In 1994, I weighed 260 pounds. Late one night, I had a vision of what my life would be like if I continued on the path I was on. I saw health problems. I saw unresolved emotional pain. I saw loneliness. And that vision terrified me.
During that long night I made a decision that would change my life. I would stop listening to that voice in my head that said, “You’ll never lose the weight! You’re lazy! You can’t do it!” In that moment I decided I would learn how to be healthy and prove my Inner Critic wrong.
Each day my Inner Critic would attack me with its pessimism about my chances for recovery. And each day I would smack it down with a new self-empowering thought or attitude-shifting technique — anything that I sensed might equip me to make healthier, more conscious choices.
It worked: I lost 100 pounds and kept the weight off. And that’s great, right?!
Right. And then I had a baby.
Today, I face 2009 with a mere 15 pounds to lose — but for some reason, those 15 pounds seem as challenging as the 100 did more than a decade ago. I’m finding I need to come up with brand new ways to quiet my Inner Critic so I can get the job done.
With the goal of having a Smackdown handy for every conceivable situation, mood and challenge, I’ve begun collecting my favorite Smackdowns as part of a new Web site, www.101smackdowns.com. And as I’ve started hearing back from visitors, I’ve received powerful confirmation of something I’ve long suspected: I’m not the only person hosting an Inner Critic who seems dead set on holding him or her back.
If, like me, you’re one of those battling the voice of an inner bad guy on a daily basis, I’m going to tell you how to get the upper hand.
It doesn’t matter where the critical doubting voices show up — over coffee as you debate whether to bike or drive to work; on the way home as you weigh the prosects of snacking on sweets vs. heading to the gym; in the evening as you wrestle with whether to watch TV or begin work on a creative project. Every time your Inner Critic rears its ugly head, give it a solid SMACK.
Below, you’ll find sample Smackdowns in five key categories. Use a different Smackdown every week — or every day, if need be! Over time, you’ll find your Inner Critic losing much of its power, and your own sense of self-confidence expanding.
In order to beat the Inner Critic, it’s important that you have faith in yourself. Work on building your authentic belief that you are worthy of the life you want.
Try this: Tell yourself a different story. Use the power of neurolinguistics to reprogram your brain. Instead of repeating what you “can’t do” or what’s “so hard” for you, simply say that you’ve decided to do it, or better yet, that you ARE doing it. Instead of repeating the story to myself that losing weight is hard, I am now using a different tactic: Losing weight is so easy, I tell myself. I’m saying that out loud every day.
Developing the ability to motivate yourself — particularly when you’re feeling discouraged or have lost steam — requires you to know yourself deeply. You need to know what your core values are, and what will compel you to go after a goal, even when it’s difficult.
Try this: Look back on your life and consider what types of motivations inspired you to accomplish challenging things in the past. Run through the list of people you admire and explore what values are inherent in the traits you admire. Look for ways to emulate them in small, daily ways. Another good way to build your arsenal of motivations is to ask your friends what they do to motivate themselves (to exercise, eat right, make time for themselves, whatever). Experiment with the most-promising-sounding strategies to see if some of them will work for you.
The Inner Critic hates it when you actually do something to move toward your dreams. Taking action (even in small steps) is the most powerful way of proving you’re serious about your intentions to create the life you want. Once you begin taking daily action, you’re really on your way. Every time you’re able to say, “Yes! I did that!” the Inner Critic goes to sit in time out.
Try this: Every day make one choice that moves you toward a healthy lifestyle, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Those daily actions add up. Jump on the treadmill for 10 minutes. Do a few pushups. Go for a walk. Have one good piece of chocolate instead of a pile of cookies.
Keep the Inner Critic on its toes by experiencing new things. Try something silly or scary that takes you outside your comfort zone and helps you see yourself — body, mind and spirit — in a new way.
Try this: Sign up for a dance class, a yoga retreat or an acting class.
Make sure self-care is part of your daily routine, even if it’s just 10 deep breaths before you walk out the door in the morning. When you actively embrace pleasurable experiences, you are showing the Inner Critic that you respect and love yourself (and shriveling your Inner Critic in the process).
Try this: Make a list of 20 things you love to do and actually do one of them. Right now.
Experimenting with these Smackdowns (and more, if you like, at www.101smackdowns.com) is bound to give you a boost of motivation and self-confidence. But that’s not all.
When you learn how to repeatedly smackdown your Inner Critic with self-respect, positive action, creativity and kindness, you also turn on the reticular activating system in your brain. This powerful cluster of synapses acts as a filtering and organizing mechanism, helping you to get even clearer about what you want, and to see the steps you need to take to achieve your goals in any area of your life.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go visit a flower shop — it’s on my list of 20 things I love to do. Take that, Inner Critic!
Jacquelyn B. Fletcher is an award-winning author who sits on the board of the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. For information about the Smackdown Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams workshop, or to read a Smackdown A Day, visit www.101smackdowns.com.