Imagine spending a week with someone who only ever criticises you. You’ve achieved something great at work, and the best they can manage is a miserly, ‘yes, well okay, that wasn’t too bad, BUT…’ This person specialises in ‘buts’ with capital letters, finds it very difficult to be happy for you, and looks slightly anxious if you insist on being joyful for a few moments. It’s as if this person knows more about the world than you, understands that the world is really a very dangerous and unpredictable place, and so is trying his or her best to keep you on your toes, prevent you from being complacent, and ensure you will always strive a little harder than you did the day before.
If this were a person in the real world we’d probably soon tire of them, but the fact is many of us carry such a person around in our heads, constantly criticising, analysing and finding inadequate pretty much everything we do. When we learn mindfulness, we become more self-aware, and we can use this self-awareness to catch ourselves when we are caught in certain thought-patterns, such as negativity or anxiety or rumination. This increased self-awareness is valuable, but it will only really improve our lives if we can manage to talk to ourselves in a warm and friendly tone of voice. Otherwise, our self-awareness might only add extra grist to the mill of self-criticism which is perhaps already out of control.
We spend a lot of time in our own company. And most of us give some thought to how we interact with others – hopefully we are friendly, polite, and considerate to our friends and colleagues most of the time. We all know how wonderful it is to be with someone whose voice is warm, calm, and resonant. Yet what is the tone of voice we use to communicate with ourselves in our own head?
People often comment how learning mindfulness is helping them to be more kind towards themselves. There is a place for self-reflection, self-evaluation, and also self-criticism. Yet when we do find ourselves being self-critical we can ask – is the criticism constructive? Is it measured? And is it friendly?
Weekly practice idea:
Listen to the tone of voice you use towards yourself, especially in situations when you’re feeling under pressure or aren’t performing as well as you’d like. How would you describe your tone of voice then?