If you are interested in eliminating some of the emotional reactions and creating more happiness in your life I suggest you read less. Steer clear of the paragraphs of self help advice that proliferate on the internet. They are written by well intentioned people. However many of the articles don’t address fundamental issues or steer you clear of the near enemies that can cause you to feel worse instead of better.
My experience is that self help suggestions rarely work. Very few people are able to change their behavior simply by adopting a suggestion like “Change your thoughts and look at the bright side” or “Try to be more optimistic.” The people who are able to make a shift that easily don’t need the suggestion.
If it were really that easy for everyone to make a sustained shift in their behavior then I think more people would have done it? People would have eliminated the emotional drama by now. This is evidence that there is something more to changing emotions than a paragraph of self help advice addresses.
Not only does some of the self help advice not help, it can backfire and lead to feeling worse. You might spiral down emotionally and conclude you are a failure when things don’t improve. The problem wasn’t you, it was in the advice you were trying to follow. I’ll share an example of what I’m talking about.
Some optimistic self help advice often sounds like, “Don’t be so critical of your self.”
The writer usually follows this up with a few sentences about how being critical doesn’t really help anything. It is wasted energy that you could be using for something more productive. They might even give suggestions of more positive things you can do instead. On a surface level this appears sensible and good logic to follow.
However many people that attempt to follow this self help advice will usually end up feeling worse.
What your mind really does with Self Help Advice
Here’s how you can fall into more self criticism with this logic. When you adopt the suggestion to be less critical of your self the mind forms a rule. New Rule is “I will not be critical of myself. The mind is very prolific at making agreements like this.
Your mind then creates an image of your self as a person that will follow this rule. I call this the Image of Perfection based on this new rule. Creating this image in your mind can give you a momentary boost in self esteem. It might facilitate a hopeful feeling as a way out of being negative and critical. But it is a hope based in putting your faith and personal power in an imaginary image. You are putting your personal power in something out side your self. This is just one of the problems.
There is another part of the mind that we can call the Inner Judge. The Judge uses these Images of Perfection and rules as a basis for condemning judgments. You might already be familiar with this Inner Judge. It’s the voice in your head that is being critical of your self and other people.
Whenever you don’t meet the specifications of one of the Images of Perfection your Inner Judge concludes you are a failure. The result is that it criticizes you for not following the rules you made.
When you made the agreement to stop being so critical you didn’t do anything to address this Inner Judge and the Image of Perfection. The actual material and dynamics that make up self criticism are still there. The Inner Judge is still there. All the rules of how you “should be” are still there. The result is that the mind is still busy doing all those criticisms that you said you were going to stop.
Making a new rule is equivalent to saying that you are going to change a flat tire. But making the rule in your mind doesn’t get anything changed. To be effective your new rule has to be followed up with effective actions like getting the car jacked up or the lug wrench out of the trunk.
By agreeing to the self help suggestion and building an Image of Perfection the Inner Judge has another rule to criticize your self with. Even though your new rule is to not criticize your self, the Inner Judge doesn’t follow the rule.
Your mind will continue to be critical just like it always did because nothing changed in the mind when you added a new rule. Except now when you notice your self criticizing something, the Inner Judge adds the comment, “I shouldn’t be so critical. The Inner Judge criticizes you for criticizing things. This is an added layer of self judgment that can make you feel worse.
It can even get more complicated with more layers of criticism for criticizing your self for being too critical. (The Inner Judge has the capacity for this ridiculous logic. It would be pretty funny if there wasn’t such an emotional price to pay.)
The Inner Judge might also conclude that you are a failure for not being able to make any real progress or change. If this really gets going it can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. This is the kind of downward spiral that can happen when following superficial self help attempts.
You did try to make an effort to stop being self critical. It’s just that you didn’t have good tools to do it effectively. You tried to do it just by making a new rule. That’s like trying to change a flat tire without tools. You are not going to jack up the car with brute strength and you are not going to loosen the lug nuts with your fingers.
If all you have is your self help advice and good intentions you are going to create more Images of Perfection. This just gives the Inner Judge more expectations to criticize you against. It is all those good intentions and self help rules that pave the road to a personal hell of self judgment.
To make real changes in your mind and how you feel emotionally begin by not following bad self help advice. In the matters of changing your mind and emotions learning what paths to avoid is as important as learning what will help.
My experience is that the mind is a complex organism of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. There are multiple elements at work attempting to maintain the status quo of unhappiness and emotional reactions. Each person’s belief structure is different and what worked for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else.
Making behavioral changes like refraining from being critical generally takes more than adding a fluff piece of self help advice to the internal dialogue. You have to address core beliefs, the Inner Judge, and the Image of Perfection. The criticisms of the voice in your head are part of the problem.
For exercises and techniques to understand and change the belief structure of your mind listen and practice the exercises in the Self Mastery Course. It includes material to address the dynamics of self criticism in the mind. The first four sessions are free. The audio sessions provide practical steps to make changes in your life and your relationships.