Self Criticism: The Easy Way Out?
I had a great conversation with a friend this week where we were discussing right effort, the way our thoughts shape our actions, and specifically, how we use our thinking to avoid challenges and challenging work.
It was a little light bulb moment for me about how what might feel like a persistent self-critical train of thought might actually be a sneaky method of avoidance.
Think about how often we make critical statements about ourselves in our thoughts. We see someone performing well and think we can’t, or we look at someone who is in shape and think we could never manage the self discipline. Perhaps when you are practicing you have thoughts that some aspect of your playing will just never be very strong.
In some ways these thoughts can feel helpful, even productive. It feels like we are identifying the places we are deficient, that we are creating a laundry list of ways we’d like to be better, and selecting things we will work on later (probably).
But are we really creating a productive task list? Or are we repeating a predictable, easy list of “things to do” that makes us feel like we’re getting somewhere, substituting it for actionable steps or objectives?
Being a good musician requires us to think critically, but the quality of the feedback we are giving ourself matters.
The next time you catch yourself thinking a generic critical statement in the practice room, see if you can catch it and challenge yourself to go deeper. Not just identifying what is bad, but really naming the specifics - what do you want to change and how you could do that. Even if you don't land on the right solution on the first try, which we usually don't, you're moving in a productive direction.
Do your best to keep seeing the moment in depth, and try to stop those generic critical thoughts from pulling you off track.
Have a clear intention for your actions and keep looking close to avoid getting caught up in generalities.
Of course this isn’t as easy as just saying something needs work and moving on like we regularly might. Our usual laundry list of critiques does serve a purpose - it lets us feel like we are accomplishing something.
Changing our habits and getting to the root of our critical thoughts doesn’t have to be painful, though. In fact, I think it should be the opposite. As we start to see the results of employing truly critical thinking, we’re motivated to keep up the good work. You might even feel less bad overall because you are no longer simply identifying things you don’t like about yourself or your habits.
Creating a healthier approach to critical thinking comes from right effort, curiosity, mindfulness, and a willingness to sit with some discomfort. By making our efforts more intentional we can have a more equanimous approach to ourselves and the things that are important to us.
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Hi, I'm Morgann! Flutist, teacher, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.