Dismantling the Judge in Your Head.

I’ve been reading Shirzad Chamine‘s Positive Intelligence. This has shone a huge light on what I’ve previously written about as the inner critic. As Shirzad posits, everyone has a group of saboteurs and the one everyone has is in common is The Judge. Basically, we are all running around with a Judge in our head who is constantly pointing out where we are falling short. So my pants are too tight because I am lazy and fat. I didn’t get that spectacular job because I’m not good enough. Suzy just walked by my office without saying hello because of something I did. Hmmm. I wonder what I did. She thinks I’m inadequate, she thinks I’m too bossy, she thinks I’m ugly. If this sounds like the ticker tape in your head then you have a Judge as well.dismantling the judge in your head

I find it remarkable that Shirzad stepped out on a limb and pointed out to a group of grad students that he felt inadequate and that they all concurred. How vulnerable. Well, I have to say I’ve been listening to my Judge for far too long. It’s useless and debilitating. It can and has brought me to a standstill. This particular saboteur is constantly holding me back and all the while, I am actually free to choose if I want to listen to it or not. I find that not only am I judging myself, but I am judging circumstances and others as well. So it’s raining in beautiful San Antonio because it’s just my luck. The water dispenser is out in the fitness room because this hotel sucks. The train going by at 3 AM is so happening to be annoying. That woman who cut in front of me in line at the lunch buffet because she is arrogant. All of these judgments. All day. Everyday. It’s exhausting. Time to dismantle the Judge.

So I’ve been working on this and this what I have found so far:

1. Name it. Shirzad recommends giving it a name. So whether it’s Executioner, The Critic, Tormenter, or as I have recently tried Sister Mary Catharine (and she has a ruler in her hand). Giving it a name gives some separation. So much of my inner dialogue is about beating myself up. Identifying “who” is saying all this takes it out of the shadows. Shirzad recommends that if you can’t think of a name you can clearly identify with, just call it The Judge. If you are like me, you spend weeks trying on different names and then give up. So use The Judge unless something else resonates. Just make sure you name it.

2. Voice. Give your Judge their voice. As instructed by Shirzad, I have been reframing my judgments by giving The Judge a voice. So instead of thinking “I think I look fat in this dress”, think “the Judge thinks I look fat in this dress”. Or “I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough”, think “the Judge thinks I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough”. Now the Judge is out in the open and, most importantly, you realize it’s not you. Give your Judge a voice.

3. Creator. Instead of being the victim, be the Creator. David Emerald‘s book, The Power of TED, presents the idea that the victim is living in a negative space that is constantly reacting. From my vantage point, that means the victim is constantly listening and buying into the Judge. Emerald writes. “for Victims, the focus is always on what they don’t want: the problems that seem constantly to multiply in their lives. They don’t want the person, condition, or circumstance they consider to be their Persecutor, and they don’t want the fear that leads to flight, flee, or freeze reactions either. Creators, on the other hand, place their focus on what they do want. Doing this, Creators still face and solve problems in the course of creating the outcomes they want, but their focus remains fixed on their ultimate vision.” Be a Creator.

4. PQ Reps. The biggest take away from Positive Intelligence is trying to do PQ reps 100 times a day. I rolled my eyes when I thought of doing anything 100 times a day. BUT a PQ rep is really just 10 seconds or 3 breathes of being present. This has been fascinating to try for the last week. When I walked my dog this morning I was constantly doing PQ Reps. So I smelled some honeysuckle, I spent three breathes smelling the honeysuckle. Then I listened to birds for 3 breathes, then felt the breeze on my face, then listened to my dog panting, then watched a cardinal, then stopped and smelled some roses (yes, seriously). The point of this is to bring you back to your prefrontal cortex where you do your best thinking. When you are listening to the Judge you are in your limbic system and, outside of fleeing from danger like a Saber-toothed Tiger, it’s really not that healthy for you. Try getting in some PQ Reps.

5. Empathy. One of the superpowers that Positive Intelligence brings is empathy. I think I’m pretty empathetic but Chamine promotes being empathetic towards yourself. Have some self-compassion. He suggests finding a photo of yourself when you were a child and full of possibilities, passion and wonder. I found a picture of myself and set it up as wallpaper on my phone. I see that picture of myself every time I swipe the phone (which is turns out is a lot). I see this brave little girl in the middle of Rocky Gorge, one of my favorite places from my childhood in New Hampshire. There is her bright shiny face looking at the camera braving the chilly torrent of a rocky river. That girl? She’s amazing. I want to protect her from the Judge. Find empathy for yourself.

