Sometimes we all make our own life harder for ourselves. One of the more subtle ways we do so is by the way we think about our experience of life. Most of us have a constant inner commentator who pronounces judgements on us as if there is a scorecard with our name on it, with a ridiculously high pass mark against every activity, behaviour and thought.
For example, we may decide to try cooking something different for a change. Our inner commentator points out that we probably haven’t allowed enough time for the new recipe, and that it hasn’t turned out like the picture in the recipe book. What’s more, those we cooked it for don’t really appreciate it anyway. And then that same commentator will criticise us for being a perfectionist and needing validation from others!
It is rare that our inner commentator says: ‘Well done for having a go’ or ‘That was a really good first attempt.
We need to learn to interrupt the commentator with its judgement and high pass marks. It puts us in a position of failure and disappointment over and over again.
Firstly, we need to change the pass mark into something more helpful. This means noticing whether it is a step in the right direction for us: ‘Am I doing a bit better than I did before?’ ‘ Have I made a slight improvement?’ This sort of measurement is not done moment by moment: it measures our general pattern. For example: ‘ I’m getting better at experimenting with something new’ or ‘I’m more willing to take a risk.’
Secondly, we need to remind our commentators that were human, not perfect beings. We won’t always get it ‘right’, we do slip sometimes, and our progress is not generally linear – it is more like an upward spiral, which sometimes goes downwards, but gradually reaches new heights.
Lastly, and most fundamentally, we need to interrupt the negative and critical thoughts and behaviours by asking a simple question: ‘ Is this useful to me?’ if our intention is to grow our lives into something more joyous and constructive for us, we need to question whether that thought or behaviour is helping us to do that, rather than judging it right or wrong, good or bad.
If our immediate response to the question, ‘Is this useful to me?’ is yes, then we are fine. If it is no, then there is a second question that naturally follows on: ‘So what would be more useful?’
For example, if my conclusion in the cooking experiment is that I won’t bother to do it again, as a result of the commentators’ views, I may decide that it’s useful because cooking is not really my thing, and I could use my energy on something that I do like doing. Or I may decide that it’s not a useful conclusion, and it would be more useful to cook something a bit simpler next time I experiment.
When we ask ourselves if our thought or behaviour is useful, we remind ourselves of the likely impact of it on us and others, and have a choice for how we move next. We help ourselves to grow the life we want.
So just start adding in that question, when you get caught up in the negative cycle. Is this useful to me? And if not, what would be more useful?