You’ve probably seen the cartoons where a man has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and both are giving him advice… it’s a very funny way of showing the internal conflict that can go on in our heads.
On our right shoulder, we have a little inspiring coach. This coach is wise, happy, kind, fearless, inspired, creative, loving, spontaneous, encouraging, passionate, disciplined and enthusiastic. Oh, the marvelous things that the coach encourages you to do, right? “Go for it, you can do it, it will work out perfectly, you’re so talented, you are good enough, you deserve it, this is such a great idea, I’m so glad you said yes to this, it will be amazing!”
The coach is so full of enthusiasm! (S)he doesn’t have even the slightest shadow of a doubt that you can do this thing you want to do… or that you are making anything but the right choice… or that it will work out perfectly. There is no fear, and no judgment, and the coach’s advice comes from the heart.
Ah, but on the left shoulder sits the procrastinator… or the inner critic, if you will. This voice sounds very reasonable and logical. It’s not bubbling over with enthusiasm, because it is doing its best to keep you “safe” within your comfort zone. This voice might not mention your fears but it definitely plays to them. It cautions you to look before you leap, to weigh every option, to reconsider any impulsive decisions and to be absolutely 100% sure you won’t fail.
Sometimes, the inner critic can be critical – “oh come on, you can’t put yourself up there with the experts, you are a nobody”…(and hopefully you have become good at spotting this self-deprecating talk and shut it down). But, most of the time, the inner critic will simply pull up “reality” and “the facts” to get you to stay put in your comfort zone. It just wants you to be safe! That’s right – this voice has your best interests in mind… but the problem is – so does your inner coach!
Your inner coach wants you to succeed, and your inner critic wants you to be safe. Of course they both love you and want what’s best for you!
So which voice do you listen to?
Most of us, most of the time, listen to the inner critic. It’s hard to argue with “what is.” It’s hard to go against logic. For example, a friend of mine was in some financial trouble a few years ago, and she was offered a job that paid well, but she instinctively knew she would hate.
For a week she watched the internal battle going on between her coach and her critic. Logic said, “look, you’re going to get out of this financial mess because this job pays well, and won’t it be nice to not be stressed out about money”… while the coach said, “is it all about the money, really, do you want to hate going to work every day, and trade financial stress for job stress?”
Both were right and she agonized over whether to accept the job or not… and in the end, she listened to her inner critic and took the job.
But, her heart wasn’t in it. Right away, literally while walking into the office on her first day, she understood in her gut that this job was a bad fit for her personality and talents, and although she gave it a good honest try, and committed to learning as much as she could, she was deeply unhappy. Even though her financial situation eased up, she was constantly stressed by the job, and finally decided to listen to her inner coach. She made the decision to quit within a year and strike out on her own as a freelancer – and she’s never regretted that decision, even though it was rough going financially for a few years. Later, she told me, that she wished she had listened to her inner coach and made a decision that felt good.
I can’t tell you which voice to listen to. I can tell you which one will limit your chances at success (the critic) but ultimately it’s you who has to choose. I can’t tell you which one will feel good in your gut – but I can tell you which one most often feels expansive, powerful, joyful and good (the coach), and which one makes you feel constricted and small (the critic).
I recommend you try this in your meditation: imagine that you have made a choice based on what the critic told you, and that you’re going to honor that choice. Sit with this choice for a while. Let your body speak to you. Let your intuition speak to you. Let your heart speak to you. Let whatever wisdom is in and around you, to permeate you and give rise to feelings. You may wish to sit with this choice for a day, or several days.
Then, imagine that you have had a chance to reverse your decision. Imagine that you are now going to follow the guidance of your inner coach, and that you are going to honor that choice. Again, sit with this choice and let your body, intuition and heart speak to you. This can take several meditation sessions too, or you might simply ‘know’ within seconds once you open yourself to this inner wisdom.
While scarier and definitely more uncertain, learning to trust your inner coach can be one of the most liberating things you can do for yourself. The inner coach is less concerned about “what is” – it’s more concerned with “what can be” – and it’s the spirit of possibility that enables you to take the good risks that lead to success.
But don’t take my word for it. Learn to sit with both voices. Give them both equal time, and let your inner wisdom choose, through closely monitoring your feelings and your sense of ‘knowing’.