In my experience, I feel that this example is the most memorable and also potent way of emphasising that our negative inner critic is installed at a young age and often by our primary care giver or authority figure.
The game is super-simple. Standing up, we form a circle and pass the ball to each other. Every time someone catches the ball they get to say something positive about themselves by using ‘I am’, ‘I can’ or ‘I will’. Once we eliminate all the “I’m good at playing .. [insert every conceivable video game], and make is clear that the ball is thrown to be caught, not to hurt. We’re good to go.
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On one occasion, after a few rounds of playing the game, one pupil caught the ball and said: ‘I am annoying’.
Immediately I stop the game. This is too interesting to just correct and move on. Plus there’s going to be something of benefit by talking about it further. I ask him, ‘What do you mean by annoying?’.
He looks at me, after a shrug and a quick glance at the floor, and says, “I take the Mick”.
‘What do you mean, take the Mick?’
‘I joke about other people’, he answers.
‘Oh,’ I reply. ‘So you’re a funny guy, you’re like a comedian?’.
He looks at me, taking in what I’m saying.
‘To be that quick-witted and make it funny takes a real skill. I don’t think everyone has that skill. ‘.
At the moment I refer to him as funny or as a comedian, he appears to stop in his mental tracks. And gradually he begins to notice his talent. Begins to appreciate his skills that otherwise had been classified as annoying.
‘Now,’ I added. ‘You may want to adjust the target of the humour away from say, teachers.’ But that didn’t take away from the fact that he was sharp-witted and funny. He smiled and agreed.
I think that something shifted for him that day. He began to see that behind his actions, his negative inner critic, lay a positive intention or quality. Something that he’d not connected to before. Once he began to unpeel the label he’d been given – and certainly the word ‘annoying’ sounded like something he’d heard a lot – he could begin to notice where the positive qualities lay.
It’s a simple example, nonetheless isn’t it true that most of us have labels in some form or other we use to identify ourselves. Labels that may well limit and determine our behaviour? Labels can start with ‘I can’, ‘I am’ or ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m not’. They can limit or they can expand. They allow us to define our future behaviour.
But what if we challenged this? Maybe it’s just as simple as changing from saying ‘I can’t’, to ‘I could’? What do you notice when you say that? I’m inviting you to consider that it offers you more choice and more opportunities. So isn’t it time we unpeeled some of these and see what lies beneath and bring an end to that inner critic?