It’s difficult to control our inner dictator. Most of us are trying to work on something. Exercising more, spending less money, eating more fruits and vegetable, stopping procrastination…pick your poison. The minute we derail, we beat ourselves up. “Cathy, you lazy wench, why did you sleep in and not go for a run this morning?”, “Why did you go out to dinner when you said you would save money this month?”, “Dummy, you spent 2 hours on Facebook when you could have been doing homework.” “What is wrong with you?” Sound familiar? Your dictator has taken over.
According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal and her book “The Willpower Instinct,” carrying around this guilt and reprimanding ourselves with this self talk is actually going to encourage more self defeating behaviors. What? Is she crazy? I would be completely out of control if I didn’t reprimand myself. My dictator is doing a great job of keeping me under wraps. Really?
One of the studies in the book took place at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada. They tracked the procrastination habits of students over the course of the semester. The ones who were self critical for the way they performed on the first exam were much more likely to make it a habit and procrastinate on subsequent exams. Those who forgave themselves for procrastinating on the first exam, did far better and improved their study habits. Doesn’t it seem so much easier to have some self compassion and to soothe your inner dictator?
Here are some ways to calm your dictator:
1. Forgive. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Let go of your grudges towards others. If you can’t forgive them and their failures, how can you possible forgive yourself. I was tormented by resentment of an ex for years. It got me nowhere but more stressed out, paranoid and resentful (as I recounted all his sins against me and mankind). It wasn’t hurting him, it was hurting me. Release it and move on.
2. Self Compassion. Once you have forgiven others, it should be easier to forgive yourself and your failures. Try to imagine if you would say any of the things that you say to yourself, to a close friend or your child. Imagine your best friend getting on a scale and you say to them “Hey fatso, that’s what you get for eating all that cake last night.” Why would you talk to yourself with any less compassion as you would a friend. Forgive yourself.
3. Escape. Anticipate the feeling of giving in when you are stressed out and plan your escape. So if I’m used to grabbing a glass of wine when I get home from a stressed out day at work, have an alternative escape plan. A healthier option. A walk, some yoga, praying, crotchet, reading, gardening, P90X. What ever you enjoy that is counter to your normal unhealthy default escape. This will trip up your inner dictator.
4. Envision. Envision being successful with a few bumps along the way. This is what kills most New Year’s resolutions. You join a gym and say you will go every day and then when the first bump in the road comes along (such as I couldn’t get a babysitter) you abandon the plan. Resolution over. Realize you are going to have set backs and keep on keeping on. In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise always wins.
5. Awareness. Watch how you talk about yourself to others. I know several colleagues who constantly put themselves down or are down on life. “I’m having a bad hair day.” “I’m overloaded.” “I’m tired.” “I’m sick.” First of all, do you want to be around someone who is such a downer? Second, how can you possible have a good day when you are saying this out loud? If you are feeling a little tired, say “I’m feeling great.” And add a smile. It will turn your day around and others will be attracted to your energy.
This is a difficult process and it isn’t easily changed over night. Your dictator has been in control for a long time so don’t plan a coup d’état. Slowly but surely pacify your dictator’s power by reflecting on how you are viewing things and what you are letting your dictator control (and say). Soothe your inner dictator.
What is your dictator saying?