My inner critic


critical voice
credit: johnhain

The ‘inner critic’. I’d heard about it a lot, and read about it in articles on the internet, as well as in books like Steven Pressfield’s, The War of Art. For a long time I have been aware of my lack of self-belief and my self-doubt, and just thought that this must be how it is for all of us.

As it turns out, my inner critic casts a stronger shadow than I was aware of. My therapist, who I’ve now had 8 sessions with (at time of writing), is an integrative psychotherapist who likes to use art and creativity in her practice. Her room is warm, bright and accommodating, and scattered around the place are all sorts of weird and wonderful objects, from cuddly animals through to pine cones, lego figures and different coloured feathers and shells.

In one of my first sessions with her, I was asked to pick out an object that best represented this critical voice of mine. I chose this cute little monkey with a kinda sad/awkward/uncertain expression on its face.

At the start of each session, there he is in that same spot on the sofa, looking my way. Sometimes, I forget he’s there.

She then asks me questions like “What does this (the critical voice) sound like?” I’ll be honest, it doesn’t even appear to have a distinct voice, as such. It seems to be just ‘my’ voice, and that’s even if you can even describe it was a voice. It’s just in my head, merged with my thoughts.

Apparently, over time, such negative chatter can become more entrenched, and I expect that this is what must have happened. That’s my guess, anyhow.

Now this voice means well, it worries about me and it cares about me, but it doesn’t always act in my best interests. It can be stifling, overwhelming, overbearing, causing me to question e-ver-y-thing.

Am I doing the right thing here? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Will this just be another thing I start and don’t complete? Am I capable of this? Do I deserve to be happy? That last one is especially potent, and I find it can slowly creep up on me as this intrusive, paranoid though that emerges and sees me question whether I am a good, decent human being who deserves happiness, a life that I enjoy, and things to just “work out”. This can sometimes happen after I’ve had a good day or something good in my life has happened, as if it’s attempting to counteract and sabotage this – and a sense of “Is this good experience I’m having too good to be true?” can arise?

For example, the whole ‘work’ situation feels like it’s weighed on me for a significant portion of my adult life; when I was choosing a course for university, when I then picked another…only to dropout. And then re-apply, and drop-out again. And then falling into a job, and then 5 years later going back to study, and then trying my own thing, and then taking a year out, and now attempting to get into book publishing after a lot of considered thought and reflection.

Starting over, again. It feels like this pattern of constant worry/anxiety, jumping into something – and then failing or it otherwise not working out. Rinse, repeat. My 5-year sales career (can you even call it that?) was the closest I’ve had to any consistency when it comes to work, even though I knew from the outset that that wouldn’t be “it”.

On some level, I am afraid that I won’t ever find something I am truly content in. That I’ll continue to be pained by this constant state of fear, and doubt, and yearning for more.

I am already aware that I am a people-pleaser, and that I care about how others perceive. That said – I have come in leaps and bounds in this area of my life of late #proudofme. I’ve left social media several times due to it becoming all-consuming, overwhelming, and even feeling paranoid that people I know are watching my every move and seeing me fail out in the open. That I left my job and have since crashed and burned. That I’m almost 29, living at home, and feel like an irresponsible adult who sometimes can’t look after himself properly and has a lot of growing up to do.

There it is again, loud and clear. That critical voice. It’s amazing how, a lot of the time, I don’t even realise that he’s there, the b*stard. Unaware of what he’s even saying and the impact he’s having on me. Like I said before, it doesn’t feel like a voice, rather just my thoughts.

By getting to know him better, by facing him head-on, and talking and writing about him, I hope to recognise him even more and – in the process – reduce the hold he has over me. I acknowledge that he is there, but realise how much him to take at face value.

After all, I am not my critical voice, just like I am not my thoughts. He does not control me. Not if I don’t let him. And, with time, my own voice will be heard above his. And that will be the very opposite of critical. It will be loving, and kind, and compassionate, and resolute.

And courageous.

✏ Written: Wednesday, 7th March 2018 @ 1.24pm

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What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Do you have a critical voice, or an ‘inner critic’? Does it sound like a voice, or something else? What impact does he/she/it have on you? It’s always so lovely to hear your perspectives 💙

Why I don’t feel like an adult

run race.jpg
credit: Tama66

When I was at primary school, the boys who were a couple of years ahead of me seemed way bigger, taller and older. I thought, that’s what I’ll be like in a couple of years. I wasn’t.

I got to secondary school and thought, by the time I’ll done here I’ll feel like a proper, responsible, mature adult ready to go off to university. I didn’t.

Throughout these childhood and teen years, I thought, by the time I’m in my 20s, BOY will I be well on my way to being a fully-functioning adult. Settled in a job that I really like (just like dad), earning good money (just like dad), living in my own place with a lovely wife and thinking about having kids – maybe even having had one already. That’s hasn’t happened.

I haven’t done any of those things, and I’m 28, just about to come out of a career break (hopefully), and I’m sat in bed writing this. I worry that, in living at home, – though I know it’s not so uncommon these days (thank you, ridiculous property/rental prices and low salaries) – I’m getting too comfortable and not going through the adulting and independence that I otherwise would. I mean, it didn’t happen to me at university (that was a difficult time, another story there).

To this day, I can get very wrapped up in my thoughts and/or absorbed in what I am doing. Sometimes, I even forget to eat. If I spend too much time on my own, I can get low. My family also know this, and my already-anxious mother is constantly thinking about this in the back of her mind. My dad and my brother, too, though they don’t show it as obviously. I can cook basic meals, I’m lazy when it comes to household stuff. I suppose weekly vacuuming can be therapeutic, depending on my mood – though certainly not a task I look forward too (whacking music or a podcast on can help). Shamefully, it is only recently that I have been conscious of the money I am spending, rather than spending what I want and when I want.

