Self-Critical Clutter

I got an email from the interviewer that I wrote about in the last blog. She wrote: 

"You know what I suddenly realize, reflecting on all this? The person who's often the most mean to me is me! When I listen to that voice inside -- more critically, as of interviewing you (Brooks) -- it occurs to me I just never let up. 'Why don't you have more to show for yourself this morning? What the heck is wrong with you?' Or whatever..."

She continued, "Time to clean out some clutter...inside my head. :)"

She's not alone. The self-critical thinking clutter is common. It goes on a lot without our even questioning it. As if it's right.

The letting go starts to happen by noticing the self-critical thoughts.

"Wow, these negative thoughts are so loud. It's like someone is barking at me from a megaphone. As if some stranger is watching everything I do and think, and caustically analyzing me as I do things. The weird thing is it's my voice. Could that be me? I mean, why would I do that? Things are hard enough as they are."

Try it and see what comes up. Maybe listening to the self-critical thoughts makes them get lighter. Or maybe they disappear. Perhaps they are gone for a while and then you realize they've showed up again. When the negative thoughts come back, notice what they are saying and how it makes you feel.

Watching and listening to your self-critical thoughts helps create a little distance. This helps reduce the hit that comes from them. It gives the space to call the self-criticism into question.

"Maybe I'm not the asshole my thoughts are making me out to be. Maybe I'm doing the best I can."

It makes sense there are self-critical thoughts. We live in a critical society. There's a tendency for fault finding to be in the air. "What's wrong" thinking is in the news. We get it from our parents, schools and religion. There's a common theme that shaming people will help them change their behavior.

The self-critical thinking naturally gets installed in us. We're built to learn from our environment. 

But when you start to look at your experience, you can begin to see that self-criticism or self-shaming serves to makes you feel badly about yourself which negatively affects your physical and mental health, which reduces your productivity and enjoyment of life.

Curiously looking at the mechanics and effects of self-critical thinking helps deconstruct the learned behavior.

This isn't about controlling your thoughts. You can't, because the thoughts suddenly show up without your initiating them. There they are and you're in the midst of them. If you try and push them away, they get louder.

But by taking an honest, compassionate look at the self-critical thoughts when you notice them, and being patient with yourself in this process, you get some breathing space.

That's the cleaning out of clutter from your mind.