Recently I caught myself second guessing a text I had sent. When I really looked at the process of “second guessing”, I realized that something else all-together was happening. I was explaining myself to myself in my head. But it wasn’t really me I was explaining myself to.
What the heck did I just say? And why does it matter?
Let’s start with why it matters. In a nutshell, it matters because automatic thinking interferes with good decisions.
On this day, I had a lot of time in the car. I was trying to work through how to handle a sticky situation around setting boundaries. I knew the best way through was a balancing act of being both understanding and also not allowing myself to get run over.
Every time I would settle on my next move, my mind would start automatically sending me messages like “but what about…”, “have you thought of…” “are you sure you’re not just trying to get out of work?” These were not helpful thoughts. It was more like they were coming from some shadowy figure in the background, demanding that I explain myself.
Typically, I would not even be aware of those distracting automatic thoughts. On this day, I suddenly said “who is this person I’m explaining myself to?”
That’s when it hit me. I was explaining myself to The Voice of Authority. This voice is not a real person. It’s a construct that I made up in my head when I was a little girl, trying to stay out of trouble with Mom and Dad. When I was about to do something that would get me in trouble, this was the voice that sometimes stopped me. “You better not throw mud on the stone fireplace of your new home.” “Are you sure it’s a good idea to carve your name in the wind sill of the new house? “ “Do you really want miss your curfew?”
Ok, that voice actually didn’t stop me from doing any of those things.
However, somehow throughout my life, the dressing down I got for throwing mud, carving my name and missing curfew morphed into The Voice of Authority in my head. It’s an artifact from my past that I have carried with me through my entire adulthood. Any advice it has to give me no longer applies. It’s out of date!
Just the realization that my second guessing was caused by me explaining myself to an imaginary character gave my thoughts a new track. With this insight, I took myself through the several people involved in the outcome of my decision. I realized that none of them would be saying the things I was saying to myself.
Suddenly I saw my decision differently and I knew exactly what to do. As it played out over the next several days, I navigated it with confidence and ease, instead of worrying if I had done the right thing.
Here’s the thing about second guessing – as well as critical self-talk: We do it for the right reasons. We are trying to be better. We want to make good decisions. We want to learn. However, being hard on ourselves doesn’t work.
In fact, being hard on ourselves just hardens us.
If we are indeed giving ourselves such a hard time in order to be better, is that what we would do to someone else in our orbit trying to learn something new? Would we not be encouraging and uplifting to help them learn?
Learning to do be kind to ourselves can be exceptionally difficult. In my case, the Voice of Authority has been part of me for a long, long time. It will take time and practice to learn to put it aside and check in with my own wisdom.
Where do you give yourself a hard time? How do you second guess yourself? Can you see where you have developed a Voice of Authority that might have out of date advice? How can you pivot your thoughts to a more productive track?
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