Critical thoughts are the worst feeling. It’s like tiny knives; they slash at your happiness. In public, you shake your confidence. You can easily squish down your critical thoughts, you push yourself to smile, laugh, and even become full of life.
But when the dust settles, and you are all alone, that thought starts, first as a trickle: “I shouldn’t have said that. Why couldn’t I say smarter things?” And then they start to crash harder and stronger with, “I am so stupid. I can’t believe at this age I’m not more confident.”
Do you sometimes feel like you’re drowning in a sea of similar critical thoughts?
I know how embarrassing and terrible that feels.
When I teach yoga, I try to help people—to open their arms, notice their thoughts, and release their limitations. Yet, at times I drown in self-criticism and feel like a fraud.
Recently, something completely changed my perspective that scientists discovered that the more people try to avoid certain thoughts, the stronger these thoughts become.
School children’s were told to not to cheat or copy answer’s from someone else and guess what they couldn’t stop thinking of? It’s called ironic rebound. When you try to push thoughts out, they come back even stronger. They try to cheat in exams in very unique ways.
This idea infuses most mindfulness practices. It’s different from telling yourself, “Think positive.” Because if you stamp down the critical thoughts, they only come back stronger. I tested this theory just to authenticate.
How, I learned to slow down my critical thoughts?
Where I once felt frustration for my negativity, I now accept my thoughts, challenge faulty beliefs, and make peace with myself. And the more I feel the critical thoughts, the more I can release them. I’ve noticed that the thoughts come less frequently when I don’t try to suppress them.
Do not ever try to feel criticism about yourself, is destructive. So we try to suppress self-criticism. But when we try to avoid a thought, it’s never far away. So by suppressing, we empower our faulty beliefs. By looking deeply and challenging the belief behind the thought, we finally get relief.
So, how we can do it. Let’s have a look out.
- Observe your thoughts very carefully.
Imagine yourself sitting on a riverbank, watching your thoughts flow by with the stream. Sometimes fast and rushing, other times calm and gentle.
Learn to welcome and observe all thoughts. This might feel unnatural or even painful at first. I understand. But remember that this is a process that will lead you toward a place of self-understanding and love.
We install many things in our sub-conscious mind and when they come up repeatedly we thought that it’s all true and there’s nothing I can do about it. Scientists call this a hard-wired cognitive bias in the human brain.
When l catch myself thinking, “You are too quiet and shy and not animated or interesting,” I resist my urge to deny and suppress; instead, I observe and allow the thought into my body and feed it with positive approach.
- Identify the underlying belief.
Let us dig a little deeper. What belief lies behind your thoughts?
By pushing critical thoughts away, you may have unconsciously turned them into self-limiting beliefs.
I often think, “I’m too shy. Why couldn’t I have said more? Do people think I’m stupid?”
I believed that because I was shy, I was inferior and somehow deeply flawed. When I used my breath to be in my body, I felt empowered to be in the present. I allowed myself to feel the pain of feeling inferior.
You’ve observed the thought, so now can you identify the belief that causes the thought? Beliefs are about how you are as a person as opposed to transient thoughts about your actions.
If this is scary, use your breath to come back to your body and the present moment. Know that you are okay.
- Feel the belief in your body.
You can heal because you’re no longer a victim of your thoughts or deeply rooted beliefs.
Because feeling is not the same as believing.
What happens to your breath when you allow the belief to come into your body? Where do you feel it? May be in your heart or your belly button?
When I allowed a belief into my body, a deep pull manifested around my solar plexus chakra, lower centre part where there is a hallow area. It was definitely painful but less scary. And through feeling and clearly looking at the belief, I became empowered to challenge it.
- Challenge and dissolve the belief.
Negative beliefs about ourselves are simply not true, and they cause the flow of critical thoughts.
You and I need to release them so we can find inner peace. As scary as it feels, verbalize the belief. Because you must face the untruths head-on to let them go.
Remember that other people’s words are not necessarily truths, especially judgments and criticisms. Ask by yourself only.
Now it’s time to let the belief go. Inhale deeply, and feel your lungs fill with air. Exhale completely, and feel your body relaxing. Imagine that you are releasing clouds of criticism.
I challenged the belief behind the thought: “Because you’re shy and not always talkative (thought), you’re inferior and flawed (belief).”
When I used my breath, the knot at my ribs dissolved a little bit with each breath, and I’m left with profound clarity: the clouds have disappeared.
- Uncover your new truth.
When you clear away your clouds of self-criticism and faulty beliefs, a sunny truth can shine. You’ll learn to appreciate your unique strengths and attributes.
Now you realize that you are more humble and eager to learn more. Don’t be afraid of letting your positive traits out into the world. You won’t become an egomaniac by simply accepting yourself.
I now see that my shyness has benefits: I’m an intuitive listener, compassionate yoga teacher, and a successful businessman. As I continue to breathe, I feel better about who I am. And I accept my unique way of being.
You can do this too.
“Stop hating yourself for everything you aren’t. Start loving yourself for everything that you are.”