the real truth, your feelings will shift.  It feels so much better.

6.  Give yourself an immediate, healthy solution. “I tell myself to rest, that I can come back to the painting later, that I’ve worked it enough for now,” Judy said. Taking a break from a problem is a proven strategy for moving through it.  So is resting.  Three slow, gentle breaths, a walk outside, or a bath with lavender oil are remedies that work, too.  With experimentation, you can find what works for you.

7.  Don’t give up. The next day, Judy went back to her work.  She didn’t believe the voice and didn’t let its message stop her.    You don’t have to, either. You don’t have to believe everything you hear, even if it’s coming from inside your own head.   That critical voice doesn’t mean you should give up your dreams–just go back to work.

It’s a fantastic example of masterful self-coaching.  The proof?  Her beautiful art exists on canvasses, not as unfulfilled dreams, existing only inside her head.

So, the next time a voice inside your head says you can’t have what your soul yearns for, remind yourself as Judy does, “The painted ponies go up and down.”

Tags: self-criticism · thinking · truth · Uncategorized

Can You Love All of You?

December 2nd, 2008 · 2 Comments

pink-flower_000005420955xsmallI love the story of Evy McDonald, who suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), an incurable, usually fatal, neuromuscular disease that destroys the body’s motor neurons, the nerve cells that control voluntary movement.

Sitting in her wheelchair, Evy chose to literally face her disease, and sat before a mirror looking at her deteriorating body.  In the beginning, she was revolted by herself.  Gradually, she became able to find aspects of herself to admire.  In time, she made peace with herself and her weakened body.

That’s when a miracle occurred.

In a newsletter of the Canadian Holistic Healing Association, Evy wrote, “I couldn’t pinpoint just when the shift occurred, but one day I noticed that I had no negative thoughts about my body. I could look in the mirror at my naked reflection and be honestly awed by its beauty. I was totally at peace, with a complete, unalterable acceptance of the way my body was – a bowl of jello in a wheelchair.”

Although she had been given only a year to live, Evy ultimately made a full recovery from the disease.  In writing about her process, which you can read more about here, Evy stressed the importance of letting go of outcome in her quest to accept herself.

Easier said than done. But she persisted.

Evy suggests this as a step in the healing journey, a step we can all wisely follow, no matter what kind of healing we are doing:  “Release all expectations of how it will turn out. Your body may heal completely – or not at all. You may find that a wheelchair, cane, walker or crutches becomes an integral part of your daily life. That does not determine whether or not you live in a state of wellness.”

Our wellness, indeed our wholeness, then, does not depend so much on whether we lose the weight, heal our knee, or find the perfect career.  We become well and whole when we make peace with all of us, with ourselves exactly as we are.

Our jobs then are to make peace with our overweight bodies, our strained backs, the times we yelled at our kids when we were tired and angry, the unkind things we said to ourselves, marrying the wrong person, failing the test, and so on.

When we can accept all that we are, all that we’ve done, all the decisions we’ve made, we become whole.

The only thing that’s stopping us is the our failure to see the truth about our beauty and our magnificence.

It’s the work of a lifetime, but I can’t think of anything better to do.

Tags: self-acceptance · self-criticism · self-worth

Roller Coaster

August 20th, 2008 · No Comments

When you’re disappointed, does your mood plunge downward like it’s on a roller coaster?  Yesterday, my new client, let’s call her Susan, had plummeted like she was on the Coney Island Cyclone. She’d sought coaching after a string of business failures.  She suspected she might be doing something to attract this pattern into her life.

In a voice awash with misery and despair, she told me how she’d been incredibly happy this morning at the prospect of landing a fat new contract for her business, but a half-hour before our appointment, she received an email that the deal had fallen through. She was crushed and depressed, and beating herself up.

“So what changed the way you feel?” I asked.

“The company changed its mind,” she stated dully.

“How would you feel right this minute if the email had gotten lost in the internet’s parallel universe, and you didn’t know about it?” I asked her.

“I’d feel great,” she said glumly, “at least until I found out.”

“So what really changed?” I asked.

With some coaching, Susan realized that her thoughts about herself had changed. When she believed she had the contract, she thought she was smart and competent and valued, and she felt energetic and excited about life. When she got the email, she told herself the company had rejected her and she was incompetent and useless. She became listless and empty.

As Susan discovered first-hand this morning, if we attach our happiness and self-worth to external circumstances, like a big contract, a promotion, or our children’s grades, we climb aboard life’s roller coaster. When circumstances are favorable, we are high, excited, exhilarated; when things change, we nose-dive to the bottom.

We hop on a roller coaster to take this ride when we lose touch with our true nature, what Martha Beck calls our Essential Self. Our Essential Self knows that we are always sparkling jewels, treasures of infinite value and worth. This has nothing to do with success in any external form–contracts or promotions or our kids’ grades or any other person or circumstance outside of us.

When we lose touch with that part of us, that all-knowing, peaceful, secure place deep in our hearts, we are at the mercy of life’s roller coaster. Our self-worth gets buried by an avalanche of neediness and insatiable hunger for positive attention and rewards from others.

People change their minds, contracts fall through, and others get selected for partnerships, promotions and awards. That is the nature of life—change and unexpected circumstances are the only constants we can count on.

When we are in deep touch with our value, our worth, and the joy that lives deep inside us, we survive setbacks and challenges with peace and security. A contract can fall through, and we can put it into perspective. We’re disappointed, of course, but we can regain our positivity and hope, and we don’t slide into abusive or self-defeating thought patterns.

Sure, it feels fantastic to land a big contract. But when we are in deep contact with our Essential Self, we never lose touch with our worth and our value, and we can regain our energy and hope. We might even understand that the loss of the contract could, in some as yet unfathomable way, be in our best interests. We save the roller coaster ride for fun and games at an amusement park. And, we realize that the next gift from life may be just an email away.

Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re on the Roller Coaster

1. Are you having any negative thoughts about yourself?

2. Is this an honest, factual assessment of this situation?

3. What happens to you when you hold on to these negative thoughts?

4. Imagine being in the present situation without the negative thoughts and judgments. Does anything shift for you?

5. Is there a stress-free reason to keep the negative thoughts about yourself?

6. What is an honest assessment of the situation that doesn’t include any negative or abusive thoughts about yourself or others?

7. Does this change the way you feel?

Tags: self-criticism · self-love · self-worth · thinking

Feast on Your Life

August 3rd, 2008 · 2 Comments

This poem was written by Derek Walcott, a poet and writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. He’s from St. Lucia, in the West Indies, which I hear is the most beautiful island in the Caribbean, which, to me, means it must be the most beautiful place on earth.

Doesn’t this say it all, and so beautifully?

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the others welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Tags: love · self-criticism · self-love

Cloudy Skies and Discouraging Words

March 5th, 2008 · 6 Comments

“You’re so fat.” Julie is scolding someone close to her. She does it regularly.

Paula has a different message: “You spineless jellyfish. It’s a shame you are wasting your life”

“How could you be so dumb? No wonder your life is such a mess.” Kathy is delivering her blows with the accuracy of a champion prizefighter.

All three of these women are bright and educated. Each of them has many close, loving relationships, and excellent social skills. Each of these women knows that these words are cruel and destructive.

So who do you suppose they’re talking to like that? Their kids? Their spouses? Their friends? Of course not! They would never be so heartless and cruel.If you guessed that these are their inner conversations, you are correct. These women, whose names have been changed, berate and scold themselves many times each day. [Read more →]

Tags: love · self-criticism · self-love · stuckness