The inner critic. The voice of negativity. The saboteur. Many names describe the self-defeating person inside our heads. It attempts with one rushing thought after another to tear us apart, tear our dreams and hopes apart, and leave us in tatters.
Just when we begin to feel good about a project we’re working on, the inner critic strikes with a sneak attack, dampening our mood and making us question everything. When we stop creating to question every little detail, we make our project appear more complicated than it should be, and this may prompt us to stop working altogether.
We try to be positive, but the inner critic still looms over our heads, sometimes powerful and ominous, squashing our feeble attempts to silence it right away.
As a writer, I’ve experienced the voice of negativity on multiple occasions:
“You’re a terrible writer.”
“Why can’t you describe this better?”
“You’re such a slow writer.”
“No one would read this. What’s wrong with you?”
“You’ll never succeed as a writer.”
These thoughts come cascading one after the other, sometimes freezing my fingers from typing anything new on the keyboard. I almost lose my desire to write and search to direct my energies into some other outlet. What if my inner critic was right? What if I was wasting my time writing? What if nobody would ever read my works?
The saboteur doesn’t just strike at my writing. It harasses me about other aspects in my life: family, work, relationships, and my dreams to travel the world, start organizations to help vulnerable youth, and someday create my own media company. With all these ambitious dreams, my inner critic works overtime to make me feel unworthy, unprepared, and unequipped to find success in my endeavors and my life overall.
After months of meditation and self-introspection, I’ve come to realize what’s keeping in the claws of my saboteur; what stops me from being consistent in working toward my lifelong goals and dreams. My inner critic reflects and gives voice to the deep subconscious fears resting in the darkest caverns of my mind. According to psychologists, painful experiences in childhood such as trauma or experiences with hurtful attitudes toward us help form the inner critic. Without taking the time to pinpoint and separate ourselves from this inner critic, we may allow it to sabotage different areas in our lives.
I found that by identifying my fears, I could shut up my inner critic once and for all and replace it with a more self-affirming voice. My inner critic can no longer swallow me whole and trap me in despair and zombie living.
Here are the first two fears out of four that I’ve confronted:
1. Fear in disappointing my parents.
Being careless with our mental care can allow parents to mess us up. A lot.
Sometimes most of the things holding us back from achieving what we are made to achieve is fear of our parents. We fear letting them down. We fear upsetting them. We fear making their worst nightmares about us come true. We fear their disapproval. We fear losing their support, maybe even their love. We have these great fears because our great love for them.
For some, our parents are a huge part of our lives, especially if we’re the children of immigrants or come from a culture with very strong family ties. This fear, however, can potentially be mentally unhealthy and constricting, and can stop us from taking the risks and steps necessary to achieve the goals, dreams, and vision we have for our lives.
In my life, for example, my parents don’t regard writing as valuable unless it’s tied to a more prestigious profession such as law or public policy. I respect these sectors but for now I want to write fiction, personal essays, and uplifting words that can help others in mental, emotional, and spiritual ways. To me, it’s not always about the income, but about the freedom of self-expression.
Overcoming the fear of disappointing my parents and what they think of me isn’t always easy. It takes hard work and practice in the form of deep introspection, revisiting hurtful past events, and seeing my parents as humans with their own fears, dreams, weaknesses, and strengths.
Parents are not perfect gods. They’re imperfect people who sometimes fear for us in ways that may feel more overbearing to some than others. We know they love us, but some parents have a hard time letting go, and it’s so important they know how to do that.
For us with parents unable to let go, we need to take the first step and jump out to the road waiting before us. This takes bravery, but we all have the courage to do so.
To wrap this one up, the inner critic can manifest itself as the imagined voice of my parents telling me I can’t do this or do that because I may end up hurting their dreams for me. However, by better understanding this one fear supplying the material for my saboteur, I can shut it down right away without taking the time to dwell on what it has to say to me.
I can say, “I know where I’m going, and I’m going to make it. And when I do, I’ll find ways to make my parents happier than they’ve ever been.”
2. Fear of rejection.
This one is a real doozy. I fear rejection. One more time. I. Fear. Rejection. It’s embarrassing having to admit this but unless we admit our fears, we won’t be able to tackle them. I fear rejection from friends, people I like and admire, readers of my writing, and so on.
Fear of rejection sometimes stops me from engaging with people I find really interesting because I’m afraid they won’t accept me or my quirks. I’m horribly sarcastic, introverted, and extremely mellow, unless I’m excited about something, and then I’m hyperactive. I have this tendency of thinking people won’t get me so my inner critic pops up with these expressions to paralyze me:
“People think you’re weird.”
“Why don’t you have anything interesting to say?”