6. Curiosity. Chamine recommends another super power of curiosity. It’s funny because Emerald suggests the same thing. I have written before that curiosity is the antidote for fear. It’s also the antidote for your Judge. The Judge wants you to be choked by your fear; to standstill and resist. Curiosity opens the curtains. It shows all the possibilities. It’s liberating. Reframing any conflict or issue or assumption into curiosity makes it possible. You’re just an anthropologist studying the “Culture of You”. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I just called that new client. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I went to that meeting alone. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I just apologized. Find your curiosity.

I have to suggest you go to Chamine’s website PositiveIntelligence.com and try out some of his assessments. Find out your PQ score (mine was 71) and see if you can move the needle (you want to be above 75). He also has some guided audio sessions to help you connect to your prefrontal cortex (did I mention they are free?). So in the meantime, I continue to dismantle my Judge. How do you shut down your judgmental voices in your head?

Curiosity: the Antidote for Fear

I’ve been taking several team coaching courses through CRR Global. Our facilitator said something really thought provoking. Curiosity is the antidote for fear. She posited that you can’t hold fear and curiosity at the same time. I guess this is why Curious George seemed to escape dire consequences because he wasn’t holding onto fear and examining all the “what if’s”. Rather liberating isn’t it? Just be curious and fear will melt away.

As I look back, I think the period of my life where I was consumed with fear and struggled with worrying about all that could go wrong was when my son was two. He was a toddler capable of dragging a tricycle onto a kitchen table and then sitting on it. He lacked any sense of fear. I was tethered to my son’s hand in every parking lot, store, amusement park, Movie Theater….for about three years. He had no sense of danger. No limits. I remember sitting several rows back at a Cirque du Soleil performance and he ran down the aisle to try and go on stage. We caught him just shy of the first step. Crisis averted. His curiosity struck fear in me. Thank goodness they grow up. Thank goodness he and I both survived.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t watch out for our toddlers and let them go play in traffic; but there is a lot to be learned from having an open curiosity about the world. I personally am game for any antidote for fear. So here are some ideas for embracing curiosity.

1. Open. To be able to embrace curiosity, you need to be open. Be available for the experience. I remember going for a zip line experience with my son a few years ago. I initially asked him if he wanted to go try it out and he was game (no surprise there). To be honest when I asked him I hadn’t really thought through that this meant I would be flying through a forest several hundred feet above the ground. I am not a dare devil but I was open. I didn’t come up with a laundry list of why I shouldn’t do it. It was more about seizing the opportunity to do something fun with my son before he headed off to college. When they strapped us into our gear and the helmet was on, well…it was too late to worry about fear. We had a blast and suffered no injuries. Be open. Curiosity: the Antidote for Fear

2. Scientist. Put on your scientist hat…or a lab coat. I remember taking food chemistry lab at Cornell. I was a Hotel Administration major and we spent hours messing with something basic like baking a cake. In one recipe we would double the baking powder, in another, we would leave out the eggs, in another, we would use oil instead of butter. As you can imagine (if you bake at all you know it is a science) the resulting cakes would be vastly different. I could see the cause and effect at work. It was a great learning experience although some of the end products were awful. Tinkering with various aspects of recipes has helped me to be a better cook. Take time to become the scientist.

3. Wonder. To be in “wonder” for me, means to be absolutely present and free of assumption. You need to let go and be. I can remember my kids as toddlers on Christmas morning. The larger presents from Santa would be all set up (i.e. Hot Wheels race tracks, Barbie dream house…etc). There was an overwhelming amount of things in the room but my son would run up to the racetrack and start playing. He would spend 30 minutes before he was ready to move on. He was present in his wonder and took it all in at his pace. Embrace wonder.

4. Talk to your triggers. We just practiced this in my CRR Global class. Being triggered is when you go into fight or flight mode. I get triggered when someone says a sexist statement like “those football players are playing like girls.” Suddenly my 30 year old neighborhood bully named “Joe” breaks out and wants to teach somebody a lesson and I shut down and can’t think. When I separated from my triggered self (through coaching), I could dream up a new way to deal with Joe the next time I get triggered. I can show up as my adult self and keep Joe in the back room by the red phone. Having a plan to deal with your triggers helps keep you resilient, in the moment, and keeping fear in check.

