What’s that tune you can’t stop singing to yourself? We’ve all got one; in fact, I feel pretty safe in saying we’ve all got more than one. We’ve got a whole chorus of tiny voices demanding our attention, but here’s the thing: Some of our internal voices empower us, reinforce our authentic selves, and feed the greater good. Too often, though, they are the roadblocks that spring from our deepest fears about ourselves. And, they are remarkably good at keeping us stuck, especially when we don’t even realize the strength of these silent (to everyone else) sweet nothings.
Mrs. L., my sophomore honors English teacher, used to balance her jovial self on the lab table at the front of the class and dramatically share her thoughts on literature. While I had read a lot as a kid hanging in the back of our custom van with Shamo, Molly, and Wescott (our three rescue dogs: a sweet black poodle mutt; a neurotic, gum-scavenging Irish setter; and a nippy, crotchety basset hound) while my parents surfed the Jersey swells at Manasquan and Lavallette, I was pretty sure I didn’t know squat about literature. One Tuesday in 1982, I pecked painfully away on our electric typewriter, laying down nine pages of deep thoughts about Anna Karenina. This fancy model of humming office equipment didn’t come with spell check. And it turns out that I typed “cahracter” on the first page—yup, just like that—and I typed it that way throughout the entire paper.
A week later, Mrs. L. held up our papers, and one by one we rose to retrieve our work. She had circled with great flourish each and every “cahracter” (in thick red felt marker) and then proceeded to share with the entire class that while my paper had merit, I had better learn how to spell the word “character” if I planned to share any more of my fascinating insights on literature.
The refrains I picked up from that moment way back then went something like this: I am not smart. I am in the wrong class. I definitely cannot spell. I know less than everyone else. I will never look that Mrs. L in the eye again; besides, she scares the sh*t out of me.
It is 2016. The memory and how I felt at that moment is still vivid, but now we (mercifully) have spell check, and I have an amazing editor. So everything is right with the world.
The chorus line I hear most from students is “IDK, IDK, IDK, IDK, IDK, IDK.” In text speak, that means “I don’t know.” And if they say this 20 times in a session with me, I wonder how many times it is being whispered by that tiny chorus in their heads. (It’s a big number, and, let me tell you, that chorus is remarkably savvy—and gets exactly what it wants.) The chorus is tricking you into feeling safe, staying stuck and also luring you in with big, fat, false security.
Here are some other common chattering refrains: I am too fat. I am not pretty enough to be asked out. I am boring. I am a loser. I am not going anywhere. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. My life sucks. I will not get in. If I only could get in. I have no money. I am so overwhelmed. I can’t, I just can’t. If your BFF texted you any of the above 40x/day, would you still want to hang out with her?
The universe, God, the higher order of our planet. Your mom, your poodle, that squirrel in the backyard. Nothing and no one wishes this kind of torture on us, so why do we keep singing along? If you are still humming the tune, here’s the challenge: Change the station and play a new song, a song that represents your best vision of yourself. A song that allows you to accept and, yup, love yourself. Follow these three steps to rewrite your song:
STEP 1: Write down your negative refrains. BE BRUTALLY HONEST with how you berate yourself.
STEP 2: Rewrite those refrains to reflect how you’d like to feel. A few suitable examples: I am beautiful. I have a lot to offer those around me. I am exactly where I need to be right now. I am on my path. I know enough. I am thankful for my life, my pillow, Mom, Dad, dog, taffy, kittens that purr like motor boats.
STEP 3: Repeat these to yourself as often as you can remember every day for two weeks. Write them on sticky notes and put them on your mirrors. Set up reminders in your phone. Rouse yourself with them each morning, and lull yourself to sleep with them each night.
There is power in replacing your “I don’t know”s with “I know enough”s.
I know enough about myself to share my story. I like myself enough to know that what I have to offer today is good and awesome and beautiful, and it just might make someone else feel better. I’ll feel better, too.
And if this cahracter can do it, so can you.