2019 Challenge Become A Badass (The nontoxic version)
The Self-Empowerment Series 12 Steps in 12 Months
I’ve resolved to become a nontoxic badass in 2019. To accomplish that, I’m braking the process down into 12 steps, and further down into 4 smaller steps that I can take weekly. I invite you to take the challenge with me!
Month 1 How Would Your Best Friend Help You With That? Cultivate a Live-In Bestie
A major obstacle to being empowered in our daily lives is a behavior most of us have in common. A behavior we believe will help us improve but that actually causes low self-esteem, discouragement, distrust of self, and can lead to a backdrop of suffering against which our entire lives play out.
It’s the age-old issue of undermining our power by being too self-critical. And by that I don’t mean the occasional taking oneself to task, but the unceasing self-aggression supplied by the internal critic who is stingy and rash, only begrudgingly hands out five stars (if ever) and is quick to shout, ‘Thumbs down! Waaaay down, buddy!’ While it’s not a new idea that we self-flagellate, the twelve solutions to this problem might intrigue you.
But first, let’s reveal this internal critic in all its unhelpfulness. This critic is sharp, not in wit or observation but in cruelty because it lacks compassion and the willingness to acknowledge mitigation. It says things like, ‘Moron! What did you just do?’ over simple things like letting a glass slip from your fingers when you’ve bumped the corner of the table and, ‘Fail!’ over social lapses like forgetting people’s names or faces. This critic rushes to judgment any time it perceives a gap between your aspirations and your actual accomplishment (as perceived by it). It puts you down, precisely at a time when what you really need is an ally who shouts, ‘It’s OK, it was an accident,’ or ‘It’s OK, you’ll learn the name after a few more times!’ I am well acquainted with my internal critic who doesn’t seem to ever forget. I remember riding the subway in Munich with my best friend. Face to face, we’re hanging on to one of the center poles in the train car instead of taking any of the several empty seats. We’re amusing ourselves and each other by loudly making outrageous statement followed by hysterical laughter. Not a person in the entire car is able to escape the ruckus. Whenever I think about shame, this is the memory my internal critic trots out. I’m sixty-one now and was sixteen at the time. Over four decades have made little difference to the internal critic because my aspiration gap is between my desire to be outward-facing, focused on concerns for others and and my ego's frequent concern with my failures, large and small. My internal critic knows better than to criticize my teenage self. Instead, it declares that this shame I still feel demonstrates that I still have too much self-concern, freely calling me narcissistic, completely gaslighting the fact that its very existence as critic is what causes the concern in the first place.
In truth, the internal critic is not helpful. The best option for it is to be compassionate towards me when I feel shame instead of kicking me when I’m down. I’d never treat a friend this badly! Yet, it is common that, while we are often exemplary friends to others—showing compassion and leniency—we don’t usually extend the same to ourselves. Instead, we follow up missteps with automatic self-aggression.
What if we got the internal critic some help with keeping us on the path to fulfilling our aspirations? What if we developed another aspect of our personality—that of a best friend? We already know how to be one to others. What if we emulated that model? This, I submit to you, is an elegant and loving solution. Because, you see, one of the reasons the internal critic is so quick to be cruel is to keep us from feeling our vulnerabilities because they could be dangerous to our survival.
The internal critic is a personification of the ego which, at bottom, operates from fear because, like a computer that only knows zero’s and one’s, it only know life or death. It is spirit, or higher self, or inner wisdom that knows we are eternal and the two rarely, if ever, speak. The ego, with its sheer horror of death and absolute imperative to survive is like the jockey who doesn’t know better than to dig its spurs into the sides of our psyche to get us to victory (rather than aspiration) as fast as possible. But when faced with the challenges of succeeding, what we really need is a best friend, inspired by our highest self, who is there for us, is helpful, suggests things like good food and rest, and champions us, thus helping us mount our courage to feel all our feelings, including our vulnerability, to experience ourselves as whole and empowered!
Though along the way we’ve learned to be good friends to others, we’ve left ourselves out. What if we changed that? What if we cultivated ourselves as a best friend?
That is what I challenge you to become this year—your very own best friend! When you’re in trouble, ask yourself, ‘What would a best friend do to help me?’ and do it! Include self-soothing (pet your head, or your face; it’s OK, nobody need see you do it), sweet-talking with words of endearment (in dulcet tones), self-hugs, gentle motions, slowing down for an hour. Talk to yourself with earnest trust in yourself. When I say that something is difficult, my best friend never jumps on the band wagon or criticizes me. Instead, without fail, they add, ‘Only for the time being. You’ll get this’. My other best friend (I’m grateful for the blessing of two best friends) always speaks to me admiringly, sometimes asks for advice (and actually takes it), and also never criticizes me, ever! This best-friend relationship doesn’t have to be perfect; we’ve had a few fights. And we’ve made up. They simply believe in me and I in them. And I know, should I call in the middle of the night, they’d pick up, and so would I. We never abandon each other. Put a pin in that crucial point—we’ll get back to it at the end.
That’s the kind of best friend we all can use, living right inside our hearts and heads.
Many of us, far from cohabitating with a best friend, live with an eye-rolling, (often) scared, worried, distrustful, cynical, and punitive frenemy inside us. One who calls us names, mocks, I-told-you-so’s, thinks cracking the whip will help us achieve, and is willing to catastrophize or force the moment to its crisis, as T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock suggests, rather than be vulnerable, supportive, and encouraging. No wonder we feel we’re on our own and the weight of the world is pressing down on us.
The question that remains is not whether it is of value to develop an aspect of our personality that is profoundly devoted to us, but how we develop such an internal best friend. We shall discuss how you can do so in the next installment. In the meantime, when you feel down, or down on yourself, start training yourself to ask, ‘How would my best friend help me right now?’.
This week’s task The admiring movie critic: Every night before you fall asleep, recall the day, then give yourself 5 stars or a thumbs-waaay-up, or visualize awarding yourself a trophy! Use whichever one won’t seduce you into grading yourself with less than top-honors. And when you feel like it isn’t working or boring, or like you have better things to do, such as worrying about something on tomorrow’s to-do list, remember that the crucial behavior of a best friend is, they never abandon us. So keep going. It takes roughly 21 days to build a baby neural network, or in common parlance, a habit. And if you forget for a night or two, you can pick it back up as soon as you remember.
Next Week Developing your IBF (Internal Best Friend) Vulnerability: Calming and healing the internal critic with love.
Coming themes: Time Management—How to make it humane, How to stay Focused or Refocus, Soulful Resilience
Thank you so much for reading. Have a wonderful week. I love you. And remember, you are whole and wise, and if so inclined, divine. Perfect as you are, right now, and as you are not, right now. Blessings