As I washed down my sixth chocolate cookie with milk, I realized I was trying to flush shame and frustration out of my system. After all, this was the fourth time I took this teacher exam and hadn’t passed. However, everything rode on me passing it. Luckily, I had a full time teaching position. But for how long? I received frequent memos from the school district when summed up meant– pass or pack up your career.
Brooding, I chomped on my eighth cookie. Did I mention I was on a diet? Eating to console myself only compounded my frustration…
Few of are able to “think straight” after a major disappointment. We are emotionally vulnerable. At times like these when we need to extend gentleness and compassion toward ourselves, we tend to treat ourselves harshly and berate ourselves instead. A string of thoughts would zoom like a steam engine through my mind during this stressful time: “Are you dumb” The third grade teacher passed the test on the first try! You’re gonna be homeless soon. Is that what you want, Rosalind?”
Although mistakes, delays and disappointments are inevitable stumbling blocks along the path of success, our inner critic can block us from learning lessons from our errors, and then applying these lessons in order to get closer to our goals.
Yes, it’s difficult to put your effort and time into a project, and receive unfair criticism from your boss, or to study hard for an important test and fail, or watch your mate walk off with a younger woman. Our first knee jerk reaction is, “What’s wrong with me? Or I can’t handle this!”
Sadly, over time some have chosen to “throw in the towel of life,” choosing to exist day to day; others have become naysayers, projecting their inner critic onto anyone around them who shares their dream. These are the people who tell you all the reasons why your goals won’t work. Adopting these attitudes towards life is the real failing.
But what separates the successful from the unsuccessful is what lies between the ears– our mental conversations.
You might quip, “Hey, I don’t talk to myself!” But we all do whether it’s perceptible or not. Self talk colors our expectations. For example, a male co-worker walks down the hallway, and passes you. If your inner critic is plugged in, you might perceive his solemn nod hello as offensive. You react. “What an unfriendly guy! He’s frowning. I’ll ignore him the next time.” You never consider other factors like he just had a major argument with his wife, and was brooding. We strain our work relationships through our negative self talk.
What does it take for us to succeed in our personal and professional lives?
Learning to recognize and silence the inner critic is the only answer that offers us freedom to passionately pursue our desires.
Here are three ways to dismantle your “critic.”
1. Hang Around Optimistic, Successful Folks
What you hang around you become. Have you ever hung around negative people? Their complaints and criticisms can emotionally and physically drain you after a short time. However, by hanging around positive, nurturing people, they can offer you understanding and grace as you hit roadblocks on your way to success. These real people acknowledge your disappoints and pain when you blow it, but will lovingly kick you in the rear and say, “Okay, let’s get back to work!” They’ve experienced their share of setbacks, but have chosen to find their way to around their challenges. They’ll motivate you to do the same.
2. Talk Back to Your Inner Critic
My friend Donna would always tell me, “Go to the roar of the lion.” What did she mean? She claimed that the roaring lion is always the mature one who had no teeth. She’d say, “He’s all bluff when he roars. He sounds scary, but he can’t hurt you.”
The inner critic reminds me of a roaring lion. Our critic can be loud and convincing, but learn how to talk back to it. When your critic becomes annoying, write in your journal. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper in your journal. On the left side, write what your inner critic is screaming. For example, as I studied for my teacher exam, I heard the critic say, “Why are you studying, you’ll just fail again.” I wrote that down in my journal.
On the right side counter that voice with the truth. In response to the critic I wrote, “I could fail the test, but if I give my effort and concentration, I know it’ll be a matter of time before I pass it.” I did this each time I felt like indulging in self-pity. In time, my inner critic’s voice became a whisper. Try it. The truth will indeed set you free.
3. Learn the Life Lesson
By all means, refrain from letting the inner critic control your life! When we bow to feelings of self-pity, anger and depression, we perceive ourselves as helpless. Our actions will align with our perceptions. The truth is that there are many solutions to problems and obstacles, we simply need to uncover our options.
Since success is always a byproduct of teamwork, spend time with your positive support team. Ask them to help you identify areas of weakness, and how to address certain issues. In the end, you’ll have many perspectives and options to work with. Select the option that best suits your circumstances, and apply it. Track the results and adjust if necessary. Be quick to learn your life lesson from a setback, and you won’t have to repeat it.
After wallowing in self-pity and with chocolate cookie crumbs framing my mouth, I finally decided I had no choice. I needed to see why I failed this teacher’s exam for the fourth time. What lesson did I need to learn? My weakest subject was Math. The last course I took was high school Algebra. That was twenty years ago!
I decided to look for other teachers at my school site who hadn’t passed the exam. I found three teachers, and we formed a study group. For six weeks we shot test questions to each other. We debated answers, shared test taking strategies, stuffed our mouths with chips and laughed.
Luckily, each team member had their specialty subject. I was proud to be able to help teachers with English essay questions. I got better at answering Geometry and Algebra questions.
During the entire process, my inner critic tried to yell; it tried to get my attention, but I was focused, determined to pass that test, and complete my teacher training program. Somewhere, in the process I
forgot all about the critic. I took the exam, and I’m proud to report I aced it.
You deserve the best life has to offer. Hang with people who are positive and success. Work with the inner critic by listening to it, and feeding it the truth. It will shrink. Learn the lessons that each circumstance presents to you, and you’ll find yourself becoming more emotionally resilient, productive and successful.