On Saturday, I was out to run a quick errand. The white Honda in front of me had slowly crept down the street at 40km/h. Now it was turning right, and so was I. The lane was clear to turn. The Honda started turning and then abruptly stopped. I hit his rear bumper. A gentle bump but still my front license plate scratched his bumper, making repairs necessary. It was my fault for hitting him.
On Tuesday, I got out of my late morning session with a client and found a text and a voice mail from one of my favourite clients who always has a long drive getting to Mississauga. Her text said, “I am here for my appointment, rang doorbell, no answer”. I pulled up the last email I sent to her. It clearly said, “Next appointment, Tuesday, July 4 at 10:00 a.m.”. Yet, I had entered her appointment into my calendar for Wednesday. I screwed up.
I had a week of quite a few things escaping my attention, a week of “screwing up” if you so like. A few important emails also slipped my mind and an important anniversary. A mistake, screw up or failure like the ones I experienced this week is exactly what brings a particular part inside of us to the forefront: our Inner Critic loves to use any mistake or situation of fault as an opportunity to blame and criticize us harshly.
I have been asked in the past, what is the most common limiting belief? As much as we are all individuals and have very individual beliefs which hold us back in life, I would say that the most common beliefs are the ones which make us feel not good enough. At the top of the list is the belief that it is not okay to make mistakes. We learn this early on and our school system often manifests this belief. Our Inner Critic loves to “pounce” on us and really beat us up for past decisions we regret or more recent mistakes that we feel we have made.
What if we could instead see a mistake just as a “missed take”, like in the movies? In most cases, we get another chance for a “Take Two” or even a “Take Three” in life. And in those case where we don’t get another opportunity we really need to let ourselves off the hook, heal the past and forgive ourselves in the process. Any choice we have made in the past was made with the knowledge and wisdom we had at the time. From a place of greater knowledge, we might have made a different decision, yet, we need to be compassionate with that younger self that did not know what we know today.
We are part of the human race, and as humans we don’t always make the strongest choices. We all mess up, miss opportunities or make decisions we regret in retrospect. In fact, we can even take it a step further. It is not “making mistakes” that is often the problem but “not making mistakes”. “If you do not make enough mistakes, that’s evidence that you are not taking enough risks, that you are not growing, that you stay in the comfort of your own safety zone” (Rachel Naomi Remen). Making a mistake can be one of the best things which happen to us because it gives us a feedback. The discomfort we feel when we have made a mistake means that we are more likely to remember what we have learned—unless we allow fear to drive our future choices.
Fear combined with the expectation that the same mistake, rejection or loss will occur again increase the likelihood that we are co-creating that same situation of failure or loss once again. We need to acknowledge the fear and face it. How can we learn from the past without allowing fear to take over our present and future?
What keeps us stuck in a feeling of “unworthiness”, of “being a failure”, is not the mistake but the lack of self-forgiveness and self-compassion. The feeling of “not being good enough” has its foundation in shame. It prevents us from going out and trying again, whether that is going to take another professional risk or healing our losses or relationships. Shame vibrates at a very low level. According to David Hawkins’ scale of consciousness, it’s one of the lowest possible vibrations.
The only way out of that swamp of shame and fear is through self-love and self-acceptance. “There is this place that we all have deep inside us that is untouched by trauma and shame.” (Mark Nepo) There is a deep wisdom inside of us. Our essential self knows that we are perfect and whole, that we are love and light. In meditation or hypnosis, we can experience that place of deep and profound love-ability.
Once we have experienced this, it is easier for us to change our narrative about ourselves. We can change our story from “I am flawed. I am not good enough” to a different inner narrative of “I am human. I make mistakes. And I learned from my past mistakes”. As we change our story, we do not just change our perspective, but we literally change our brain. When we change our story, we change our life.
Often we feel stuck, when we are at a point in our life when our story needs to change. We always have the choice between a victim story or an empowering story. We have the choice to bring up a loving supportive parent voice as opposed to the judgmental voice of our Inner Critic. You are after all not your Inner Critic; that voice is just a part inside of you. Separate from it. We all have the capacity to personify and create a visual image of this part in us. You can even give it a name. Pick a name that is a bit ridiculous to make the separation even clearer and easier.
We want to be able to identify the voice of the Inner Critic. We could communicate with it. Like all parts, it has a purpose. The Inner Critic sees its job in keeping us safe from outside criticism and rejection. You can thank your Inner Critic for how it’s been attempting to help you. You can even find out what that part fears for you. Let it know you appreciate it is trying to protect you from embarrassment.
The second step is to bring up a loving parental voice and to connect with our vulnerable inner child that needs to hear and feel support and compassion. If you find it challenging to tell an empowering and self-compassionate story in a given situation, imagine the story someone who loves you tells about you, different from the story you tell yourself. Or imagine what you would say to a friend or a child in a similar situation. The Inner Critic talks to us in a way we would never dream of talking to somebody else, especially not a child. When we speak to others, we know exactly what words are encouraging, uplifting and motivating to do better next time.
Here is an exercise you can do to practice separating from your Inner Critic. Think about a choice you regret, or a moment in which you felt a sense of failure or shame. Imagine sharing this moment with a wise and loving friend. What would that friend say to you? They would most likely first of all show compassion and say something along the lines of “that sounds so difficult” or “I am sorry you had to experience this”. The second thing they might do is empathize and respond with something like, “I know how you feel. We have all experienced something similar.” The third thing they might do is remind you how lovable and amazing you are. They might encourage you not to give up but to try again. You can even write a letter to yourself pretending to be this compassionate, wise and unconditionally loving friend.
Compassion is not so much a trait but an action. I recently came across another interesting suggestion to increase our awareness of being compassionate. Get a pretty glass jar. For each time that you are compassionate with yourself (or others) you place a beautiful stone or colourful marble in the jar. The accumulation of crystals, stones or marbles becomes visual evidence for how compassionate you can be with yourself. When you do something self-critical, you can look at the jar and remember that those compassionate acts are not taken away and that the glass is just waiting for the next colourful token.
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