My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone.”
~ Anne Lamott
Why is our mind sometimes like a bad neighborhood?
Here are two possible reasons: The first is that over the years our brain has evolved so that it can take shortcuts called neuro-habits. Neuro-habits arise because certain behaviors repeated over time no longer need the brain to figure them out—like how to brush your teeth. Many of these habits are very, very helpful, and others, well not so much. Like complaints made by one’s inner critic. These are also neuro-habits which seem to come automatically—even out of the blue —without any reflection at all. In many cases, we just accept what our thoughts are telling us as accurate. It’s been my experience that this deserves another look.
Second, from a neuroscience point of view, our brains are set up to pay attention to the negative (in this case, criticisms) and less trained in how to focus on the positive (what is working). Ask yourself, how much time do I spend worrying or feeling anxious about something I said or did? Now think about how much time you spend on enjoying what IS working? The judgment and criticisms are like a gravitational beam for our attention. This can easily generate feelings of worry, insecurity, and fearfulness. Not a fun neighborhood.
The good news is that when we apply our Compassionate Communication skills to these neuro-habits we can change them. How? Well, just like any other habit we first have to notice them. One helpful way is to start by writing down a self-critical statement. Make a mental note of it so that when you hear it again in your head you will recognize it and say, “Oh, that’s my habit.” After writing it down listen carefully: What is my inner voice feeling? What is it needing? When we do this we escape from the mental merry-go-round of trying to rationalize what’s been said and likewise deepening our pain over the words we used. Instead, since we know that everything we do, we do to meet a need, we can figure that this complaint is an attempt to get needs met. What are they? When we know this we can easily see that the problem is NOT about me being good enough or smart enough. It’s about getting my needs met. Once you know what ’s needed, please consider offering yourself compassion for all the unhelpful learning that has come our way. That creates even more space to consider what it is we want to do to get needs met.
My invitation to you? Try this out and let me know how it goes, OK?