Archana Law urges people to treat themselves kindly

Do you spend hours worrying that you aren’t good enough to succeed? That you’re not capable or aren’t smart enough? Did you know that while you may hear with your ears, it’s the inner talk and power of thoughts that have the most impact on your feelings, as well as all aspects of your life?

We talk to ourselves all the time – even when we’re not consciously aware that we are doing so. Even though you may believe your thoughts are your own, many ideas and beliefs are passed down through genetic makeup, ancestry, authoritative figures and the media.

Whether negative, positive or neutral, what you tell yourself is often a mixture of truth and falsehoods. These include judgements or beliefs about yourself and the world, which you accept as absolute truth, reflecting your perspectives and the filters with which you view the world.

Some of these beliefs are so ingrained in our subconscious programming that we don’t even know they are there or why. For instance, common conditioning includes beliefs like all doctors should be healthy, there’s safety in numbers, quality is costly and money buys happiness.

The private conversations you have with yourself can be either a powerful stepping stone or major obstacle to reaching your goals. And often, our thought patterns quickly turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Many of us including top-level executives struggle with an overeager inner critic who makes us doubt ourselves despite numerous accomplishments and impressive academic credentials. We often worry that we aren’t good enough, and feel stressed, unhappy, unfulfilled and completely miserable! So here are a few steps to experiment by pushing the boundaries of our capabilities.

STOP DENYING IT Ignoring or suppressing your inner critic simply doesn’t work. In fact, ignoring unpleasant thoughts and emotions generally increases their intensity and frequency. Instead, acknowledge that they are real… whether it is justifiable or not! The trick is to develop a balanced relationship with your inner critic and not ignore or avoid the emotions it raises; but also, not allow it to bully you!

BE INTROSPECTIVE Asking yourself where the limiting thought came from may feel awkward at first but it’s a valid psychological technique that encourages objectivity.

More often than not, the inner critic dates back to childhood, strict upbringing and demanding expectations. We’re also influenced by peer competition, the media, personal relationships, and our own attitudes about winning and losing.

HOLD THAT THOUGHT It’s easy to become oblivious to the messages that we’re sending ourselves, and fail to recognise exaggerations, biases and rigid perceptions. Our inner critic is predictably black or white (‘You can’t work and be a good parent’); repetitive (‘You’re incapable of doing that… remember?’); extreme and permanent (‘If you do that, you’ll be abandoned by everyone you love… forever!’); or even harsh (‘You still haven’t done anything decent with your life’).

Distract yourself with activity: walk, organise your desk or talk about a completely different subject  – and stop the critical thoughts before they spiral out of control.

SEND GOOD VIBES If a friend expresses feelings of self-doubt, hopefully you wouldn’t say ‘Why can’t you ever do anything right?’ or ‘You’re so stupid!’ Instead, you’d be more likely to offer compassionate encouragement. And treat yourself equally kindly.

You should rephrase, reframe and replace overly critical as well as pessimistic thoughts, with more accurate and rational statements. For instance, replace ‘I never do anything right’ with ‘Sometimes, I do things really well; and sometimes, I don’t.’ Explore a different perspective to objectively see how they add up to a complete picture.

To regain control, pause and breathe deeply – repeatedly. Then remind yourself that you can handle tough times much like you’ve done before. It’s impossible to silence the critic forever so you must be resilient in spite of it and test those self-imposed boundaries.

While fleeing Syria, Yusra Mardini swam in icy waters alongside a sinking dinghy containing 20 refugees and helped push it to safety when its motor gave out at night in the Aegean Sea. She later competed in the 2016 Olympics as part of the refugee swimming team.

Jewish Italian Rita Levi-Montalcini created makeshift surgical instruments in hideouts during World War II and went on to become a Nobel prizewinning scientist – despite the trauma of fleeing religious persecution.

Inspiring stories about courageous people fighting all odds remind us of our daily choice to believe in our own limitless potential. If we live in a self-defeating mental state, we’re destined to fight the temptation to dream big and flee the option of finding the Yusra or Rita in all of us.