Many of us are our own worst critics. We judge ourselves, beat up on ourselves. We want to change things about ourselves but feel powerless and hopeless. We may also find ourselves frequently frustrated and angry with others, particularly our spouses or partners. Frustration with others and ourselves can drain our physical and mental energy. How can we do this differently?
Our ability to be curious about ourselves, about others and about our world may be our greatest asset and our most powerful tool. Curiosity allows us to transform negative judgments, soothe reactivity and learn from difficult feelings such as fear and anger. Coupled with compassion, curiosity allows us to be amused, rather than frustrated, as we confront the flawed humanity in others and in ourselves. Curiosity, because it opens the door to learning, allows us to make the changes we desire in our lives and our relationships.
Imagine having a curious observer part of yourself (perhaps hovering above your shoulder.) This allows part of you to engage in an experience or a conversation while another part of you is observing you, the other person and the process.
Instead of reacting to another person, get curious. Instead of judging yourself for what you are thinking, feeling or doing, get curious. Curiosity is about just noticing what is. See each experience as an opportunity to learn. Reactivate childlike inquisitiveness and wonder.
Transforming negative judgments. Instead of regretting a past experience, ask what can you learn from it? Listen for negative self-judgment about what you should or should not have done. Judgment blocks learning. You are wasting precious time and energy beating up on yourself. Take a deep breath and let go of judgment. Be curious, seek to learn. If the judgment won’t go away, be curious about it. Who or what does it sound like? Who or what does it look like?
What you are doing, thinking and feeling makes sense in some context. For example, you may judge yourself for making a mistake. When you get curious, you may realize you learned as a child that you needed to be perfect in order to feel valuable and loved. You can decide if this is how you want to live now.
You may be quick to judge the actions of others, based on your assumptions. You may think they are yawning in a meeting because they are bored with what you are saying. In reality, they may have been up all night with a sick child. Instead of operating on your assumption, you can check in with the other person. You can ask with an attitude of curiosity, not judgment. This may be hardest with our spouses because we assume we know what is going on with them.
Soothing reactivity. When you are having strong feelings, get curious about what old feelings are getting activated. We have a part of our brain that has a quick fight-or-flight reaction based on early experiences and the conclusions we reached about these experiences. This part of our brain reacts rather than responds and is not the best source of information or decisions. Taking a deep breath and getting curious helps us operate from a wiser part of our brain.
Learning from difficult feelings. Our feelings are complex and observing them with curiosity can teach us much about ourselves. What are the beliefs behind your feelings? Are you afraid because you believe something bad is always about to happen to you? What is the context in which the feelings make sense? Perhaps some really bad things did happen when you were a child without the resources you now have. Is this how you want to live now?
What are the feelings behind the feelings? When you feel angry, be curious. You may find that underneath the anger, you are feeling hurt, afraid or ashamed. Be curious and compassionate with yourself.
Growing and Changing. As you seek to grow and change, notice what helps you implement the changes and what hinders you. Experiment. Change your efforts based on what helps. Beating up on yourself really does not work as a motivator, but if you notice you are doing it don’t beat up on yourself for beating up on yourself. Take a breath. Relax. Get curious. Be compassionate.
Try this. Learn to stop frequently throughout your day, take a deep breath and check in with yourself. Notice with curiosity (not judgment) what is going on. Listen deeply.