Critic or coach?

People would hate us if we spoke to them the way we speak to ourselves.

As the New Year approaches, I hear people talking about making resolutions using the voice of the harsh self-critic. This makes me cringe.

If we think being hard on ourselves helps create positive change in our lives, we’re wrong.

Having the ability to take stock and determine areas where we want to change or grow is helpful, but it’s important to notice when negative self-talk and the voice of the nasty critic enter in.

This critic isn’t helpful in creating lasting change. We can only bully ourselves into change for so long. The trail of failed resolutions is a result of a self-bullying mentality.

Negative self-talk engages the fight-or-flight response in our brains and bodies.

Our brains aren’t able to create new and lasting habits when the stress response is engaged. Research shows we don’t learn or create lasting change when we’ve bullied ourselves with a critical voice. This is one reason many New Year resolutions fail.

We learn best in an atmosphere of safety and self-compassion. I’ve learned best when my teachers created an atmosphere of caring and safety for me to learn and even make mistakes.

My best teachers had compassion.

According to Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, an attitude of self-compassion is an important ingredient of positive change.

Self-compassion is not putting on blinders. We won’t turn into blobs of non-productive matter when we are compassionate with ourselves. Self-kindness helps us to see even challenging situations in our lives more clearly.

Becoming a compassionate coach rather than chastising fault finder supports our success.

I once had a large committee of internal critics, which I gave a name I can’t mention here.

If I’d met such people, I’d never hang out with them. My committee was extremely unkind, yet I entertained them for long periods of time. Not only would I invite them in, but I’d stay up all night chatting with them.

It never felt good, but it was my habit.

Repetitive thoughts are just old, well-practised, neural pathways. They’re like ruts in a well-travelled road. We can get stuck in the ruts that take us to the same old places we’ve always travelled.

When we have a habit of thinking negative thoughts about ourselves it becomes the default mode.

We can make new habits of thought. Stopping and noticing what we’re thinking and what we’re saying to ourselves is key.

I’ve long used an exercise that was helpful in changing the inner-critic to a compassionate coach. I call it Becoming Your Own Best-Friend.

  • When you become aware of negative self-talk rolling through your brain, stop, and notice how it feels. Get curious about where that voice comes from.
  • Don’t believe everything you think. You are not your thoughts. Just because you had a thought doesn’t mean it’s true.
  • Once you catch yourself being self-abusive, ask yourself what you’d say to your  best friend on the same topic. Would you tell them they’re lazy, stupid, fat, or a failure? Would you chew them out by reminding them of every time they’ve failed in the past?  I doubt it. Instead, offer yourself the same compassion and advice you’d offer to someone you care about.

According to psychologist Elizabeth Scott, positive and motivational self-talk is the greater predictor of success. This means we do better when we encourage ourselves kindly. 

When it comes to making resolutions, consider becoming your own best friend. Consider being compassionate toward yourself, wanting the very best for yourself. Consider how you’d coach or support your best friend, and then do the same for yourself.

Encourage yourself. Do not berate yourself.

May your resolutions include firing your internal committee of critics and becoming a compassionate coach with yourself. Develop self-compassion and engage what science is finding when it comes to creating lasting and positive change in your life.

Self-compassion and kindness are key to positive change.

Happy New Year!


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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