If you wouldn't say it to others, don't say it to yourself

Critic or coach?

Listen to yourself. How do you speak to, and about, yourself?

Many people would find themselves alone and friendless if they spoke to others the same way they speak to themselves.

In listening to others, as self-deprecating remarks weave their way into conversation, the voice of the harsh self-critic makes itself known. That makes me cringe. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.

I used to believe I had to be self-critical to grow, evolve and make positive change. I was 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 in our lives. 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 we fail when we try to bully or shame ourselves into making changes.

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 to positive change. https://aeon.co/essays/learning-to-be-kind-to-yourself-has-remarkable-benefits

Self-compassion is not putting on blinders. Being compassionate with ourselves doesn’t rob us of motivation. Self-kindness helps us to see even challenging situations in our lives more clearly. Becoming a compassionate coach rather than a chastising faultfinder supports our success.

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

If I’d met such people in my life, I’d never hang out with them. My committee were extremely unkind, yet I used to entertain them for long periods of time. Not only would I invite them in, but often I’d stay awake all night listening to them.

It never felt good, but it was my habit of mind.

Repetitive thoughts are just old, well-practiced 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.

1. When you become aware of negative self-talk rolling through your brain, stop. Stop and notice how it feels. Get curious about where that voice comes from.

2. Don’t believe everything you think. You are not your thoughts. Just because you had a thought doesn’t mean it’s true.

3. Once you catch yourself being self-abusive, ask yourself what you’d say to your own best-friend or someone you love 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.

4. 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. https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-self-talk-and-how-it-affects-us-4161304

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.

Fire 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.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Face everything and rise up

Pushing yourself

Comfort is overrated.

It might be comfortable but it also quickly becomes stale. When we keep doing what we’ve always done, we get what we’ve always got. It’s time to seize the day. Variety is said to be the spice of life.

Living in routine, our minds go on autopilot and we fail to notice so much of what’s really happening. It’s like falling asleep at the wheel of our own lives.

There’s so much we can do without ever having to think. And, maybe that’s the problem. We get pulled mindlessly through the day and then wonder what’s happened and where life has gone. It’s like life living us, rather than us living our lives.

We’ve all driven our usual travel routes, arriving at our destination without noticing anything of our journey. We get lost in thought, like a robot, oblivious to the details through which you’ve passed. This is no way to live.

As one of my teachers, Dean Regnier, cautioned, “Beware the fur-lined rut.” The fur-lined rut is the narrow, yet comfortable space many of us live our lives in. This is where we fall asleep to the wonder, the joy and excitement of life.

Our brains go off-line when we abide within our comfort-zones, and it’s like sleep-walking through life. We’re missing the richness of new experiences as our brains go off-line. Life is meant to be lived, not slept through.

I wonder if the rejuvenation from vacation comes because we are out of our routines, open and available to whatever arises. New experiences heighten our awareness and offer us a juicier experience of life. Even small changes add up.

We can get comfortable with our discomfort. Many prefer to be comfortably unhappy than to risk the discomfort change might bring, preferring complaint over change. Trying new things can be scary. When I’m trying something new, I get butterflies in my tummy but I also get a sense of heightened energy and awareness. I used to let this feeling stop me, but not anymore.

The feelings of fear and excitement are similar to one another. What’s different is the meaning our minds attach to the feeling. Those butterflies can stop me—“stop, danger, danger!”—or they can signal new and exciting possibility.

There are several acronyms for fear. One is “Forget Everything and Run.” This was my old pattern in life. I could find all sorts of reasons to let the fear rule, but life was limited. Each day seemed to be a carbon-copy of previous days. Boring.

Then I moved to a different meaning of fear, “False Evidence Appearing Real.” This helped me to question what was happening, realizing things are not always as they appear, and I became curious.

Now, my favourite acronym for fear is “Face Everything and Rise.”

I feel the butterflies inside, I take a breath and know life begins at the edge of my comfort zone. It is good for my brain as I grow new neuro-pathways, and my physical health benefits. My life has become juicy.

Comfort is overrated. New possibility exists within discomfort. We feel more alive and engaged.

I’ve not been comfortable in years, and find joy in testing my limits, finding new abilities and opportunities I’d never have dreamed of in my old life. Next month I’m fulfilling a long-held desire to parachute out of a plane.

Next time something new comes along, and the butterflies take flight in your belly, seeing them as a signal of excitement can help us know new opportunity is coming. Step out of the rut, into life.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Learning to reduce stress and anxiety

Pause for mental health

Stressed out? Can’t focus? Feeling upset? Can’t stop worrying or thinking? Sometimes we feel like we’re caught up in a tornado of thoughts and emotions.

Thinking, thinking, thinking. Lost in thought, but missing life. The virtual reality of our minds prevents us from experiencing what’s really going on in the present moment. Often this virtual reality is not a friendly place.

So much of our precious time on this planet is wasted ruminating on the past, or worrying about the future. Because of the mind’s tendency to pay more attention to what’s challenging, called our inherent negativity bias, negative thoughts are stickier than positive ones. The virtual reality in which we most often dwell is one of difficulty and challenge.

Ruminating and spending time going over the past and the anticipated future prevents us from experiencing the life that we’re actually living. Our bodies may be present but we’re not there as we’re absorbed in a virtual reality in our minds.

I’ve suffered more at the hands of my own mind and imagination than I ever have by what’s really happened. To top it off, our minds don’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, and therefore our bodies suffer the ill-effects of internal stress chemicals.

