"Dr. Laura....When I stop and take a breath, I am amazed at the amount of negative thoughts in my head—typically criticizing my ability as a mom, or a wife, or an employee, or a daughter or a friend. It’s so hard to feel like I’m doing anything well at all. How do we get out of the negative thought patterns?" -- Amy
We all feel at times like we aren't good enough. Sometimes it's because we're in an impossible situation where there simply isn't enough of us to go around. But often -- regardless of the objective situation -- we get stuck in negative thought habits. We beat ourselves down, which makes a bad situation worse. If we could only support ourselves to feel like we were more than enough, we might be able to make peace with our situation -- or take some step toward making it better.
The bad news is, the mind is constantly “on.” The mind’s job is to observe, judge, run scenarios, and set off alarms. The mission of the mind is survival, so it’s motivated mostly by fear. Happiness is not in its job description.
Worse yet, the mind's tendency to negativity is often reinforced by the messages we receive in childhood. Our parents' words and actions toward us become the belief system that shapes our inner voice.
But even if we're raised with a generally positive self view, the mind has a tendency toward worry that wears us down. Brain research shows that our minds are constantly looping through patterns that get etched into our neural pathways with frequent use. This often shows up as “My child is doing X… I must be a terrible parent ....and a worthless human being...This is an emergency..I have to MAKE my child act differently!” Sound familiar? Some people call that the monkey brain, or the lizard brain. I call it the inner critic.
The good news is, you can disarm your inner critic. You can even transform it into an inspired inner parent, which is something we all need. So as we head into spring here in North America, I'll be devoting some of these daily posts to mindfulness practices that together add up to a Blueprint to Transform Your Inner Critic.
These aren't my ideas -- they're time-honored mindfulness traditions designed to address this most fundamental challenge all humans face. But I can testify that practicing any or all of these strategies over time will help you to live a more peaceful, loving, and happy life with your child. I think you'll find life inside your head happier, too. Think of this as “ Spring-cleaning for your psyche” (a gift to yourself at any time of year, for those of you in parts of the world where spring isn't approaching!)
Strategies to disarm your inner critic tend to fall into three categories:
- Bring awareness to your mind
- Change what your mind thinks and says.
- Give your mind a vacation.
We'll be exploring multiple strategies and giving you tools in each of these areas.
For today, let's begin by simply noticing your inner world.
1. Notice your thoughts. Stop. Take a breath. Just sit for a few minutes, with your attention turned inward.
2. Observe how your thoughts trigger small waves of emotion. You suddenly remember something you forgot to take care of, and you feel a bit anxious....One more thing to add to the list...All this work, taking care of everyone else....you feel so tired, so unappreciated...a bit hurt and resentful....It's time to get your kids to start helping more...but you can just imagine the fight that will result... are your kids growing up lazy and undisciplined?....You must be doing something wrong....fear clenches in your belly...Maybe a muffin would make you feel better?
Don't worry. Negative thoughts are completely normal. What's useful is to see how quickly they can spiral into negativity, trigger upsetting emotions, and compromise our natural feeling of well-being.
3. Consider that maybe you don't have to believe your thoughts. Really. Your thoughts are not gospel. Many of your thoughts are not even true, they're just opinion, or fears, or knee-jerk reactions. (Who says you're not good enough?!) Once we become aware of our thoughts, we can stop automatically believing and acting on them. It's like sunshine melting away the fog. Suddenly, we have a choice.
For today, just take as many opportunities as you can to stop, breathe, and notice the chatter in your mind.
Ask yourself: "Is that absolutely, definitely true?" (Hint: If it's about the future, it cannot be absolutely true.)
Remind yourself: "I don't have to believe that."
Choose to simply ignore any thoughts you don't want to entertain.
There. Isn't that liberating?
In the next few weeks, watch for: