A few weeks ago I posted about my first skiing experience ever. This winter, at the urging of the boyfriend, an experienced skier, I booked a seasonal rental of skis and boots, bought snow pants, a helmet, goggles and the most badass pair of mittens I’ve ever seen (they are actually gloves inside mittens–gloves inside down-filled mittens with all kinds of pull-tie, wrist protection and a zippered pocket on top for a heat pack), drove six hours up to Vermont and took a beginner’s lesson at the front end of a two-day lift ticket. Over the course of a weekend, I learned how to ski at one of the most challenging mountains here in the mid Atlantic–Killington, a.k.a. “The Beast of the East.” Well, I’m not actually sure if you can call it “learned”… it is, alas, a work in progress. Now, full admission, I am not a thrill-seeker. I don’t like driving much above the speed limit, riding roller coasters and go carts, or even going very fast down a hill on a bicycle. Consequently, I am not very good at these types of things. So, skiing is completely out of my comfort zone.
And, to top it all off, whenever I partake in anything that confronts my fears and anxieties about what I think I don’t like to do–or can’t yet do–I have a voice inside my head who isn’t so nice to me, and she tells me how much I suck at stuff like this. I went into my first ski lesson listening to the voice in my head saying, “You’ll never get off the bunny hill, you’re always going to be too scared to go too fast, you’ll never learn to parallel and forever be a snowplowing, pizza-wedge girl. Plus, your feet hurt too much to do this sport. What a waste of time, money and effort! What were you thinking?!”
In addition to being skittish about sporty adventures, I am also an artist who hangs my heart and soul out there for the world to either criticize or admire on a regular basis so I know this voice all too well… she’s my inner critic, my harsh voice, the mean little, bullying brat who talks at me whenever I’m vulnerable to listening. She tells me all the things I shouldn’t, won’t and can’t do and she loves when I am scared, inexperienced, apprehensive or unsure about a situation because this is her chance to shine, front stage.
A couple of days ago, the Huffington Post featured a column by psychologist, Lisa Firestone, called “4 Steps to Conquer Your Inner Critic.” Of the inner critic, Firestone says…
The critical inner voice is formed out of painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others.
The truth is that we all have this voice inside our heads and we can all get into the thought pattern that comes from listening to this voice. The voice has its value in many situations in our lives. It keeps us aware of potential danger, requires that we evaluate our personal and physical skill level for new goals and, I believe, perhaps most importantly, helps us to have humility and a sense of humbleness. The problem, however, with this thought pattern is that, left unchecked and unchallenged, it can slowly begin to negatively impact every part of our lives, both personal and professional. It can change the trajectory of our career path, affect our mental and physical well-being, influence the way we choose friends and confidants and even alter the course of our most intimate relationships. Being aware of the two voices we can choose to listen to is key to tapping into our own motivation as we balance between what we can do and what we want to do, leaving us to become the best versions of ourselves. But, when we fail to separate our own true voice from the voice of our inner critic, we lose this ability to distinguish between who we really are and who our critic tells us we are.
What to do? Here’s a simple, four-step plan from Firestone that will, at the very least, get you to take a good look at your own harsh, inner critic. Getting to know him or her is the beginning of taking control of your relationship with the personal bully that we all have.
Step 1: Try to identify what your critical inner voice is telling you. Acknowledge that this thought process is separate from your real point of view. Remember that your critical inner voice is not a reflection of reality. It is a viewpoint you adopted based on destructive early life experiences and attitudes directed toward you that you’ve internalized as your own point of view.
Step 2: One way to help you differentiate from your critical inner voice is to write these thoughts down in the second person (as “you” statements). For example, a thought like “I can’t get anything right. I’ll never be successful” should be written as “You can’t get anything right. You’ll never be successful.” This will help you see these thoughts as an alien point of view and not as true statements. Notice how hostile this internal enemy can be.
Step 3: You can respond to your inner critic by writing down a more realistic and compassionate evaluation of yourself. Write these responses in the first person (as “I” statements). In response to a thought like, “You’re such an idiot,” you could write, “I may struggle at times, but I am smart and competent in many ways.” This exercise isn’t meant to build you up or boost your ego but to show a kinder, more honest attitude toward yourself.
Step 4: Remember not to act on the directives of your inner critic. Take actions that represent your own point of view, who you want to be and what you aim to achieve. Your critical inner voice may get louder, telling you to stay in line or not to take chances. However, by identifying, separating from, and acting against this destructive thought process, you will grow stronger, while your inner critic grows weaker.
Now I’m deep into ski season and it’s been a nice, snowy winter here on the east coast so I’ve had a few weekends to take another lesson in parallel, practice my bravery, and try out some different slopes. But, guess what? I was back at Killington this past weekend.
And, the hill that once seemed like the fastest, steepest most terrifying, pizza-wedge inducing hill to me was actually my warm-up! I cruised down once and then took the lift up to the peak of the fog-topped mountain and made my way down longer, twistier, faster trails, trying (but not always succeeding) to keep my feet together as the bitter wind blew and the snow continued to fall. Before I took off down the top, I heard my mean, little voice saying, “Remember what happened last time… You’re scared, you can’t keep your feet together, you’re gonna go too fast, you’ll probably fall…” But, you know what?
I told my inner critic, “That might be true,” and then I did it anyway.
TRY THIS WEEK: Talk back to your inner critic and show him/her who’s boss.