By Emily Mason
Have you ever felt like there’s something wrong with you? You’re not as smart as your colleagues? Not as funny as your friends? Not flexible enough to try that yoga class? Not a good enough parent, friend, spouse? Just not good enough?
Do you feel like everyone else has their s**t together? Everyone else is having a great time at the drinks function while you’re anxiously hoping you say the right thing?
Yep, me too.
You might find it helpful to know that…you’re not alone.
Everyone has a little voice inside that tells them there’s something wrong with them. That they’re falling short. Failing in some way. Not good enough.
It’s human nature.
Introducing… your Itty Bitty Shitty Committee
We have a biological negativity bias: a tendency to focus on what’s wrong with the world and ourselves. I like to call this your itty bitty shitty committee (IBSC).
And us lawyers have more vocal ISBCs than most. Thanks to years of rigorous training in forecasting and focusing on all the possible ways things could go wrong – we’re experts at forecasting and focusing on everything that’s wrong with us!
We assume this critical voice is helping us. That it’s helpful to focus on our ‘failures’, compare ourselves to others, and constantly remind ourselves we should be ‘better’.
We think it gives us an edge. Motivates us to improve, achieve our goals.
But research tells us the opposite is true.
You’re not doing yourself any favours
When you’re self-critical, you’re less motivated, you don’t take care of yourself, you drain energy, and you’re less likely to try new things.
And if you think about it, this makes sense…
Ever had a critical, micromanaging boss: who blamed you for mistakes, made that missing comma in your memo the end of the world; nothing you did was good enough?
How did this make you feel? Did it motivate you to do your best – or make you feel like a failure? Deflated: like – what’s the point anyway?
Conversely, ever had a supportive boss: who celebrated your successes, supported you through challenges so you weren’t afraid to try new things?
How did this affect your motivation, your performance, and how you felt about yourself?
Or to use another analogy.
Let’s say you went along to a zumba class for the first time. What might your IBSC say? “You look ridiculous, I can’t believe you’re doing this, everyone is looking at you and your tummy and bum jiggling all over the show? ...”.
Can you imagine saying this to a child? And how this might affect that child’s self-esteem, likelihood of trying new things, putting themselves out there?
Can you imagine saying these things to a friend?
We would NEVER say these things to a child or a friend. But we say them to ourselves every day.
If you had to rate yourself on the scale of 0: ‘I’m my own worst enemy’ and 10: ‘I’m my own best friend’ – where would you sit?
I spent years living with a very vocal worst enemy. When I worked as a lawyer she used a megaphone.
As a young grad she’d say “you faked your way through law school, and landed this job through a friend … but you have NO IDEA what you’re doing – you’re way dumber than your colleagues – you’re not cut out for this.”
With a few years’ experience under my belt she’d say: “you oversold yourself on your CV – you’re in over your head … it’s only a matter of time till they find out you have no idea what you’re doing.”
This incessant negative self-talk was exhausting! It drained me of energy, motivation, and sucked me dry of happiness. I felt like there should be more to life. Like it MUST be possible to feel more at ease, happier ...
So I dove deep into all things holistic wellness. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, nutrition, positive psychology. I practised, read, trained, studied. And, slowly, life got better.
Eventually I left the law and founded Be More You – a company designed to help anyone in the same boat as I once was … sick and tired of being ruled by their IBSC.
Then one day when my daughter was about 10 months old I thought “I might run a mindfulness course to help Mums cope with the challenges of parenting … ”. Lightning quick, my IBSC jumped in with: ‘but you’ve only got one kid, you don’t really know how challenging it is. Anyone with more than one kid will think you’re a fraud.’
In this moment I realised my IBSC was still holding me back. Sure, it was less vocal than it once was. And I had more tools to manage it so it didn’t control my life. But I wasn’t rid of that pesky ‘you’re not good enough’ voice.
And here’s the thing … you will never be rid of that voice either. It’s part of you.
The only thing you can do is learn to relate to it in a different way. So it doesn’t suck the life out of you.
How to be your own best friend?
Thanks to the principle of neuroplasticity (your brain’s ability to change over time with repeated action) it is possible to rewire your brain so your negativity bias isn’t so prominent.
It is possible to feel happier, more confident, motivated, have better energy and health.
You can’t get rid of your IBSC. But you can put more rigorous governance structures in place so it doesn’t rule your life.
And it’s as simple as learning to be kind to yourself. Learning to be your own best friend. Or, to use the technical term, practising self-compassion.
I know it sounds a bit fluffy, but hear me out: it’s supported by good solid science.
Below is a simple three-step process I’ve adapted from the renowned self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff’s work (you can check her out at https://self-compassion.org/).