The mysteries of the human condition can keep us caught in a rut and feeling victim to our thoughts and moods. When challenging situations arise, getting caught up in life’s dramas has consequence to our health, happiness, and ability to think clearly.

There have been many times in my life when I’ve been surrounded by the beauty of life itself but have missed out on it all because I’ve been locked into the virtual reality of my mind. Our mind, our bodies, and our relationships bear the consequence of this very human tendency.

Our location doesn’t matter if we don’t awaken to what’s really going on in the present moment. If we’re able to bring ourselves present, relaxation is possible. Change is an inside job.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School and father of modern-day mindfulness wrote, “wherever we go, there we are.” We are the one constant in our own lives.

We can change our location as much as we like, until we change what’s happening inside our minds, we will suffer.

Like many, I used to feel victim to life, especially my own thoughts and emotions. Getting caught in a negative mental-loop and experiencing the associated emotions seemed beyond my power to escape.

I’d grown so accustomed to my prevailing thoughts and moods I never questioned if there was a way to change things. I didn’t know the many ways I could change and up-level the negative mental and feeling tendencies I’d practiced for many years.

My life changed for the better when I started to use a simple practice called “Come to Your Senses”. It’s a quick, portable and cost-free way to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s like hitting the reset button. I always find relaxation here and an improved ability to think clearly.

It does not matter the order we use to check in with our senses, what matters is coming back to the present moment by checking in with each sense for about a minute or so.

Come to the Senses:

• Pause and begin to notice the breath. Slow, deep belly breaths are a helpful signal the body to relax.

• Hear all of the sounds around you, just notice them without resisting or judging them. Listen for the more subtle sounds.

• Look at and notice your surroundings. Notice the colours, textures and shapes of things in your physical environment. We’re often blind to what’s really around us.

• Notice how your environment smells, possibly fresh air, the scent of paper or food cooking.

• Taste; are there any tastes in your mouth, can you notice how your mouth and tongue feel?

• Notice sensations of the body. Feel your feet on the ground, your bottom on the seat, your clothing or the air as it touches the skin.

This simple practice allows us to come back to ourselves and feel more present and relaxed. I love to come to my senses frequently, especially in moments when I must wait or when experiencing stress.

Give it a try; the few moments spent in this practice can pay huge dividends for you and your life.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The importance of taking a vacation

A vacation mind-set

I’ve don’t recall needing a vacation as much as I needed my recent one.

I’d waited too long to take much-needed time away—slow mornings, embracing new sights, scents, flavours and sounds with no agenda for the day was a balm to my mind and soul.

I even treated myself and fulfilled my yearning to go para-sailing. It was hilarious to see younger people shocked by the grey-haired lady who wanted to para-sail. As I rose above the waters and ascended into the sky, tears of awe and joy rolled down my cheeks.

It’s an experience I’ll savour. I’m so glad I went. I will not let age, or the perceived limitations of age, limit my experience of life. I want to fully live all the days I have left and not fall back into familiar, comfortable routines.

I don’t want to get into the position of having to “need” a vacation again, so I’m researching and contemplating ways to support myself in reaping the benefits of vacation during the rest of my life.

With summer just around the corner, living in a city many consider a vacation destination, I’m looking for ways to incorporate a vacation mind-set into my life, allowing me to reap the benefits to my mental health and well-being.

Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author wisely advises, “instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set-up a life you don’t need to escape.” The human brain performs best when not working all the time.

Experts say cultivating vacation mindset during our normal days has strong, positive personal benefits and enhances our relationships, both at home and in the workplace. Thankfully, for me, mindfulness is at the centre of it all.

To create or maintain a vacation mindset, it’s important we incorporate breaks into our days. This does not mean turning to the distraction of our digital devices, which do not encourage relaxation. By allowing ourselves to consciously breathe and experience the fullness of the present moment, including the sights, sounds and scents, we invite the body and mind into a state of relaxation.

Taking a digital detox is beneficial. Putting our phones away, silencing notifications and resisting the urge to stay current on social media helps open up our thought patterns. When we do this, we open ourselves up to greater inspiration, creativity, and problem-solving.

Have you ever noticed some of your greatest ideas and solutions seem to fall in while you’re in the shower or relaxing in the hot-tub? This is because we’re better able to access insights and solutions when we’re in states of relaxation than we are when feeling stressed. A stressed brain does not think and remember as well as a relaxed brain.

Remembering to engage our playful side and creative mind reduces stress and opens us up to new ideas, making the way forward easier. Have you ever followed a routine route and arrived at your destination and not noticed or remembered any part of the journey?

I sure have and I know this is a common experience. Often, we drive, lost in thought, failing to notice what’s real around us. I don’t want to live life on auto-pilot. I want to experience the richness of each day while also allowing my brain and body to relax.

Being consciously present in what we’re doing adds so much value to our lives.

As much as I appreciate the efficiency of routines, incorporating new experiences and embracing new experiences help to engage our brains in a new way. Trying new, simple activities, new foods, and visiting new places, away from your regular haunts help keep the brain engaged in a new way.

I’ve long been inspired by people who become a tourist in their own town. I’m now embracing the idea. I can’t wait to see what new things I’ll get to experience and enjoy the benefits.

I’ve even booked my skydiving experience and I intend to seize the day.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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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.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress 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 44 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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