A Matter of Choice

success-failby Judith S. Fox

Life is full of opportunities to make decisions. Choices, choices, choices.

  • Which movie should I go to?
  • What should I make for dinner?
  • What outfit should I wear today?

For the most part, those decisions are relatively easy to make. Much more difficult and confronting are the decisions which are life altering.

  • Do I get married?
  • Do I get divorced?
  • Do I have a baby?
  • Do I have another child?
  • Do I quit my job?
  • Do I relocate my family for my work?

Whether faced with minor choices or life changing decisions, this is a set up for your Inner Critic to have a field day. She can ruin your evening if you find yourself overdressed at a party. She can spoil lovely family time if they didn’t like what you prepared. But much more significantly, she can paralyze your ability to take action in circumstances that will change your life.

She can keep you stuck in mind boggling indecision, undermining any possibility of moving forward, one way or another. She can flood your mind with “what if’s.”

  • What if it’s the wrong choice?
  • What if I regret that choice?
  • What if people get hurt by my choice?
  • What if others don’t like me because of the choice I’m making?

Our Inner Critic tries to convince us that we must make the “perfect” choice, the choice that she is certain is the “right” one to make. Whenever you get clear on a decision, she can move into high gear, seducing you into second guessing your choice. With relentless questions about what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, she now has the power to create chronic indecision and inertia.

The Inner Critic is rooted in the domain of duality. She has you believe that all choices are good or bad or right or wrong. We can learn to disempower her ability to keep us stuck by disengaging from the domain of duality. When we give ourselves permission to examine what is true for ME, we can begin to develop an ability to trust our own thinking. Developing this ability allows us to know what is a good choice for me because it is MY truth.

When we make choices driven by our Inner Critic’s need to be perfect, we find ourselves making choices based on factors outside of ourselves. Freedom from the power of the Inner Critic to be in the driver’s seat of our lives means being willing to listen to our own voices.

5 LIFE LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY DOG

I am an avid dog lover and have been since I was a child. I did not own my own dog until I was 8 years old, but I remember when I was 6, my parents agreed to dog-sit for a friend’s dog for the weekend. I was so excited to be in the company of this dog that I refused to leave her side.

When my parents put me to bed the first night she was with us, I vividly remember sneaking downstairs to get the dog to sleep in my bed with me. And when she refused, I did what any determined 6 year-old would do: I retrieved some kitchen twine from my parents’ junk drawer, and tied this poor dog’s front paws to the top of my bed! Thank goodness my parents came in and discovered the torture chamber I had created, and rescued her!

womanDogBut, what I remember about that night is that this dog just sat there quietly, loving me unconditionally, despite the obvious discomfort that I was inflicting on her. Since then, I have had the pleasure of owning 5 dogs over the course of 37 years. And every single one has taught me an invaluable lesson about how I wish to live my life. Here are the top 5 most important life lessons my dogs have shown me, simply by being dogs:

1. DOGS LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY: Dogs love you no matter what. Period.

It doesn’t matter how much money you make, how successful you are, whether you have too much of this or not enough of that. And, even if you make a mistake and accidentally hurt them, they forgive you. They keep loving you. Why can’t we take a lesson from our dogs, and love ourselves the way our dog loves us? What if we practiced loving ourselves unconditionally, without putting conditions on our self acceptance? Can we love ourselves, despite our faults, flaws and mistakes? We focus too much attention on what we want to change or fix about ourselves and our lives. What If we could learn to love like dogs, and practice love no matter what. Period.

2. DOGS LIVE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT: Dogs are only concerned with what is happening to them right now.

They don’t care what happened 5 years ago, 5 weeks ago, or 5 minutes ago. We, on the other hand, almost never live in the present moment. We worry, carry shame and guilt about our past mistakes, and carry fear and anxiety about things that have yet to come in our future. We get caught up in the minutia of life. We spend much of our emotional energy focusing on what we should have done or not done in the past, and what we should or shouldn’t do in the future. What would our lives be like if we could practice focusing on the here and now? What if we could practice living where our lives are actually occurring, rather than living only in our minds, which is the only place that the past or future reside?

