In my life, I’ve done a lot of work with the critic’s voice, learning techniques and getting quite good at transforming my inner critic to support and inform my forward progress (rather than criticize and impede it). I’ve gotten to the point where, these days, I rarely hear a critical voice in my head.
And in that silence I’ve become aware of a different voice – I call him “the devil on my shoulder” or “rebel without a cause.” I grew up watching the old 1940’s Bugs Bunny cartoons on Saturday mornings. So, the image of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other has stayed with me. But this is not the devil telling me to hurt someone or retaliate for some slight, real or imagined. No, my devil tells me to do things that are bad FOR ME. Does this sound familiar to you, or am I the only one?
My devil tells me not to exercise. Or go ahead and have that ice cream (even though in 2 hours I’ll be doubled over in pain from it.) He tells me it’s OK not to do my finances or deliver on my promises (like writing this newsletter, for example). And sometimes he just says, “Come on! Let’s be bad.” (Hence the “rebel without a cause” moniker – think James Dean.)
I’ve spent the last few months, first becoming painfully aware of how much this devil gets in my way of having the life I want, the body I want, the income I want. This devil actively advises me counter to my own best and highest interest. And about a month ago, I decided, I’ve had enough. It’s time for this devil to get the hell off my shoulder!
One thing I know, when dealing with procrastination, there is always an underlying issue. And the only way to stop procrastinating is to deal with that! So, I started working with the devil and I thought you might be interested in the techniques I used and the discoveries I made – in case you’ve got one on your shoulder!
The first technique I used was to talk to a dear friend who also has a background in NLP and ask for some support. We came up with a question for exploration:
What is the underlying belief that drives the devil? What master does he serve?
And then I re-instituted writing morning pages. If you’re not familiar with morning pages, it’s an exercise from The Artist’s Way. I faithfully wrote morning pages for most of the 10 years I was ill, but have dropped the habit over the last few years.
So, every morning, I wrote. I didn’t right about the question, necessarily, because morning pages are 3 pages of whatever. You write for three pages – and you just write – whatever comes out of the pen. But I did remind myself of the question before I started writing. Just threw it out there. And then I wrote. I did this every morning for several weeks.
I discovered a few things along the way. I was reminded of what a tremendous stress reliever the morning pages are. I was reminded of how they cleared the space for me to have a more productive day. I started having and remembering more of my dreams and writing about them in the morning pages. Very little of this directly addressed the question or issue at hand. But I was clear I was working through something – because those dreams were wild!
And then one morning, while in the shower, I saw it. There were really two beliefs driving the devil. One was “I don’t want to become my Mother.” This surprised me, because my mother and I are quite close now. But, growing up I definitely had issues with Mom. We fought like cats and dogs. Mom was the super Mom of the 1970’s. She worked full time, she cooked dinner every night, and she did our laundry. All my friends loved her because she truly cared.
But what I saw was a woman overworked, always busy and tired, doing things for everyone else but never playing and very rarely getting anything for herself. And I didn’t want to be that way! In my tweens and teens especially, I very avidly did NOT want to be my Mother. As an adult, I’ve gotten over it, of course. I have tremendous respect for her strength and resiliency. In fact, I moved in with my parents, largely to support Mom as she cares for my father through his illness. And yet, that motivation, “I don’t want to turn into my Mother!” was driving the devil on my shoulder to give me all kinds of bad advice.
The other belief is even older. My family is a very high achieving family. Both of my brothers are genius smart. And I could never quite do as well in school as they did, no matter how hard I studied. I’m no slouch academically, but I just wasn’t on their level. And no matter how well I did, there was always another level to get to, another area to work on to excel at more. And so when I worked hard, I was always expected to work even harder.
So the second belief I uncovered is, “No matter how hard I work, I’ll never get to play and have fun.” So, why work hard at all – what’s the point? And that’s what the devil is telling me – it doesn’t matter how hard you work, it will never be enough – so why not play now. Except that “play” in his mind equals doing things that are bad for me – eating candy, playing video games, being a “bad girl.”
And in a way, he’s right. Because no matter how much I accomplish today, there is always another project, more work, more stuff to do, right? So there’s never really a time when I’ve done all my homework and now I can go out and play.
How do I kick this devil to the curb?
Here’s what I decided – I need to play regularly – not when I’m done with my work or when I’ve been a good girl – but as part of my every day and every week life. And not play the way He says, but find ways every day to do things that feel good. For no other reason than that they feel good. And I need to take breaks intentionally and on purpose – even when there’s more work to be done. I need to find things that both are “good for me” and are fun and feel good. So, I’ve begun to look for ways to do that.
How do you take good care of yourself? How do you make time to play and feel good? I’d love your ideas!