Do you ever notice what you say to yourself. Many people, including me, have a stream of internal dialogue, a running commentary on what we are doing and how well we are doing it. It’s often most noticeable when we feel we’ve made some blunder. “Oh, what an idiot!”, “How could you be so stupid!”, “I wish I hadn’t said that, what was I thinking?”, and so on.
For many of us this commentary is not delivered in a friendly understanding tone, quite the contrary, we often berate ourselves in a way that would get us beaten up if we were to use it on other people. We’d also want beat up anyone who used that tone on us, but we ‘happily’ castigate ourselves without mercy.
If you recognise this in yourself, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one, you might like to ask yourself: “Is this kind of commentary doing me any good?” or “Would I expect this from a compassionate friend?”
If the answer to those questions is no, what can you do about it? Here’s one way to work with critical thoughts, borrowed from an American Zen monk Cheri Huber (just in case you were wondering about the name, in the Zen tradition ‘monk’ is a unisex term).
When you notice yourself having a critical thought, say to yourself in a friendly, interested tone of voice: “Hmm, that’s interesting, how do you know that?”. Wait for the answer. When it comes it may well be another critical thought (they run in packs), if so ask again in a friendly tone “Hmm, that’s interesting, how do you know that?”. Just continue in this vein, you may find yourself learning quite a bit about the way your mind works.
In this way you can begin to question the unquestioned authority of these thoughts, many of which were absorbed in childhood and have been knitted into your internal experience. It may take a lot of persistence to challenge all the negative thoughts and comments that are floating around in there, but a little awareness followed by a quizzical enquiry may go along way to making them much less convincing.