A way to start softening your inner critic
In the Strengthening Your Inner House with Mindfulness series we are exploring how what you do in the present can help you navigate the inevitable challenges life will eventually throw your way.
In this blog, we are going to explore why you might be susceptible to being thrown around by life’s challenges. As Aristotle put it, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Why our inner house might be susceptible?
Let’s take a look then at some principles as to why our inner house might be vulnerable to life's transitions and pains.
Grief and loss hurt, there are no two ways about it.
However, one of the subtler aspects of us human beings is the nagging little voice inside that likes to criticise and find fault, but it can be the straw that breaks the donkeys back in times of trouble.
So, let’s take a look at what that little voice is and how it can be handled both in times of trouble and times of steadiness.
You are probably familiar with this little inner nagging commentator, you know the one, who loves nothing more than to compare, look for fault, feel sorry for itself, criticise and rarely stop. You know, the inner thought patterns that have something to say about pretty much everything; at least mine do!
“Look at them across the road, they are settled, bet they are not having as much trouble as I’m having!” or “I’m no good, why do I always mess up and everyone else seems to get along?” or “Why is there a traffic jam today, why does it always happen to ME when I need to get somewhere?”
On it goes chewing on problems big and small.
The CRIJ (Comparing Ranting Inner Judge)
This inner side of us can be unreasonable as well. Even if you do do well, this comparing ranting inner judge, let’s call it our CRIJ that won’t give much in the way of a “well done”.
This CRIJ thought pattern, sometimes bursts out at the most inappropriate of moments and then feeds on this outburst with yet more Crijjing (crijjing - maybe it will become a new word!) and as a response berates us inwardly even more; “Why did I say that in front everyone at dinner, why am I such a fool?” is usually, unfortunately there more than calm and clarity.
These CRIJ patterns are also what often prevents us from navigates life’s challenges with integrity.
“I just can’t cope, I can’t get through this, how will I cope?”
And often, especially in times of crisis, it doesn’t offer any kind of decent solution such as, “Step back, take some time out, see how things settle; tackle one problem at a time; ask a friend for help, do some research and find out more.”
No, our inner CRIJ patterns just throw criticism instead and can do little to help us strengthen our resolve.
What you’ll be pleased to know is: the CRIJ is not a permanent entity that lives in us but rather a condition that comes about via how we live our lives. Therefore with a few principles and a bit of practice, we can loosen the hold (including the underlying potential for this hold) such a mind-set has.
One can then start to see life with fresh eyes and be well equipped to navigate the challenges that, one way or another, will come to find us.
Here are three things you can do to today to help chip away at your so-called CRIJ:
1) Stretch and meditate regularly
Stretching out your body is a great way to ease tension and less tension means a brighter mind which means less to criticise. Here is a link to a video Morning Yoga and Meditation from the Establish Mindfulness Learning Centre you might find helpful. Be realistic how much you can do as you want to avoid getting into an inner cycle of criticism about failing to do that which could help ease criticism – what an irony if ever there was one!
2) Focus on the present task
Here is a lovely little blog from Psych Central on How to Be Present in the Moment (and Why It’s So Important). She points out even though the present moment might not necessarily feel calm, being with it is better than not, and why, because at least the inner critic softens even if the moment is still hectic.
If you’d like some other exercises to try have a go at these ‘on the surface’ simple but potentially insightful Mindfulness in Daily Life video guides.
3) Review your day wisely
This is an important one and I’ll only touch on it here but, we will be looking at this in the next few blogs. For now, at the end of each week simply ask yourself what went well this week in terms of my actions and speech (comes back to our friend Aristotle – see above) and what are habits I could do with improving or dropping. Yes, I know, seems counter-intuitive to potentially set yourself up for more inner criticism, but bear with on this and all will become clear.
The inner judge feeds on our unskillful actions and speech, so starting to train these to be more skilful is a way to start to weaken these inner critical patterns. To put it another way, learning skilful speech is a way to Strengthening Your Inner House with Mindfulness, yes done with a sense of kindness and mindfulness this can be a powerful way forward, so just have a go and let me know how you get on.
Finally, remember we don’t do quick fixes here at Establish Mindfulness, and that we what we offer via our reflections takes time to blossom, but it is well worth it if you give it a go.
Finally, finally, make this your own be your own guide in life.
If you'd like some further reading on this subject take a look at Unseating the Inner Tyrant, a book I've found really influential in my practice of mindfulness.