In my last post, I discussed how we can rebuild our self-trust by making commitments to our goals and them chunking them down into bite-sized doable bits. In this post, I am going to address how our inner dialog and dynamic stirs emotions that impact our self-trust and discipline.
It takes discipline to meet your daily commitments to yourself, regardless of your emotions, regardless of circumstances. Do you notice that you have an adverse reaction to the word discipline? I know I used to. When I was growing up being disciplined was code for being punished.
So here is a little something that helped me reclaim that word in a powerful way. Consider being disciplined as being a “disciple of” something. If you are disciplined about getting into your artist studio every day, you are being a disciple of your art, your curiosity, your wonder, your integrity. When you think of it that way, does it help?
Some of us, by nature and/or nurture, are more impacted by our emotions than others. Some people are able to “just do it,” as the Nike phrase goes. I tend to be emotionally based and have procrastinated more than once with “I don’t feel like it” or “I’m just not inspired right now.” If you operate from an emotional base, it can be challenging to get good traction with a new discipline or habit you want to build.
Your energy level might be low, perhaps you are physically depleted, both of which can contribute to your emotional state. In any case, it’s important to work with what you have. Start where you are.
Also, if you recognize that your current emotional state is due to low energy reserves or physical illness, be gentle with yourself and get curious about what your body needs from you and how you can nurture yourself to a better physical and energetic state. If you are in a state of grief over loss, experiencing trauma, terror or other deep emotional pain, again, please nurture yourself and get whatever help you need.
If you are in fairly stable energetic and physical states, and you are stalling out on your commitment to yourself, then look to the emotions conjured by your own internal dialog. These are more illusion than reality. They are driven by thoughts about the past or the future and they are the result of some way we are talking to ourselves.
Think of your emotions as an alchemy of thoughts and physical sensations. For example, I might feel my heart racing right before I go on stage and at the same time I am having a flurry of thoughts. If my thoughts are fear based, I am likely to experience my heart racing as stage fright. If my thoughts are thrill and adventure based, I am likely to experience my heart racing as excitement. In each case, the circumstances are the same, but how I interpret them is different.
Become the observer of your inner dialog.
As you state intentions, meet commitments and get into action, your fear and excitement buttons will get pressed. Your saboteur is suspicious of change and prefers status quo. A couple of ways it may show up as you embark on your new adventure are as a slave driver/bully or (on the other side of the coin) a complete enabler of all things slothful and indulgent.
Both set off a dynamic that can keep you entertained until the day you die, never having accomplished much of anything. Both of them erode your self-trust because you are in a battle with yourself. Let’s take a look at each.
Inner Slave Driver/bully: this is a critical and demanding voice. You are never doing enough, never working hard enough and what you produce is not good enough. Even when you have committed to something and met that commitment regularly, the slave driver will be on your case. There is more to do and do better, more to study and you do not have time for a break. Fun and recreation are not part of this picture. Play has no place and when you are working it has to feel hard and you have to feel miserable in order to get your merit badge for showing up. This is not love.
Inner Indulgent Enabler: this is the pendulum swing opposite of the slave driver that says things like: You’ve worked so hard you deserve a break or one more cookie won’t hurt anything, you’ve been so good anyway. This is not love.
Both voices run a volume continuum from whisper (which is hardly noticeable and so very sneaky) to an echoing scream. They are like drug pushers, if you believe a little of what they say to you, it is only a few more steps down a slippery slope to a lifetime of procrastination. They work you individually and as a team.
If you are prone to ongoing internal dialog with the slave driver, you are likely locked into a bully vs rebel dynamic. The slave driver bullies you, berates you and criticizes you. It can lead to a response like (my most familiar one) a rebel who says “screw you I will do what I want!” (in the name of freedom). It can also lead you to respond like a victim who curls up into a fetal ball, depressed and weary awaiting rescue.
If you are prone to listen to the inner enabler, you are likely to procrastinate by way of saying “mañana.” I need a break today, I don’t have enough energy right now, I lost my inspiration and it feels too hard to get it back. You will then go on and do something easy, like watch TV, go on Facebook, play video games, or do some other more menial task. This last one is clever as it is an indulgent response to the slave driver. “Heck, at least I am doing something on my list.”
Neither of these voices is helpful. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their true intention is not to get the work done, but to avoid it.
Sometimes they are mirrored by those around you; a spouse, parent, even a coach. You can project your bully or indulgent voice on them. It is a way to blame others for your own internal battle.
Your best bet is to become familiar with these voices and realize that you are not the voices and you are not the emotional response you have to those voices.
Step away from the inner dialog and listen with your observer. What is the dynamic you see at play? Is it more slave driver and rebel? Is it slave driver and victim? Or is it more indulgent and enabling?
Can you see where they double-team you? An example would be: you are on the couch playing a game on your iPad. It started as a quick well-deserved break and has turned into a two hour marathon sponsored by your inner enabler. Now the indulgent voice gives way to your slave driver who berates you for being a couch potato, time waster, video game addict. You are being shamed and criticized. By whom? Yourself. You are not the couch potato and you are not a victim.
You are the author of these dramas, not the characters. As the author, you can direct and re-direct the script, but first you have to be aware that you are the author and it will be very helpful if you have an awareness of the kinds of things each of your characters says. What are their favorite strategies?
This is an assignment I give most of my clients who are beginning a coaching journey. What is your self-talk? How much of it do you even notice and how much do you just embody without question?
There is another voice that you will want to cultivate. It is a nurturing voice; one that has your best interest at heart and tells you the honest truth, never shames, but lovingly redirects. You might imagine a higher self, soul or grounded parent. This is love.
Many of us have difficulty finding this voice at first. We tend to equate it with the indulgent enabler.
I am reminded of something I saw years ago at the SD Wild Animal Park. A young Asian mother with her toddler who appeared to be a few months new to walking were ambling along the entry path. She let the toddler wander and be curious under her watchful eye. Whenever the toddler was headed toward potential trouble (off the path, in front of an oncoming crowd of people) she would gently redirect the child with her hand. No words were said, there was no grabbing, forcing, yelling, admonishing.
This is what it feels like to be guided by our nurturing voice. Every moment we can redirect ourselves, not with shame, shouting, guilt, force, but with a loving light touch that does not allow for self-pity, indulgence, waiting games. It is also a helpful voice for emotions and avoidance that arise when we get confused or don’t yet know how to do something. This voice can lovingly guide us to ask for help from someone who does know how.
In conclusion, what I will say is, most of our emotional responses to our commitments that lead to procrastination, inertia and depletion of our self-trust are actually responses to this internal dialog and drama to which we’ve allowed ourselves to become captive. While we may feel we are at the mercy of this dynamic, we are not. We are actually the creators and so, we can re-create.
What about these dynamics is familiar to you?
How will you gently re-direct yourself and re-create your life today?
If you would like some help with identifying your dynamic and getting off the emotionally run procrastination train, I invite you to consider coaching with me.
Next in this series, I will write about momentum.
Photos and words: Copyright©2015 Kathy J Loh