“Why would anyone like someone like you?”
“You’re a terrible person and should stay away from people.”
The results of listening to this inner critic? I isolate myself and spend long swaths of time alone, which hurts my chest and head because the loneliness is real.
Studies show that loneliness does serious damage to your physical health: lonely people are twice as likely to catch colds; four times more likely to have a heart attack, and four times more likely to die from it. Loneliness negatively impacts your immune system and bolsters genetic activity tied to inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease and cancer! This refers to loneliness alone, not depression. Furthermore, loneliness should not be confused with being alone which is perfectly all right.
I have moments where I’m more than comfortable with being alone, immersed in my work, meditating, or walking around, people watching. However, the saboteur emerges at times when I feel lonely to make sure I stay that way. It also stops me from working on a project because I’m supposedly the worst writer in the world and people will hate my writing.
Knowing my inner critic gets its juice from my fear of rejection helps me find counterattacks to the five negative statements above:
- Who cares if people think I’m weird. Some people don’t think so and others don’t care. They’re the ones who matter to me. Also, I like being weird.
- I’m not a clown. I was not made to entertain people all the time.
- I like breaks in conversation. As an introvert, I value breaks in conversation because too much talking can become overwhelming. I like time to process. It’s who I am.
- Why would anyone not like me? Next.
- Yeah, I mess up, but I know I am a compassionate being and seek to do no harm to others.
The inner critic may appear innocent at first, but without proper supervision, it can grow into a beast ruining our lives. As with anything negative thought pattern or behavior we see ourselves succumbing to, it’s always important to dig deeper to find the roots. Without doing so, we may only have surface level solutions that work only for the short term.
How about you? How do you deal with your inner critic? Would love to hear your thoughts!
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Also, be sure to look out for my new e-book coming out soon: The Passionate Dreamer’s Notebook: For Those Who Refuse to Quit!
In my first post, I shared four things I do to keep writing and motivated in the midst of deep discouragement. We don’t choose the challenges that come our way, sometimes we do, but oftentimes we don’t. I learned a long time ago how letting the darkness weigh me down served no purpose other than to stop me from creating, and thus, living. Creating is my life; it’s how I interact with the world, make sense of it, navigate it, and survive, and ultimately thrive in it. Without the process of creation, I have nothing. I feel I am nothing. I am blind, deaf, mute, and brain dead. In other words, no better than a corpse. So whenever discouragement rears its ugly head to stop me from creating, I need to get over it ASAP. I need to keep going and I do so this way:
5. Come up with a plan that addresses my mistakes and creates solutions to be better
As I said before in my last post, sometimes I fall short of attaining my goals, and when I do, I try not to beat myself up over it. I reduce the whole guilt factor to prevent me from giving up on making goals altogether. Aside from not being too hard on myself, I create a plan to address the reasons why I failed to achieve specific goals. I’m basically learning from my mistakes in order to not repeat them the next time around. I attack my mistakes head on and create an appropriate fix for each of them. Whenever I feel myself sliding back into those same mistakes, I take a look at my solutions list, and it keeps me on track to getting things accomplished. Again, I use Evernote to get all of this done.
6. Speak power to my life every day and repeat how I will achieve my goals and vision for my life
It’s time to get spiritual right now. The right actions are important, but without the right mindset, those actions won’t manifest. Every day I make sure to remind myself of the power I have in changing my life and making my dreams come true. I have a saying written on a board in my room. It says, “Whatever I can conceive in my mind, I will achieve. I am powerful. My mind is chaos.”
You’re probably getting all the lines except the last one about my mind being chaos. The thing is I need to have my mind untethered to the cold logical thinking part of my brain that says I can’t do this or that because I don’t have this or that. Saying my mind is chaos disconnects me from that restrictive, logical thinking that usually keeps people in mediocrity or in safe, unimaginative spaces. I want my mind to inhabit dangerous, wildly creative spaces.
7. Actively forget the past and the pain it carries.
Like every other human on this planet, I have past hurts, mistakes, failures, and disappointments. I used to dwell on all these low points in my past, and I kept trying to figure out how different my life would turn if I did this or that. Bad move. Thinking on past regrets is probably the most useless activity you could ever do. Seriously. It wastes time, depresses you, and keeps you away from the present. Anything that keeps you away from living in the present moment is worth abandoning. The present is all we’ve got before we say our adieus. My worth isn’t tied to who I was or what I did in the past. I recreate myself today and with each new day that follows.
