Do you beat yourself up when you make mistakes?

Are you your worst critic?

There’s a folk tale about two wolves we carry with us who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair, the other is light and hope. The story goes that the wolf that wins is the one we feed.

Negative self-talk feeds the wolf that makes us believe we are stupid, useless and incompetent with the result that we become afraid to try anything and give up easily.

David BrownFounder member of Drive, David Brown, ran a learning and sharing session for our members around the idea that by shifting the harsh critical voice that we so often have in our lives into something that’s kinder and more compassionate, we give ourselves permission to try, not to strive for perfection, to make mistakes and learn from them and be altogether more effective in our lives and businesses.

David started Potentiality Coaching in 2013 to enable people to move on from being emotionally stuck and reach their full potential. Combining martial arts and life coaching, David teaches embodied facilitation. He also volunteers for the Samaritans,  giving people the chance to be heard.

This is David’s summary of the Zoom call with our members:

“That critical voice is something that we’ve probably practised a lot.

It’s served us in a lot of important ways as we’ve been growing up and coming into our adulthood, but in my experience and in a lot of people’s experiences that I’ve noticed, what that critical voice really does, is it slows us down.

It acts as a barrier to our growth.

What I’ve noticed is that if we’re kinder to ourselves, if we speak kindly to ourselves, if we speak respectfully to ourselves, we are more likely to get the job done quicker.

We’ll get the job done better, and there’s much less procrastination.

There’s much less resistance.

It may not get rid of all the resistance, but getting rid of the vast majority of the resistance that gives us permission to be able to take those first tentative steps.

Positive reinforcement

Imagine teaching a pet how to behave properly.  The best way to do it is by giving them positive reinforcement, by treating them kindly, by treating them compassionately and respectfully, and when they get things wrong, you give them boundaries and talk to them in a disciplined way, but with kindness, and they pick up the idea much, much faster.

Touch your heart

Here are a couple of tools that I gave people to try:

Think of a situation, perhaps in a business context or another situation. Bring the specifics of the situation to mind and the kind of things you say to yourself and also how you feel inside.

A typical situation might be where you’ve made a mistake and there’s a cruel voice in your head saying “Oh, God, you’ve made that mistake again – why didn’t you learn better from the last time? You know you’re just not good enough.”

And and very, very quickly that becomes a thing and it starts to happen even when you don’t make a mistake and it begins to become like you’re trashing your whole character. I started saying to myself, “You know you’ll never get this right and you always do this and you know you’re not good enough.”

And the the words can get really quite cruel and quite harsh and very, very generalised.

So just to be aware of that, don’t go to town on it, but just to be aware of how it is that you speak to yourself.

The first tool is to simply place one or both of your hands over your heart space.

What that does is it allows you to just slow down, but also to feel the contact of your hand on your skin around your chest and that maybe that’s as far as your attention will go, but that if you allow yourself to slow down and you give yourself the time and with a bit of practise, you can feel right through all of the skin and the muscle and the tissue and the ribs, and you might even be able to feel the heart itself.

When we tune into the heart, suddenly we might find ourselves speaking a very different story to ourselves, a story that’s more compassionate, a story that’s more heart centred, an acknowledgement, perhaps, that you’re doing the best that you can, an acknowledgment that perhaps you don’t know a better way and that maybe a thing to do is to reach out for support or to acknowledge to yourself that you’re doing the best that you can and that at least you are in action and that maybe there’s some learning to do or to sit back and consider that maybe there’s a different way of doing it.

Whatever it is, you, your heart is telling you, giving yourself an opportunity to hear that voice for yourself.

There’s a fair bit of scientific research that points to this idea that the brain in our head is not the only brain that we have, that there is a heart brain, that there is also a gut brain, lots of neurons, lots of brain type tissue that can direct our thinking that has us reach for new levels or different levels of knowing and different levels of wisdom.

Whilst the old thinking used to be, perhaps that the brain is the sort of the centre control ground control and that everything goes from the head and the instructions go down there’s also a lot of evidence in the science literature now that points to the fact that actually, there’s also quite a lot of information coming from the body up, that the heart feedbacks a lot of information to the brain that the gut feeds up a lot of information to the brain as well. So there’s this up and down going on all the time in our being.

Embrace yourself

The second exercise is a similar sort of thing so use the same scenario or you could choose a different scenario but the second scenario is taking that a little bit of a stage further.

Perhaps, for example, putting your right hand sort of around your chest around your heart and bringing the other arm to your shoulder and allowing your head just to rest on that right? That left hand is resting on that right shoulder almost like you’re giving yourself a cuddle.

One of my teachers, a guy called Mark Walsh, uses this one. He refers to it as the self care pose, so it’s like you’re cuddling a child. You know, if you think of a child that’s just tripped over and grazed their knee or they’ve had an argument with someone, or someone’s been unkind to them, they’re going to rush into your arms and you’re going to cuddle them and protect them. And just for a few moments, you’re going to nurture them. So you’re going to do that to yourself when you’ve got that harsh voice speaking and you’re going to let your eyes close if you want to, and you can look down or if you want to keep your eyes open.

But just have a soft gaze and allow the quality of the touch of your hands on yourself to be really tender, really gentle, really comforting. And you might notice yourself rocking from side to side or forwards and backwards. Or you might feel yourself wanting to very naturally do this twisting action. This rocking action that again can be quite comforting. The gentle movement of that can be quite nice.

And again, if you allow yourself to slow down and allow yourself to feel the sensations of this pose of caring for yourself, you might begin to feel a different message coming through. Not one of harshness, but one of kindness and compassion.

Maybe, rather than trying to push through and burn yourself out, but to actually give yourself a chance to take a break, maybe go for a walk in nature or care for yourself in some other way. Call a friend, take yourself off for the afternoon and give yourself a bit of a break and then come back to the problem at hand or the challenge at hand at a different time when you’re in a different headspace or whatever your version of it might be.

Sharing the experience

So after we did that exercise in the actual meeting, we sent everyone off into breakout rooms and 20 minutes later, they came back and they were giving feedback.

People were talking about different ways in which they felt better.

Being able to recognise this negative voice, and being able to talk to it more kindly to give it some acknowledgement. People were talking about the practise of meditation or taking walks outside. Some people were speaking about how shocking it was to them, how acknowledging that self care is really so low in their priority list and that building self awareness can be really, really helpful so that you can begin to notice when you’re talking to yourself in that way.

One of the things that I think I mentioned on the call was this idea that self awareness isn’t really enough, that there has to be a kind of an acceptance that you’re talking to yourself that way and then also a deliberate intention to move your attention away from this harsh voice towards a choice of self kindness and self compassion and you were choosing that instead.

These were some of the ideas that people were talking about when they came back from the breakout rooms and we finished the session by exchanging ideas of what we were taking away.

Expand your potential

If you’re ever struggling with this this harsh critical voice, then please reach out to me. I’m very, very happy to offer a complimentary session where we can look at some of the things that are going on for you around that self criticism and to try and give you a practise that is going to work for you, that you can take away and use in your daily life that will allow you to be more kind and more compassionate to yourself.”

David Brown
You can also find David on LinkedIn