A Major Block to Constructive Change


A Yale University study a few years ago revealed that the average child is scolded - criticized - over 20,000 times between the ages of two and ten. Mom says, "No, Charlie - don't touch that!" Or a teacher says, "Jackie, that's not the way to do it!" All those "Nos" and "shouldn'ts" add up to a predisposition toward self-criticism that we must look at before we can truly change our lives.

Self-criticism is a major barrier to change.

Since we've all been "taught" to doubt our abilities and our judgement, it's no wonder that our brain constantly feeds back to us those negative thoughts, even when there's no outside critic present. Doesn't that also explain why, when we fail at something, it's hard to try again? Of course. Our inner critic tries to tell us that we can NEVER do that or be that! This article begins with a technique for learning how to "hear" your inner critic clearly...an exercise in "hearing." Then we'll look at how you can redirect your brain -- to silence the inner critic -- and then to set it up with new messages that are not negative, damning or damaging.

The first job is to locate that "inner voice." Your first move here is to discover exactly where that voice is coming from inside your brain. As you enter one of those moments when your head tells you something like "What if I mess up?" -- immediately close your eyes (this is important, you need to cut yourself off from other stimuli) and tell yourself, "I'm listening to my head talk." Ask yourself, "Where is the voice located in my head?" Is it in the front of your skull or at the back? Behind your eyes? Between your ears? Low in the brain just above your spinal column? You'll get an impression, I guarantee it.

When you've located the source, open your eyes and write down the words you're hearing...or, if you're more of an auditory person, say the words you're hearing OUT LOUD so that you can hear them coming in from an external source. This may sound crazy, but locating your inner voice will actually make it easier to tune in to it and to get it out of the way as you replace the old thoughts with new ones.

Once you've located the source of the inner critic, begin to listen to the vocabulary of the criticisms. What are the words themselves? Are you hearing EXTREME words like ALWAYS, NEVER, EVERYBODY, NOBODY...? These extreme words are ABSOLUTES. You got them years ago, but they don't serve you now. What's going to work will be RELATIVE words, as we'll show you a bit later.

Are you hearing NEGATIVE words like CAN'T, SHOULDN'T, WON'T or WOULDN'T...? These words only need to be eliminated. They don't need to be replaced with positive words, only with positive feelings...again, we'll get into that more a little later.

One suggestion...consciously slow down the rate of your inner critical speech. This way you'll hear it all more clearly, and you'll be able to focus more easily on the painfulness of each individual word.

Now listen to the tone of voice of your inner critic. I'll bet that it sounds belittling, condescending, critically harsh and abrasive. Right? Where do you think all that came from...not only the words, but also the tone? You'll be working on modifying that inner voice to be gentler, softer, kinder, more encouraging, less discouraging. But first we've got to reach the negative stuff and cut it off.

What I'm describing now is, of course, a process. You're not going to be able to silence your inner critic in a moment, nor will you be able to open up to positive thoughts after all these years of negative stuff. Maybe you could benefit from writing down your inner critic's statements in a little notebook. Jot down the situation in which the thoughts occurred, the wording of the thoughts, your remarks about the tone of the thoughts...and don't forget to note the date and time. You'll soon be surprised to notice just how often these critical thoughts arise!

The basic cut-off technique, though, is to pay attention to those negative thoughts and, as soon as one begins, instruct your brain to say, "STOP!" If you're alone, saying "STOP" out loud is even more powerful. And the faster you interrupt, the better. By the way, say only "STOP!" If you go further, it may be to say, "STOP, STUPID...there I go again, why can't I get this right? Won't I ever learn?" Guess what...you won't make progress by cutting off a negative thought with another negative thought! The point here is that you need to be hard on your negative thoughts but not hard on yourself. Take it easy, but be firm with your errant mind. Just say "STOP!" Now that you know how to stop the thought process, you need a tool for re-programming your mind so that the thought doesn't come back again later. The answer is to switch your thinking, immediately. Distract your mind. Think about something neutral, like your thumbnail, the pen in your hand...something that doesn't have any negative charge on it. Even better, if you can, substitute a positive thought. My favorite, one I use virtually every day, is "I'm part of the solution." This, of course, is the answer to the negative thought that IS the PROBLEM!

Eventually you'll probably be able to anticipate your negative thoughts. You'll see them coming before they arrive. Sometimes negative thinking is a function of your mood. You'll begin to see this, too, as you go along, and when a downside mood creeps in you'll be able to head it off at the pass with some positive stuff like:

thinking about the things you like about yourself

thinking about things you like to do

thinking about your most recent triumph or accomplishment.

Gradually you'll reverse the negative pattern. Just remember and do these three simple steps:

listen to your thoughts?

stop your thoughts?

switch your thoughts?

?and you'll find your way of thinking re-arranging itself. Soon you won't have the negative thoughts as frequently. Eventually, you may extinguish them and discover yourself to be a thoroughly positive person.

Copyright 2002, 2005 Optimum Performance Associates/Paul McNeese.

Paul McNeese is CEO of Optimum Performance Associates, a consulting firm specializing in transitional and transformational change for individuals and institutions through publication. His publishing company, OPA Publishing, is an advocacy for self-publishing authors of informational, instructional, inspirational and insightful nonfiction.

Email: pmcneese@opapublishing.com
Websites: http://www.opapublishing.com and http://www.opapresents.com

home | site map
© 2005