8. Enjoy the process.
At the end of the day, when all is quiet in the dead of the night, the worlds I create with my writing all come down to this one feeling: joy. In the deepest caverns in my heart, I truly enjoy writing, and I sometimes need to actively remind myself of this fact. I enjoy beginnings and ends, but the middle is where it’s all at, where the magic is at its strongest. I can’t forget it even when I feel like crying all day or want to keep walking past my apartment building to someplace far away. Shutting out my external environment, I find beauty and joy in the creative process. This is where I live. In the process of creation.
How about you? How do stay motivated to do what you love in the midst of discouragement. Would love to hear your thoughts.
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Sometimes I’m shocked at how much I’m able to create or write in the midst of all the crap I have to deal with it internally and externally: loneliness, family pressures, unfulfilling job, agent rejections, financial instability, depression, etc. I can’t count the number of times I’ve contemplated suicide or wanted to run away as far as possible from my life here in Boston. Or just give up on living abundantly and resign myself to the 9-5 slog of zombie walking. But I don’t. I don’t stop writing. I don’t stop creating. I never stop hoping for something more than the life I’m living. I keep going, sometimes even without motivation. Without discipline. Without anything. I keep going. How? I’m going to share with you four of the things I do to write and keep creating in the face of deep discouragement. In part two, which I will post soon, I’ll share the next four things that I do.
1.) Write down goals for each week, month, and next six months, and follow the progress of these goals.
One of the ways that I make it through life when it feels like a total slump is to write down my goals for the week, month, and the next six months. Looking at my goals every days fuels my day with purpose and moves me to get things done even when I don’t feel like it. Writing down goals drags me out of the la la land of dreams toward reality. I love dreaming, but I don’t want to live in my dreams forever. I want to experience the reality of them coming true, and that happens with making goals that I work hard to achieve every day. Next, I always follow the progress of said goals to see how far I’ve come or how behind I am. Doing so makes me have an active relationship with my goals. They’re not simply words I write down and forget the next day. It doesn’t help to approach goal setting in a superficial, hollow manner. That’s why I use apps like Evernote to help organize my goals and progress so I can access them anywhere.
2.) Meditate every day for at least twenty minutes.
The second reason why I don’t burn my eyebrows off or have what should be my millionth nervous break down is meditation. I can’t stress enough how important meditation is to keeping sane. Those twenty minutes or more of silence, of getting away from the world and technology, just refreshes your batteries to take on whatever comes next. And there’s really no right way to meditate. You just need to sit still; you don’t need to do anything fancy like curl your fingers or cross your feet.
And don’t worry if you start thinking about a bunch of things. Let your mind do its thing. When you’re ready, focus on one idea or focus on the darkness when you close your eyes. Listen to your breathing. Breathe deeply. Listen to one of the hundreds of meditation tunes on YouTube while you meditate to help set the mood. I personally love listening to traditional Native American songs while I meditate. I just fly away and forget everything. It’s perfect. I can’t go a day without mediation.
3.) Practice gratitude
Practicing gratitude goes hand in hand with my meditation. I always start my meditation by listing all the things that I’m grateful for. This exercise helps me put things in perspective. Instead of complaining of things I don’t have, I focus on the things I do have, and this chases away negative feelings that would otherwise occupy my mind. In the grand scheme of things, I’m quite blessed: I have a job, a warm place to live during this terrible winter, meals to eat, a loving family, and the function of my limbs and senses. That’s a lot more than a whole lot of people in the world. Practicing gratitude keeps me moving forward without steam.
4.) Don’t be too hard on myself if I fall short of my goals
I don’t always achieve all the weekly or monthly goals I set for myself. When I fall short on making something happen, I choose not to be too hard on myself because that can easily spiral into a vortex of negative thinking. Once caught in that vortex, I may not want to set goals again in order to avoid the awful feelings associated with failing. One of the worst things you can do is fear failure because it stops you from taking action, especially the kind of risky action that can give large returns. Instead of focusing on the things I didn’t achieve, I take stock of what I’ve succeeded in doing. This gives me a much-needed boost to keep going and get to the things I failed to achieve.
I used to think life was this terrible, sadistic monster that tried to trip me up any chance it got. But that picture of life was all wrong. There was nothing out there trying to destroy me or make me feel miserable. It was all in my head. Life is what I make it. Today, I’d like to think life responds to my mindset and actions. I’d like to believe life is something beautiful and I need to flow with it, not against it. I don’t need to fight, I need to create more than anything.
What about you? What are some things you do keep yourself creating or doing what you love in the face of discouragement? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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2014 hasn’t been kind to me so far, which bites because 2013 wasn’t a blast either. I’ve been on a failing streak with one setback rolling in right after the other. Just when I think life has decided to give me a shiny gold coin, it pulls it right out of my reach before I can take it. Lucy would’ve been proud. And of course like any normal human being, I’ve buckled under the pressure, cursed the gods, and experience internal torment. Thankfully it’s not my style to stay broken and buried. Even if I have to claw my way out of this grimy pit, I will get out. Strangely enough misery motivates me to change whatever hasn’t been working.
