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Letting Yourself Off the Hook

One of the bread-and-butter aspects of my business as a performance psychologist is in helping high-performing people to better understand and relate to how their minds actually work. As opposed to how we have been culturally conditioned to believe that they work.

And believe you me, we love to cling to those rusted-on beliefs. To the point (true story) where I get told, after a discussion about the impact of emotions on resilience, Oh KP, you don’t know how the mind works; there aren’t emotions in our world.. Unfortunately, just saying so doesn’t make it true.

Along those lines, one of the most stubborn rust stains to scrub off involves the lengths we will go to legitimize and defend our inner critics...even when we are hurt in the process. I’d perhaps liken the inner critic in this instance to the autocratic coach or partner who says things like, you’d be nothing without me. We may not like how this part of us talks to us or how we feel in response, but they may just have a point - without them, where would we be?

Loyal reader Judy pointed to this when she asked me to further unpack something I said in a previous post. I was speaking to the importance of shifting our relationship with ourselves, in particular the importance of self-kindness, and the beliefs that hold us back from being more kind to ourselves. She was interested in understanding this particular limiting belief:

If I “let myself off the hook” like that [by being kind rather than constantly critical], I will lose my edge and stop trying.

You can feel the fear here, right? This is the autocrat threatening us into believing that we are nothing without them. What if they're right? Maybe I am nothing without that caustic voice in my ear, never cutting me a break. Worse, what if I deserve all of this? Ouch. This is the kind of thinking that undermines the resolve of abuse victims, that keeps them in the throes of an unhealthy relationship, to the mystification of family and friends.

This belief is a classic future predictor: If I do x, y will happen. Sure. If, as a kid, you hit your sister, you knew that either she hits you back, or tells on you and all kinds of parental hell will rain down on you. How do you know? Because past evidence tells you so. No doubt—if your sibling relationships were anything like mine—there was a long line of behavioral evidence to support the contention that hitting a sister leads to no good outcomes for you.

In the case of this belief—that being kind will make you soft--can you point to any evidence to support it? Have you ever tried substituting self-flagellation with self-kindness to see what happens? I can say with certainty that, for people who have the guts to try this different approach, I have never seen the dreaded I don’t care anymore and have stopped trying outcome transpire. Ever.

Here’s the thing. If your “edge” is fueled by anxiety and reactivity...then yep, you will be losing that. But there’s no evidence that that “x” – your edge – is solely linked to “y” – success in life.

What if...the edge is the problem?

What didn’t need that edge to succeed?

This belief is also a classic example of black-and-white thinking. The only possible outcome is the worst possible outcome. The 100% worst possible outcome which generally includes some version of laying on a couch channel-surfing and eating ice cream straight from the container. A complete and apathetic loser.

And so we cling. Out of fear.

All I’m here to say is that maybe there’s another way.

Maybe we can turn to our inner critic, thank it for its tireless service, and hand it a well-deserved gold watch. Maybe we experiment with self-directed compassion when times are tough. Adopt a different tone of voice that channels more inspiration and loving accountability.

Because being kind doesn’t have to mean giving up. We can be kind…and accountable. We can be kind…and achieve.

And maybe the edge we are losing is worth it if it’s one fueled by fear and anxiety.

Because we deserve to be treated better in the hard-enough journey to becoming a more skilled, better version of ourselves.

If this sounds like a pivot worth contemplating, I can help with that. :)

Get in touch here.


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