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"Who Is this Inner Critic?" featured as part of SpiritSite.com's "Coaching Corner" column, is Copyright © 2001 by Lea Brandenburg. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.
"In Buddhist texts, Monkey Mind is described as a self-criticizing aspect of our mind that swings us from doubt, to worry, and back to doubt."
Lea Brandenburg, Who Is This Inner
The Inner Critic, the Censor, the Committee, the Judge, Monkey Mind Ė these are just a few of the names for that voice in our heads that decides to speak up just when we are about to embark on a new challenge. It judges our work, our new projects and ideas, and provides a running commentary or critique on most every action we take.
You know this voice. When you sit down to write, it will tell you that you canít even spell. When you start a new job it tells you that you made a mistake to take the job in the first place. It may tell you that you are way out of your league at this job. Or when you are giving a presentation, everyone in the room seems to be smarter, richer and better than you are. It suggests that you just donít have the skills to take on that new project. It loves to remind you that true artists are born with a gift, and somehow you managed to be absent from the school of life the day they handed out these special gifts.
In Buddhist texts, Monkey Mind is described as a self-criticizing aspect of our mind that swings us from doubt, to worry, and back to doubt. This chatter gets loudest when we threaten to change the status quo Ė even if the status quo is something we long to leave behind. This voice is concerned with survival, logic, solving problems and being sensible.
There are ways to live in peace with this part of us:
Julia Cameron in The Artistís Way has a variety of exercises that deal with the Censor. And Maria Nemeth in The Energy of Money has extensive information and exercises for the Monkey Mind. The most important action we can take in making peace with this side of ourselves is: recognize that this voice is not who you are. It doesnít come from your inner core or true self.
A way to re-program our thinking about this part of our brain is to accept that it does serve a function. Survival and problem solving are part of its job. In A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative, Roger Von Oech states that there are four roles to the creative process:
The creative process breaks down when we use a role at the wrong time, like using the Judge to explore for information (this is the Artistís job) or using your Artist to implement an idea (this is the Warriorís job). (A Whack on the Side of the Head, p.172-173) Let this part of your brain do its job, but donít invite it in before it is time for it to do its work.
The Inner Critic, the Censor, the Committee, the Monkey Mind, the Judge can be helpful to you, but definitely not when you are about to embark on a new experience or are staring at a blank canvas or a blank sheet of paper.
Maria Nemeth says it beautifully in her book: "You can devote your energy to changing Monkey Mind, or you can use that energy to infuse your dreams. Your choice is to dance with your Monkey Mind or dance with your goals and dreams. Pick one." (p. 154)
Here are a few strategies to help you discern if your inner voice is trying to contribute to your well being or whether it is trying to protect you from non-existent dangers:
- Recognize that fear is a normal and appropriate response when faced with challenging situations. Acknowledge yourself for doing something new and unprecedented. When moving out of your current comfort zone it does tend to be awkward. Why do you think the phrase "growing pains" is associated with growth? You can and will succeed if you recognize that fear is only a part of the growth process. It is not the end result of the process.
- Take a moment to remember specific times and areas in your life where you have succeeded. Make an accomplishment list. It is a great reminder that have you succeeded with challenges in the past and have the ability to succeed in this current situation as well.
- Challenge the negative self-talk. Ask yourself: Does this thought contribute to my stress? Where did I learn this thought? Is this a logical thought? Is this thought true? Once you become aware of a negative thought pattern, you can confront the thought, challenge the logic and replace the thoughts with a kinder and a more gentle way of thinking that will move you forward on your personal path.
- Write a worse case scenario. What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if you were to take on this new challenge? Give yourself 20 minutes or half an hour and play the negative tape all the way through. Have fun with the worry. Get it all out into the open. Once you reach the end of the time that you've allocated for yourself -- that's it, no more. What usually happens when we "play the tape through" is that we notice that things aren't as terrible as our minds have imagined them to be.
- People make mistakes they aren't mistakes. There is the possibility you might fail or make a mistake when you try something new. One way to guarantee that you wonít move forward in your life is by not be willing to let yourself make mistakes. When Thomas Edison was working on the light bulb he had one failure after another during the process. He said to critics who commented about all the times it appeared he had failed with his invention: "I've simply eliminated twenty-seven ways that don't work." Breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs.
- Thank the Inner Critic for sharing its opinion about the challenge or situation and take action anyway.
Lea Brandenburg is a Personal and Business Coach who works with clients to create strategies for extraordinary lives and careers. Her areas of expertise and passion are interpersonal and business communication, inner wisdom and creativity. She also leads teambuilding and communication workshops for corporate clients. You can find out more about her or subscribe to her free monthly newsletter at: www.creatingstrategies.com (site will open in a new window).