First thing I did was get a haircut. I have this strange ritual where I cut my hair as some sort of external display of rebirth. I look in the mirror and see the new look, thinking about how I’m going to change. But that’s just 1% of the work needed to transform my situation. Usually my gut reaction to my problems is to leave the country. Runaway and teach English in some far off country where I don’t have to think or deal with any of the demons back home. Sadly, I’ve grown practical and can’t bring myself to do such a thing. Running away won’t help because my problems will follow me wherever I go. They live in my head, which last I check isn’t detachable. So what do I do?
Create opportunities. Work harder on my craft. Remember that the bad times won’t last forever. Be a better person to my loved ones and the people around me. Exercise regularly. Eat better. Get help in the form of a therapist. I’m pretty sure I’m holding my breath underwater and it won’t be long before I drown. So I have to keep all these things in mind to move forward and attain the life I want to live. To remember that life is worth living no matter my environment or my circumstances. Life is worth living.
What do you do when everything goes wrong? Would love to hear your thoughts!
It’s going to be okay. No need to feel broken and separated from everyone else. It’s no longer necessary to find escape through deep sleep. You can find peace here. It is waiting for you in your heart. You can find healing for your mind, body, and soul. You can find it now. It’s not hidden someplace far beyond your reach or calling to you from in inaccessible planes. It’s here. It has always been here. You simply forgot or didn’t believe. Your peace. Let it massage your tired muscles, calm your heart, and help you breathe anew. It will awaken your mind and replace your dulled senses with the alertness of creative energy, bursting with power and amazingness. Unleash the inhibition chained to the logical spaces of your mind. You don’t need it. Let go of control. Let go of unspiritual needs of what they say will bring you happiness. Create happiness in this moment now. This moment loves you and will give you sweet kisses of joy, pure and refreshing. You will forget what once hurt your mind, your pride, and hope. Put it in the past and go forth with a new voice, a new song, waiting inside to be sung for all to hear. I want to hear your new voice, your new song deep within the caverns where you keep them all hidden. I’m waiting for you. Don’t keep me waiting long. I am happiness. I am joy. I am fulfillment.
It was about three in the morning when I typed the words “suicide chat rooms” on the google search bar. I felt alone and vulnerable, but mostly angry because nothing in my life was going according to plan despite my sincere efforts. The thought of taking my life had flitted across my mind, but in reality I didn’t want to die. I simply wanted to find kindred spirits in my frustration. What I found instead shocked and terrified me. My eyes followed the lines of people begging for partners to end their lives with them. I read stories of immense pain, loneliness, failure, and self-hatred. The hopelessness was so palpable that I slammed my laptop shut and exhaled. The tears came before I knew it. I knew people suffer, but this was different. People are suffering. The urge to reach out across my computer and hug that man or woman in indescribable pain overwhelmed me. It brought to mind how I should always seek to do no harm to anyone. We really should be nice to people.
My situation wasn’t nearly as grave as these individuals in those chat rooms. Enough resolved lived within me to pick myself up and go, but I knew many people out there couldn’t do just that. That’s why I’m writing for the discouraged that have something left in them to move. This is by no means a replacement for professional help. Don’t delay to seek professional help if you know your condition is severe. However, if you’re in a terrible slump and having a hard time coming out, here are five things that eased my tough times.
1.) Stop for a second to think through why you’re going through this spell of discouragement.
I’m a big believer in unrolling and picking apart the negative scenarios that my mind plays. If I allow my negativity to go unchecked and do not take the time to analyze it, then it’ll have more control over my life. The good parts of living become obscured, and my mind declares that nothing of value will come out of my efforts. The result: I stay stuck and roam about like a zombie. This is not about positive thinking. Mostly everyone can do that, and personally, positive thinking doesn’t always work for me. When I’m in dark place, I take a pause and figure out the true, deeper cause behind my negativity. I debunk the lies and myths and come up with alternatives for a problem in which my mind says there are none. There is always an alternative plan, alternative path, opportunity, choice, etc. It’s about changing or rewriting the negative script your mind is set on following. A conscious effort in changing one’s mindset can make a big difference.
2.) Exercise if you aren’t already.