5. Muscle. Work your curiosity muscle on a regular basis. This is kind of like getting out of the status quo. Shake up your routines. Try a different drink at Starbucks, cross your arms the opposite of normal, drive a different route to work, eat vegetarian all day or call your brother you haven’t spoken to in months. It might be a little (or a lot) uncomfortable but it gets easier the more you do it. You can flex that curiosity muscle more easily. Flex your muscles.

The beauty of embracing curiosity is that life becomes that much fuller, more interesting, more adventurous. The view is different there. Lean in.

7 Ways to Take the Road Less Traveled. My Daughter, My Hero.

I’m not here to give people voices because I don’t have the ability to do so for anyone but myself.  All I do is merely remind them that we are all human and that all stories are deserved of being heard.” – Natalie Robles

My daughter, Natalie, graduated from Duke University this past Sunday. I could not be prouder of her accomplishment. Not that it’s Duke or that she is graduating from college period. It’s that she has always taken the road less traveled; thrown herself into and embraced every experience. She has always followed her heart regardless of naysayers along the way. She has always been true to herself. She is my hero. My Daughter, My Hero

Natalie started school a year early. At the age of 4, she knew her alphabet and numbers and tested into kindergarten. In a time where parents are red-shirting (holding their kids back a year) so that they can excel at sports and academics, she was a maverick. She held her own and still placed into the accelerated classes throughout elementary school and into high school. As a sophomore in high school, she auditioned for an elite residential arts school (some 3 hours from home) and managed to be accepted into their prestigious music school. These are very brave steps for a 15 year old fledgling clarinetist but she did it. Her fearlessness, resilience, fortitude and aspirations made her my hero.

Natalie has a laundry list of attributes, but these are the one’s that stand out for me:

1. Resilience. Natalie bounces back even when things are tough. She had a terrible experience her Junior year of high school with a roommate. The roommate left school but Natalie returned the next year. She has had frost bite from backpacking in the snow and returned the following year for the same subzero experience.   She had an unpaid internship in NYC, living hand to mouth for 8 weeks and went back the following summer for yet another unpaid internship in NYC. She may struggle and stumble but she will not fall.

2. Curiosity. In Natalie’s freshman year of college, she hiked for 2 weeks in the Pisgah National forest, performed in a dance recital (she had never taken dance), played with the symphony, tromped around at half time at the football games in the marching band, joined the water polo team (yeah…a newbie), and taught at local elementary schools in her..ahem…”free time”. Natalie inhaled every opportunity. Not all of them were her cup of tea, but she tried them all on for size.

3. Openness. Natalie’s passion is documentaries. It aligns with her ability to let folks find their voice. She doesn’t rush. She doesn’t push. She is present and listens. She distills and edits and blends and creates magic. She is open to all possibilities. And we get to enjoy the product of her openness.

4. Empathy. Her first experience with documentaries was in Medillin, Colombia. She was selected for a Summer program during her freshman year to travel to South America and document families displaced by drug violence.  When she was instructed to interview some three to four families a day, she balked. She could feel the tension in folks as she tried to film. She knew they weren’t comfortable. She wanted to spend time with one family. She wanted to go back to the same family so that she could create trust. She did. She connects with folks and regardless of the cultural and language barriers, she honors them.

5. Decisiveness. Every family has disagreements. It might be what restaurant we are eating at or which movie to rent. The rest of us can get into a quagmire of indecisive infinite possibilities and unspoken agendas. Natalie takes the reigns and makes a decision. Done. Resolved. (Thanks)

6. Joy. As I write this, Natalie is having her wisdom teeth removed. I can hear her in the exam room laughing. She has an infectious laugh that I would recognize anywhere. She brings that joy and laughter to endless folks. No one is immune to her joy (especially her brother). They can crack each other up with just a look. She brings joy.

7. Bravery. Natalie went to a camp in the golden hinter lands of Northern California at the ripe old age of 8. It was emotional to leave your first born in what we later referred to as the “hippie” camp. When I returned to pick her up some three weeks later, she showed us the 20 foot high platform she had, while harnessed, jumped off of as she took a leap of faith to grab a trapeze. She has run a 10k obstacle course race, tried zero gravity and Bikram yoga, auditioned for countless music camps and organizations, and, her greatest feat, repelled up a mountain side after several years of conquering her fear. She faces her limiting beliefs.

