What would you do if your best friend, the person you trusted the most for advice, told you that your latest idea for a new project would never work? Chances are you would listen to him, since you have been friends for so long (longer than you can remember, really). After all that time he knows you better than you know yourself and is really just trying to help keep you on track. He has a very logistical list of reasons why it’s a bad plan that will only cause you grief when you can’t make it work. And even if it does work, it won’t be the great achievement that you think it will be. In fact, it will only cause you more trouble down the line.
After a while you begin to notice a pattern. Your friend always seems to pointing out why your plan won’t work. Perhaps you haven’t thought it through completely. Or maybe you don’t have the right kind of experience or education to make a go of it. You’ve already tried it before and couldn’t make it work. Other people have done it better–you would be a second-rate copy. It would be better to change your focus and try something else. Or better yet just be happy with what you have.
So with friends like this, who needs enemies?
We all know people like that. People with good intentions who excel at seeing the worst case scenario, pointing out flaws and fatal errors. So why continue to be friends with a continual Doubting Dan? Simple–you can stop associating with people who don’t support you, but it’s a lot harder to stop paying attention to your own mind when it is trying to bring you down.
Negative self-talk is nothing new. As a matter of fact, I am an expert in the field. I have spent years examining why an idea won’t work. I am very detail-oriented and can spend weeks finding all the ways something could go wrong. Even better, I’ve earned a degree in starting projects and dropping them before they have a chance to succeed. After setting a goal, whether it is a new product at work or a new slimmed down weight goal, I start out full steam and then begin to realize why it won’t work. I have spent years talking myself out of great ideas, all because a voice in my head kept chanting all the reasons they were bound to fail.
The good news is that I am not alone, nor am I suffering from multiple personalities. In each our minds, there is a part that is only trying to keep us safe. Let’s face it–the most dangerous thing about making any change or trying anything new is the possibility that we may fail. That we may end up making fools of ourselves or revealing that we really didn’t know what we were doing. That is what this part of our mind is designed to prevent. It is meant to keep us safe by judging ideas, situations, or other people and finding each one wanting. By doing so, it reinforces the status quo and subconsciously keeps us tied to the present. It has been around protecting us since childhood.
In his book, Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine calls this part of the brain the Judge. His job is to stop us from doing something stupid by convincing us what a bad idea it is. We develop this coping technique in childhood to help us make sense of a very confusing world. The problem lies in the fact that while we develop other coping mechanisms as we grow, the Judge still hangs around, trying to do his job. The result is a very strong stream of negative self-talk–all with the very best of intentions.
We may not be able to evict the Judge completely, but one way to defuse his destructive power is to realize when he is trying to sway you. Just as it is harder for people to manipulate a situation when others recognize what they are doing, the same holds true for the Judge. Manipulators work best covertly. When you shine a light on their actions, those actions tend to lose strength.
One of the best ways to defuse the Judge is to realize when he is speaking and attribute those thoughts to him. Consider the phrase, “ This is crazy. There is no way it will work.” Compare the power of those words when you say them to when you say, “The Judge thinks this is crazy and will never work.” There is a much different dynamic when you know those are the words of a third-party and not really coming from your best self.
Simply by shining a light on the words of the Judge, you reduce their power. It is much different to doubt yourself than to think that someone else (whose opinion may or may not matter to you) does not have the same faith in you. It gives you the leverage to examine the comment and decide if it is valid. From experience I can tell you–there usually is very little merit in the Judge’s comments.
This technique does not guarantee success in all future ventures. It does, however, remove much of the fear that keeps us locked in place so many times. When we realize that the Judge’s voice is not our own, but a device to keep us safe and prevent us from moving ahead, we give ourselves the freedom to take more chances and experiment with new ideas.
So try it. Next time you hear yourself saying your idea will never work, shift it over to the Judge. How do you think you will view that comment if you hear it from someone else with an exposed ulterior motive?
It may be just a guess, but I think you will recognize it for what it is.
One person’s opinion that has no real bearing on how you should choose to live your life or keep you from moving forward to where you want to be.
Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine, Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2012
The Shadow Effect, Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, Marianne Williamson, Harper-Collins, 2012