I don’t have to elaborate on the scientific studies lauding the benefits of exercise for improving one’s mood; a thirty minute workout will yield a happier and more relaxed state of mind. But what if you don’t like exercising or going to the gym? Find an activity you love that gets you moving. It could be something as simple as throwing a Frisbee with a friend or dog. Just keep moving for at least thirty minutes. Trust me. It works. I always feel better after exercising. Almost like I can do and take on anything.
3.) Talk to someone. No, really. Find that one person you trust and let them know how you feel.
I’m not usually one to burden my friends with my problems. In fact, I don’t like talking about my problems in general. However, I have enough sense to know that I need one person who will be willing to listen to me when life hits me with frustration and pain. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be one-side because everyone has problems. My friend listens to me and I listen to my friend. In the end, we encourage each other to keep pressing on and let the other know how much we love and care for the other. Instead of getting help, I may end up helping my friend. And you know what they say about helping others. It makes you feel good. So, go and seek that one person. Hug, talk, laugh, cry, and heal together.
4.) Look back at the good times and absorb the good feelings to give you strength to make new memories.
It’s almost too easy to forget that we were once happy and on top of the world when trouble hits and buries us in a pit so deep we forget what light is. One day I happened to look through my pictures from the last four years of my life. In each photo, I was smiling, surrounded by good people, and doing activities that elicited happy feelings. The memories pulled a smile out of me. After looking through this trove of pictures, a thought popped up: Wow, I’ve had some pretty amazing times. I felt good and thought how life was indeed beautiful. Even better, I felt more determined than ever to move forward and experience new things.
5.) Have a dream? Pursue it. Now.
You might think, “Ha, but my dream is the reason why I’m so depressed. I haven’t been able to make it come true.” Yes, dreams are those elusive critters dancing so attractively above our eyes as we try to grab them with short hands. Each time we think we’ve caught them, they fly higher above our reach and life laughs at us. It’s almost sadistic. However, terrible scenario aside, dreams can give us life, purpose, and focus. For example, my dream is to become a sci-fi author. When my other life plans crashed and burned, making me depressed, I continued writing and editing my book. This sole activity of working on my novel gave me life unlike anything else. I’m pretty sure I would have fallen into a deep depression if I didn’t have my book to keep me occupied and focused on a task that mattered very deeply to me. Although I would be more than ecstatic to publish my novel (and I plan to do so), what kept me going and hopeful was the process of making a finished product. So, whatever it is your heart seeks to do, just do it. And finish too.
A list like this isn’t comprehensive enough to bend a complicated life in what we may believe is the right direction. But small things can always grow and branch off into mightier and numerous things that can make a stronger impact. I hope by giving a small piece of my life that you may find some strength and hope for yours.
How about you? I would love to hear what you do when life drags you down.
It may be hard to keep your eyes open. I know anxiety hangs heavy on your eyelids. Sleep whispers into your ears and blows sweet kisses to your forehead. But don’t be fooled. It’s not real. Remember it only takes a little light to chase away the darkness. You have no light you say, but that’s not true. You can make your own light. Smile from deep within. Hope like you’ve never hoped before. Laugh for no reason. Listen to the dreams chattering your head. Step outside and don’t be afraid. Don’t look back. Release yourself. Breath. For a moment, breathe in the biggest gulp of air you can. When you’re done, you will have created light. And with that light you will move forward and set on fire anything that stands in your way. Let the flames devour every inch of pain, darkness, and brokenness. Let it consume everything. Just be careful not to be consumed yourself. Watch it all burn before your eyes and revel in all that it stands for. Because you see, you’ve only got one life to live and you’re not getting any younger. You’re dying. Day by day, you march toward death. So why are you still here? What are you waiting for? No one will come and rescue you. No one will deliver the good news you crave. No one will present a gift wrapped for you. No one. Only you can truly transform yourself. Help yourself. And you can do it. Believe.
Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to others. Use that time to think about all the ways that you are amazing and how you will use that amazingness to brighten your life and the lives of others. Instead of thinking how you wished your life belonged to another, be happy for that other whose life you covet and believe is way more amazing than yours. Rest assured. Your turn will come. You will have a wonderful life with grand adventures, unique new people, incredible heights, and unforeseen surprises that delight all your senses. You have gifts people wished they had and a set of lenses making you who you are. Why be anybody else but you? Your worries, your failures, your sorrows, your pain, your downs, and all your suffering all took part in making the person you are today. Take them all away and the you that you know wouldn’t exist. The negatives in life don’t always have to be a bad thing. With your mind you can transform them into something else. A sort of unique energy to fuel you to become the best version of who you want to be. A version that will certainly come true because you’re a hard worker and desire to be the best you. Your spirit is unstoppable and your drive endless. Who can stop you? No one except yourself of course and you have no plans of stopping yourself. You’re on route to making endless magic.