I remember when Natalie left for Colombia some three years ago, she read a diary of a journey I had taken to South America some 30 years before. She said, “Mommy, I’m following in your footsteps”. In reality she has gone way beyond the steps I’ve taken. I can only hope to be as accomplished in my entire life as she has been in just 21 short years. My hero.

Traveling DNA: Lessons I Learned From My Son

“Because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to

go but everywhere,keep rolling under the stars…” -Jack Kerouac

In a span of about a month, I traveled separately with my 88 year old father and then with my 18 year old son. Not surprisingly there were some vast differences along with some ironic similarities considering they are 70 years apart in age. Both trips were insightful, it really was a lesson in learning more about myself.

My son, Benson, sailing off the coast of Key West.
My son, Benson, sailing off the coast of Key West.

My son is in the last weeks of his Freshman year at the University of Miami. The timing of a weekend trip to Key West was not likely ideal considering he was supposed to be studying for finals, but his willingness to adapt his schedule to accompany his mother to the end of the Continental United States is admirable. Key West with your mother…when you are 18…that is one secure teenager.

So these are my lessons from this trip:

1. Patience. My Father might have patience, but mine was sorely lacking the morning I arrived to pick up my son to drive to Key West. I thought we would be leaving promptly for the 3 plus hour drive. He was at the track, running sprints. Two hours later we were finally on the road. I have to say I had to take a breath and say to myself, “Cathy, you will wait patiently for your Father to use the Men’s room but you can’t be patient with your own son?” Chill out and be patient.

2. Agenda. Let go of it. I had a plan to make it to a recommended lunch spot in Marathon (some 2 hours away) When we left 2 hours late and my son suggested Cracker Barrel, I needed to let go of my agenda. Again, I didn’t seem to care where I ate with my Father, why did it matter with my son? He was used to heading to bed at 3 AM (yes…or even later) but he hit the sack at 10 PM. He could have stayed up watching YouTube until 2 AM but he didn’t have an agenda to stick to. Give up your agenda.

3. Generous. My son is generous to a fault. So generous that, he once went to an ATM to give a homeless man twenty dollars. When his uncle gave him a twenty dollar bill at the ripe old age of 5, he took it to the Boys and Girls Club and bought every soda and snack in the vending machine and shared it with his compatriots. My son’s first thought when we arrived in Key West was what gifts he wanted to buy for his friends. So maybe his generosity isn’t a fault but something I need to embrace myself. Instead of looking at what coffee mug I want for myself, I need to take a lesson from his generosity to others. Be generous.

4. Flexible. My son is flexible to any change in course. We wanted to see the famous sunset from Mallory Square on the edge of Key West. We had an hour to kill and he was open to where we ate, what we ate and didn’t care how long a walk it was. If the roles were reversed, I would have had a checklist of “must haves” before leaving the island (i.e. Oysters, conch fritters, mojito…etc). If I told him we were going to the Waffle House, he would have been on board. Much like my father, my son can change course easily and be flexible.

5. Curiosity. While my son doesn’t have random conversations with anyone he meets (like my father), he has the same wanderlust. In fact this is definitely in the family DNA. Me -“Do you want to check out the southern most point in the US?” Him – “sure”. Me -“Do you want to take a sailboat ride?” Him – “sure”. Me – “Want to check out the oldest restaurant in the US?” Him -“OK”. When we were driving back to Miami, he turned to me and said “What is our next adventure?”. Be curious.

6. Co-pilot. My son is an excellent co-pilot. Whether taking pictures, cueing up music or finding change for the toll, he is at the ready. We both love to listen to podcasts like “The Moth“, “This American Life” and “A Prairie Home Companion”. He was the car DJ setting up the one’s he wanted me to hear even if he had already heard them. I actually look forward to long drives with him as my co-pilot, because I know we are going to listen to some interesting stuff.

7. Line. My son knows when to draw the line. A waiter had forgotten an appetizer we had ordered. My son spoke up. We got a free dessert. When he had to spend some time studying (did I mention this was just days before finals), he stayed behind to study. When we were headed back and were short on time, he found a lunch place close to campus. He knows when to cut loose and when to reign it in. He knows where to draw the line.

I’m glad I got to spend some quality time with my son. I know that times like these are few and far between as he continues on with his college studies and then on to a career. It was time well spent. It’s great when your children can teach you things about yourself. It makes me proud to be his mom.