I have been meaner to myself than anyone has ever been to me. The inner voice can be cruel, critical and relentless, but thankfully, it lies. This is something I need to remember from time to time, and I know that many suffer from the same inner critic who is probably the only one standing in your way. Time to ditch that jerk! Or at least, develop the ability to mute them more often.
Growing up, I had a severely distorted body image. My inner dialogue was painful, self-disgust and detesting at its worst. “If only this were...” (bigger, smaller, thinner, prettier, leaner, longer, etc.) all pointed to a lack of love and appreciation for my body, all it had been through and all it does for me in every single moment.
If only I had known the keys to unlock the badass beauty within was in love, gratitude and not in criticism, I would have been loving life and myself a lot more and a lot sooner. Just as healthy habits are a practice we must adopt and repeat if we wish to make positive changes stick, so must the negative voices and behaviours be acknowledged in kind.
With awareness and love comes power and change and, I solemnly promise, the blissful silence of your inner critic. Here’s how to cruise through life a little lighter:
Social media has trained us to project and reflect the hyper-positive. This competitive space for likes and shares by appearing to be the best version of yourself to the point that it is distorted. No one feels THAT good all the time, or looks that good, lives or eats that well. Relax. That Instagram bombshell or bogi (a fake or bogus yogi) with 100K followers and endless new bikinis on the beach, has sad, puffy, spotty days for sure. Maybe she has wicked B.O. or is a super clingy girlfriend or is terribly inconsiderate. We are all dealing with our own stuff. She or he is just not posting about that. It’s selective marketing.
Web influentials are the new product placement. This is not to demonize this, it’s just the marriage of technology, trend and new sales methods. The demon is in not recognizing it as such and allowing it to distort how we view ourselves and others and how we talk about ourselves, especially to ourselves.
Remember this when you compare yourself to them or anyone in your feed online, or on any media. Comparison is the thief of joy. Tune out. Put down the phone, step away from the screen and remember nothing she/he does actually affects you, only you affect you, for better or worse. So let’s focus on YOU.
Now that you tuned out for a moment, take a minute to reflect on what is happening right now, in this moment. Start outside yourself, notice your surroundings: the temperature, sounds, life, te space and silence. Even in a busy or noisy place, there is infinitely more silence and space in the universe than noise. There is space in between everything, pauses between words, sounds and breath.
Now focus on your own breath, even though that is an unconscious act, there is a pause in it, at the start of a new breath and the end of your last. Focus on the gentle movement in your body, the feeling of breathing, the life it gives. Do this just three times.
Congratulations. You did it. Right then, your inner critic was silent. You silenced it because you became aware, if only for a moment. That is the start of your practice. That is the spark of your power through awareness. Any time you feel defeatist, critical, or cruel inner dialogue coming up, hit pause on the chatter and notice it. No need to judge it, just notice it (perhaps even what preceded it as a cue) and practice three breaths with your attention on the act of breathing.
LIVING IN THE NOW
Once you become familiar with this sensation of hitting mute on that inner critic, you can begin to expand the space of that awareness for longer periods of time. This is called living in the present.
Two major emotions that can be the most debilitating and self-destructive to our health, well-being and state of mind are depression and anxiety. Neither of them is living in the present moment. Depression is nearly always to do with living in the past, whereas anxiety is the experience of living in the future, feeling fear and stress over an imagined possible outcome, decision or fork in life’s road. None of it is real. It’s just in your head, all those pictures, sensations, even lack of sleep thanks to your doomsday imagination. What a relief! Like a bad dream, you can shake it off and return to being present.
OKAY I DID THE BREATHING THING, NOW WHAT?
FINDING THE FLOW
Some people don’t think they can sit still long enough to meditate. No worries. You can experience a meditative state and the benefits in an activity as well. This is Flow. I found it through cooking, the act of peeling a mountain of potatoes, slicing 20 fennel bulbs just so, for pickling. Losing yourself in an action and creating that quiet mental space, living in that moment. Sports, training in the gym, running, even gardening, there are many ways to find it and keep your peace.
Meditation is a gateway to Flow, but gratitude is the brick that paves this road to peace. It is developing a practice where you extend those quiet moments into a state of being for longer periods of time. This is how you create space for beauty, love and light inside and out. You must live and breathe what you want in your life. If you want health and peace, practice health and peace.
EXERCISE IN GRATITUDE
Still lying awake with that inner critic? Hating on your beautiful thighs again? Worrying about how you will ever….and why does she always…and how come he never…. is called a loop. A loop is a negative thought spiral that feeds on itself and takes over brain space. Think of it like an alien invader or parasite, not the real you. You are wonderful. You are important. You are loved and worth loving. If only in this moment it seems not true, silence the critic by counting the ways.
It astounds me when I begin this practice how it can just keep going. Start with five things, big or small (sometimes smaller is easier) that you are grateful for, and five things about this moment or your day that were good, made you smile, or that you are happy to have in your life. It can be as small as the train that was on time, your coffee was awesome, or even “I am grateful that I have a healthy body that carried me through a 5k run today.” You can go deeper with gratitude for loved ones or even gratitude for this practice, which finally shut down your own worst critic and changed your inner dialogue.
Remember, it is a practice and way of being in your life journey, not a destination. Having a pleasant trip is entirely up to you... and wholly within your grasp.