3. DOGS TEACH US ABOUT GRATITUDE: Dogs are grateful when we do the smallest of things for them.

They are grateful for being fed, for going on walks, being thrown a ball in the backyard for them to chase, or even for a simple belly rub. If we are too busy to play, dogs will entertain themselves with a stick, a bone, or a squirrel. Unlike dogs, we often forget to be grateful for the little things in our lives. In our fast paced world, we focus on our “to do” lists, we get caught up in stress from our jobs, our children, our relationships. If we practiced finding gratitude on a daily basis, for who we are and the lives we lead, we would find the peace and contentment that we are all craving. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to what you already have and who you already are, that is miraculous.

4. DOGS SHOW THEIR LOVE EVERY DAY: Dogs are always happy to see us when we get home, no matter what.

If we have left for 10 minutes, it’s as though we have been gone for 10 months. They literally stop whatever they are doing and take the time to show us that they love us for no other reason beyond that they just do! Whether they are licking our faces with kisses, or snuggling in our laps (even when they can’t fit!), dogs let us know we are loved every single day. If we took the time every day to celebrate the people that we love, and to show them that we love them just because we do, what would that do to the quality of our relationships? How different would our most important relationships look like if we were finding small ways to show our love every single day?

5. DOGS TEACH US ABOUT LETTING GO: Each of their deaths taught me is that life is short, and in letting go we find peace.

I have endured the deaths of 3 dogs in my life so far, all from sickness or old age. And all three were incredibly painful. Just like needing to let go and accepting when it is time to put a pet to sleep, so too is it important to learn when to let go of that which we can’t control in our lives. Holding on to what keeps us in pain, like regret from the past or control over the future, keeps us stuck in unhappiness. When we choose to let go, there is peace and freedom in finding acceptance of the way life is, and the way it isn’t.

THE ONE YOU FEED

There is an old Cherokee Indian legend that illustrates the battle between US and our INNER CRITIC beautifully.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good–he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

wolvesTattooThe same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

In our culture, high self-esteem is something that has received a lot of attention.

  • We want to feel talented, smart, accomplished and successful.
  • We want to feel that we can accomplish anything if we put our mind to it.
  • We want to feel special and important.

Yet insecurity, anxiety and depression are more rampant in our culture than ever before.

The problem lies in our unrealistic expectations about who we are supposed to be and how our lives are supposed to look. 

Unfortunately, most of us don’t recognize that expectations we place on ourselves are completely unattainable.  Most of us feel that there is something inadequate about us or our lives, whether it is:

  • How we look,
  • How successful we are,
  • How we parent,
  • How our children are doing, or
  • How our life goals are developing.

We are constantly comparing ourselves to an ideal version of ourselves, and always falling short. 

Not only do we look at our own idealized versions of what our lives should look like, but we also make assumptions that other people’s lives actually DO look like this.  We get standards of beauty from media and magazines, standards that the models and actresses themselves can’t measure up to, as they are “digitally enhanced”, or in other words, fake. We see our children trying to be the perfect student or the best athlete, leading to a dramatic rise in anxiety and depression among our children.

When we don’t meet our unrealistic and “perfectionistic” expectations that life should go exactly the way we want it to, we feel insecure and inadequate and as though we are not winning at the game of life.  We beat ourselves up and take our frustrations out on the people who are closest to us.

What we fail to recognize as a culture is that being a human being means that, in many ways, we are all only average.  We all have faults, flaws and limitations.   But when we listen to our inner critic’s running commentary all day long about where we are inadequate, and what we need to improve, we automatically fall into the trap of continually judging and criticizing ourselves for our human inadequacies.