Part of all of this is a comparison thing. My parents got married in their early-mid 20s, soon had a mortgage, and I think my dad was 27 (mum 24?) when I was born. My mum is a trojan and seems to be able to juggle a million things all at once. I’m not like that.

Most of the people of my kinda age seem to be living in a flat with other housemates or other-halves. Most, though not all – and it’s still more common for Asian (at least, Indian) families to live together for longer. I think the parent-child to adult-adult transition can be a lot trickier, especially when you have lived at home almost your whole life – and have a dominant mother!

A lot of this comes down to societal and cultural expectations, and the pressure we put on ourselves based on what we see in the world around us. Whether it’s ‘in real life’ or online. And, of course, the online world means we see all sorts of amazing, shiny lives aka apparently fully-grown adults who seem to have it all. The ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ effect is, in the digital age, more profound than ever.

I try not to dwell too much on this feeling of inadequacy and, instead, am trying to focus on myself and acknowledge even the smallest of steps. Slow growth in my own time. I think it’s been easy for me to be complacent whilst living at home and, if I want to be the man I want to be, there’s more development to come. I suppose that’ll always be the case, though.

“Run your own race” a friend once told me. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Run my own race.

PS. After a busy end-of-working-week, and a course all-day Saturday and Sunday, I missed Friday’s post last week. I still try to post on Tuesday and Friday each week, with a poem on Sunday.

✏ Written: Tuesday, 6th March 2018 @ 9.17am

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What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Do you feel like an adult? Are there parts of you which need to grow more to ‘become’ (more of) an adult? I’d love to hear how you feel 💙

The importance of routine for a messy guy

I would describe myself as a bit of a messy person. Let me explain. I don’t naturally ‘do’ orderly. Organisation and admin are definitely not amongst my strengths.

My bedroom shelves are full of books and paper, including my Law books from the Law degree I dropped out of at university ten years ago. That’s right. TEN years ago. My bedside cabinet has a couple of piles of books I’ve started / dipped into at night. I can be a bit of a hoarder, though I’m trying to get better at this.

mess image
credit: stevepb

Another way of looking at it is that I like to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. And often, organisation/putting things away isn’t so much something I fancy doing. And then I end up doing it once in a blue moon. I just don’t have the motivation to do it.

I don’t have to do anything. And especially whilst I haven’t been working, I especially don’t have to do anything. If I’m not careful, a slow day of relaxing/procrastinating/thinking can wind up with me being indoors, not doing much, and gradually getting more low and moody as the day progresses (especially as mornings can often feel cumbersome for me).

On the other hand, I can find structure incredibly stifling. One of the challenges I had in my last employer’s open-plan office was having a manager I was accountable to, and certain targets I needed to meet. Being the funky maverick I was, most of the time I’d manager to hit the one big target which mattered (i.e. revenue generated), even if I didn’t hit all of those individual targets beneath (e.g. that teeeedious logging on the computer system).

I like to do things my way, in my own time. I really value this individuality and freedom. For me, this is the challenge that comes with working for anyone, or in a team; working in a sales environment was particularly tedious and, at times, nigh on overwhelming. Plus, office politics and all that bullsh*t really isn’t for me.

Besides, there are times when I don’t have a particular plan (e.g. my old job), but still manage to perform and get things done, even if not in the most productive or efficient manner. Trouble is, you are just relying on whatever mood you happen to be in, feel bad after a day/week when you haven’t ‘done enough’, and never know when to stop when you’re in the zone and making stuff happen.

One of the ways in which setting quantifiable tasks (e.g. a to-do list) can help, is that, at the end of the day, there is a tangible sense of accomplishment – and, once you’re done, you’re done. (An added challenge for me, here, is that I always get too carried away and expect too much of myself – or if I’m not feeling in the mood I get nothing done – so I can feel sh*tty either way).

For me, the best way seems to be a balance between having a couple of things to do, but without so many that I feel overwhelmed, and also with some flexibility. For example, starting on something though not necessarily having to complete it.

I came across Leo Babauta’s ‘3 Most Important Things’ and quite liked it. Basically it forces you to choose just 3 things and therefore prioritise, thus giving you a structure. Currently, most days I try to have a task list which allows for flexibility. There are some key things on there which I endeavour to do daily – e.g. writing, exercise and some form of meditation/being still. Aside from that, my main priorities are around my job search (which will introduce further routine plus learning and money), and my creative writing.

Often, I can get overwhelmed and doubt myself and my ability, plus worrying about not having all of the answers about what I ‘should’ be doing with my life, and whether ‘it’ will pan out successfully for me in the future. Setting those small tasks helps me avoid freezing up and just spending a whole day thinking/worrying/doubting myself. The key is just getting cracking on one of the daily tasks, and as early in the day as possible.

I’m a messy guy. I like to be messy and creative. I like to feel free. But having a flexible structure enables me to keep on track, and actually take consistent action that gives me the knowledge that I’m moving forwards. Oh, and it also ensures that I’m actually using my creativity and creating; for me, this means putting pen to paper and getting words down – whether it’s my journalling, poetry or story-writing.

PS. Btw, I’m typing this up from a hotel by the Albert Dock in lovely Liverpool. My mum booked a family mini-break away to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at the World Museum – we went earlier and it was *so* interesting!  The Terracotta Army collection dates from around the 3rd century BC!

✏ Written: Thursday, 1st March 2018 @ 2.18pm

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What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Are you a goal-/task-setter, or a little more ‘messy’ like I *naturally* am? How do you best function? I’d love to get your perspective on this 💙