How did you get yourself through school exams, on to the next stages until you got to your current position in your career? I expect there was a hefty dose of hard work and steely determination, with plenty of sacrifices and difficult choices along the way, and hopefully some fun too!
The internal drive to succeed has probably been really helpful to you to get to where you are now, but it is worth asking yourself whether it is still working for you? Many people reach mid career and start to question what they are doing and whether it is really still right for them – and the old ways of relating to themselves no longer seem to work. The inner voice which says ‘do more’, ‘push harder’, ‘strive’, ‘toil’, ‘it will be better when…’ this is how many of us managed to get to where we are. Perhaps you also had some ‘if I don’t do this then….’ threats you have made to yourself over the years, or some ‘why did I do that, what an idiot’ self castigations. We’ve all done it, it’s how our brains have evolved to motivate us to keep going when things are difficult, but this type of inner dialogue comes at a cost to our wellbeing and our longer term career choices.
The good news is that there is another way of relating to ourselves which is proving through research to be a more rewarding and more sustainable way of talking to yourself over the longer term. I call it being ‘on your own side’.
This doesn’t mean being against anyone else, but it does mean learning to be your own best friend. What would it be like to talk to yourself as if you were talking to someone you really love and care about? Here are a few tips to start to be more ‘on your own side’.
- Notice what thoughts, feelings, body sensations, images, memories are arising for you on a moment by moment basis. Notice your inner dialogue and how you are speaking to yourself- what language are you using, what tone of voice is present?
- Bring to mind how it feels when you are with someone who loves and cares about you. If you find that difficult, imagine or remember how it feels to care about someone else, or a pet. This warms up your empathy neural circuits and helps your brain to prepare to be more kind to yourself.
- Experiment with being kind to yourself and find out what works best for you. Asking yourself ‘what could I do right now that would be kind to myself?’ may be one way. Placing a hand on your heart and acknowledging this is a difficult situation could be another. Practicing using a gentler tone of voice in your own inner dialogue or asking yourself ‘what would I say to my best friend right now?’ might work for you.
- Start a formal compassion practice. I like what Paul Gilbert and Dennis Tirch are working on in terms of compassion focused therapy – it fits really well with coaching and workplace health. This is one of their practices you might enjoy https://soundcloud.com/dennis-tirch-phd/01-compassionate-mind-training.
Being on your own side doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook – we all make mistakes which we need to own and do our best to rectify. But it does mean that we don’t add insult to injury to ourselves, and it helps us to move forwards with our working lives in a way which leads to longer term wellbeing, and to make career choices which lead to greater satisfaction.