The more our inner critic makes us feel inadequate, the more different and separate we feel from others. This is a major source of anxiety and depression:  The feeling that we are separate and different from others, and that we will be rejected because we are so different.  Our inner critic makes us feel these feelings because it only focuses on the undesired aspects of our lives. We feel helpless, hopeless, and frustrated about how to change these aspects of our lives and think that our image of the way life “should” be is the correct perspective.

Transforming your relationship with yourself is about recognizing that we are all listening to the unrealistic messages of our inner critic, telling us that we are inadequate because our lives don’t match our ideal picture. We suffer because we want things to be different than the way they are right now.

If we stop feeding our inner critic the power to make us feel that we need to fix, change or improve ourselves or our lives, we have the ability to feel the peace, joy and gratitude for who we are and the lives we are currently living.

Which wolf are you feeding?

At any given moment, the choice is yours.

5 Ways to Prevent Your Inner Critic from Wreaking Havoc on your Relationship

Your Inner Critic, the voice in your mind that speaks to you all day every day, is the voice that is constantly evaluating you, telling you what you have to fix, change and perfect. It’s been the voice that has been yacking away your whole life, and you continue to listen to it, never understanding that this is where much of the suffering in your life originates.

It says that if you just keep trying harder and harder to get better and better, you will get to a point where you finally feel like everything is perfect.hands-no The problem is that no matter what you have accomplished, achieved, changed or fixed, the inner critic is always there telling you what’s next to fix or change. The impact of this voice does not just take its toll on your relationship with yourself, but can also wreak havoc on your relationship.

Because our inner critic makes us feel inadequate in some way, shape or form, we tend to look toward our partner as a way to make us feel good about ourselves. At the beginning of a relationship, it is pure bliss. Our partner makes us feel truly valued, accepted and loved. Our partner loves us, despite our faults and flaws. This creates a sense of euphoria that is unprecedented! This is what “falling in love” is all about. But, once the relationship matures, eventually real life sets in. Our partners inevitably see things they don’t like about us, as we do in them. If we rely on our relationship to make us feel good about ourselves, this is a recipe for disaster!

It certainly feels great to be accepted and loved by our partner, but at the end of the day, if we don’t first find this acceptance of ourselves, we will always be triggered when our partner does not meet our expectations, forgets to pick up the milk, take the trash out, or in some other way triggers us into feeling not important enough, not valued enough, or not loved enough.

Here are 5 ways to prevent your Inner critic from wreaking havoc:

  1. Practice self compassion every day by taking 5 minutes in the morning to notice the areas of your life where you have high expectations. Ask yourself this question every morning before you start your day: “ where in my life can I bring kindness and compassion to myself?” Sit quietly for 5 minutes in stillness and wait for the answer to come to you. If you make this a morning ritual, you will begin to notice a pattern in the areas that you are most self critical
  2. Ask yourself, “where in my relationship am I most critical, and where can I stop blaming and instead bring kindness and compassion for my partner?” No one is perfect, and sometimes when our partners are forgetful or act selfishly, we want to blame our partner for making us feel the ways that we feel. Can you take responsibility for your feelings and recognize that your partner might not be intentionally trying to make you feel that way?
  3. When you are triggered, use your feelings as a way to see where you need to heal from within. Ask yourself, “where can I stop blaming my partner for how I feel, and instead see that these are feelings I have felt throughout my life?” In order to have the connected relationships that we really want, we need to first feel connected to ourselves.
  4. Instead of being angry at your partner, can you find a way to meet a need within yourself first? Maybe you are craving validation, acceptance, or love. Is there something you can do or say to yourself that would meet these needs?
  5. If your partner is expressing something to you that makes you upset, can you consider your partner’s point of view? Can you take responsibility for your own way of being that might be causing your partner to feel the way that they do? Instead of becoming defensive, when we validate what our partner is feeling, it creates a healthier dynamic in the relationship.

The more frequently you can utilize these 5 tips, the more you can create a relationship in which your expectations are more realistic within yourself and for your partner, which can foster a more loving and connected partnership.