Optimism Skill: Argue with Yourself

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Yet another counter intuitive optimism skill: Argue with yourself. More specifically, argue with you Inner Critic (aka: Trickster). Everyone has an Inner Critic. The Inner Critic is the personification of a part of our brain that recognizes threats in sub-second speed. At one point in our evolution, there were immediate physical threats we needed to respond to almost instantaneously like avoiding falling trees, dangerous animals, and rockfalls during hunting or gathering.

The Inner Critic helped (and still helps) keep us alive when we are in dangerous or threatening situations. The issue with the Inner Critic: it sees any violation of safety as a threat, even a situation that has not happened. Brian writes of a dance with the Inner Critic in this post. Part of the problem is that the Inner Critic cannot tell the difference between a tiger and a stressful presentation you have to give tomorrow. In the second scenario, the Inner Critic makes up a story about what will happen in an attempt to keep a itself safe. Planning for the future can give some degree of safety, but at some point the story is no longer valid.

As humans, we make sense of the world by telling ourselves these stories that may or may not be valid. Here is an example: Brian and I have both been suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed. My Inner Critic tried to convince me that I would not be able to find a new job or to pay my bills. The Inner Critic starts off as a motivator, but can quickly turn into a tyrant. Yes, it was important for me to start looking for a job immediately. No, it was not necessary for me to lose sleep over being unemployed. The Inner Critic was undercutting hope and optimism.

Optimism is a higher level skill that benefits from some very tactical interventions. In the case of the Inner Critic, switching the story to an Inner Advocate’s story helps create an environment where optimism can thrive. If I’m ever unexpectedly unemployed again, I’ll give myself a bit of time to process the situation and then amp up my Inner Advocate.

Inner Critic’s StoryInner Advocate’s Rebuttal
I will never find a jobI will find a better job
I can’t pay my billsI live responsibly and have
enough savings to last a while
I am a failureThis next job will work out better
because I have learned something.

Arguing with your Inner Critic is one example of cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring requires some mindful and intentional intervention.

Agile Best Self Principle #6: The most effective way to be your best self is to be mindful and intentional.

When I start to feel flustered or stressed out, my go to mantra is: “There are no tigers.” This is a shorthand way of telling myself “Be mindful. Take a second look at whatever it is stressing you out. I’m pretty darn sure there are no tigers in the room. Let’s get back to what you know for sure.” Here is an example. At the beginning of the day, my half asleep mind is already writing a daily task list before I get out of bed. I’m frequently overwhelmed before I’m fully awake. I have to intentionally replace the Inner Critic’s story with the Inner Advocate’s story. The Inner Critic always starts with the same opening line: “You are late! you have to shovel the driveway!!! It probably snowed 6 inches last night !!!!!” Inner Critics tend to use exclamation points, they love urgency – cause remember, their original job was to keep us alive. My Inner Advocate responds: “Late for what? My first meeting is not until 9 am. I have two hours to feed the dogs, shovel the driveway, take a shower and drink my coffee.”

In addition to bringing mindfullness and intention to the conversation, another great trick for arguing with the Inner Critic is talking to your trusted circle.

Agile Best Self Principle #4: Engage your trusted circle daily.

One of the great things about a trusted circle is that they most likely have more faith in you that you have in yourself. Members of my trusted circle have moved into that space specifically because they have different viewpoints, styles and opinions than I do. By virtue of being in my trusted circle, I know that I can go to certain people for a reality check. I count on these people to help me tell an optimistic story (or to tell me that I should spend my time and energy elsewhere).

So there you have it – two ways to argue with yourself so that you can take control of your own story. If anyone has any other tricks, or life hacks, I’d love to hear them.

Copyright © 2021 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson

Published by MichaeleBestSelf

Connector, Catalyst.

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