Three steps to self-compassion
1. Notice and name your critic
In order to solve a ‘problem’ (and we’ve identified your inner critic is a problem right?) you need to be AWARE of it.
We tend to look out at lives through critical glasses – without realising we’re wearing them! You can’t remove the glasses until you know you’re wearing them. But how?
Cultivate an intention: Cultivating an intention to notice is the step. Commit to watching your mind like a hawk for any critical, judgmental, ‘I’m not good enough’ thoughts.
Create a character: Give this aspect of yourself a name: itty bitty shitty committee, inner critic, inner judge, nasty Nelly, critical Carole, Spongebob Squarepants, Mr Meanie ... choose something that you don’t take too seriously.
If you’re a visual person, you could imagine a character sitting on your shoulder.
Practise mindfulness: Practising mindfulness will increase your natural capacity for awareness.
- Try meditation.
- Take a moment to focus your attention on your five senses – what can you see, taste, touch, hear and smell?
- Journal or jot down your critical thoughts. This creates a tangible trail of your thoughts, bringing them into conscious awareness.
Notice how you feel: Take a moment to contact how you feel when you’re being mean to yourself. Chances are, it feels yukky, hard, painful. Noticing this is vitally important – so don’t skip this step!
I like to mentally whisper “ahh here’s my inner critic, she’s here and it’s hard.” And I really feel into how this feels. How it feels in my body. And how it feels in my mind.
2. Remember you’re not alone
Once you’ve caught your critic in the act and recognised how hard it is, how much you’re struggling: remember you are not alone.
When we’re struggling, it’s so easy to think everyone else has their s**t together. That no-one has it as tough as we do.
This mistaken belief leaves us feeling cut off and unsupported.
But all human beings suffer. We all have harsh inner judges. We all feel not good enough, like we’re failing at life. Especially A-type, driven, perfectionist lawyers.
The nature, degree and circumstances of our suffering differs. But we all suffer.
Remembering this will help you to feel more connected and supported rather than isolated and cut off from the world.
3. Give yourself some love
Now we get to the warm fuzzy bit which, if I’m honest, is the hardest step for me!
In this step we aim to treat ourselves like we would treat a good friend who was struggling. Or how we might comfort a small frightened child. We treat ourselves how we hope a comforting figure in our lives would treat us if they knew what we were going through.
How you do this is up to you and your imagination.
I like to place a hand gently over my heart and mentally whisper ‘I’m here for you, may I be kind’.
You might like to give yourself a hug. Imagine yourself in a beautiful calming space. Imagine giving and receiving a hug from someone you really love.
You might gently whisper: ‘I love you. You’ve got this. You can hold this’.
Or imagine what advice you might offer a friend in the same situation and give that same advice to yourself.
The most important aspect of this step is intention. An intention to be kind to yourself and offer yourself support. So even if it feels forced or fake (it still feels like that for me sometimes!), please try it out: fake it till you make it.
All you need to know is…
If you’re a skim-reading-type like me – here’s everything you need to know:
- We all feel like we’re not good enough.
- We think beating ourselves up is helping us. It’s not.
- Learning to be your own best friend will change your life for the better.
- You do this by practising self -compassion in three simple steps:
- Notice and name your inner critic and how it makes you feel.
- Remember you’re not alone – we all have inner critics, and we’re all struggling.
- Give yourself some love.
You’ll get out what you put in
Like anything in life, the more you practise, the more benefits you’ll see. So please don’t just read this article and think ‘nice idea’. And don’t just take my word for it. Please try it for yourself. Actually PRACTISE it. And don’t just try it once; make it a part of your life.
If you do, I promise – you will slowly but surely notice big shifts in how you relate to yourself and the world around you. This is life-changing stuff. But only if you make it a part of your life.
Want to learn more?
If you want further support or have any questions I’d love to hear from you. You can drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you’d like to learn more, I’d love you to join the August intake for ‘Mindful You’: six weeks to learn meditation and mindfulness and reap the magic-pill-like benefits of less stress and overwhelm and more calm and joy.
Jump over to bemoreyou.co.nz for more information.
And happy practising!
Emily Mason is a former corporate lawyer turned mindfulness coach, yoga teacher and founder of Be More You. As a recovering perfectionist and A-type personality, Emily is passionate about helping you to find more calm, confidence and connection in a frantic modern world so you can savour life and … Be More You!
Sarah Taylor is the co-ordinator of this series, a senior lawyer, and the Director of Client Solutions at LOD, a law firm focused on the success and wellbeing of lawyers. If you’d like to contribute to this series, please contact Sarah at email@example.com