Friday, July 21, 2017

Killing the Sensei

In the Criticism≠Teaching post I wrote about students who have been so conditioned to criticism that they criticize themselves when no one else does. They even criticize as a habit when they have done nothing wrong. I advised you to kill that voice in your head, and a few people asked the very reasonable question, “How?”
I can’t give a definitive answer. The voice still bubbles up for me, sometimes. Especially when I write.
But here are some strategies I’ve used:

First, distinguish between external and internal criticism. External criticism comes from other people. It may be wrong, misguided, actively designed to sabotage you… listen anyway. The more you want to find a reason to ignore or deny it, the more important it is to listen. If it is bad advice, you should be able to explicitly and dispassionately articulate why it is bad. But be careful. There’s a reason why watching for your own cognitive biases is a lifetime commitment.
This post is really about internal criticism. Do you know why an outside copyeditor is necessary to a professional writer? Because you can’t catch your own errors. If you knew how the word was spelled, you would have spelled it right the first time. Yes, there are clumsy finger errors, etc. Quibbles. The point is, you generally don’t make errors you recognize as errors. Almost always, the decision you made in the moment was the one you judged to be best in that moment, with the information you had and the time you had to think. If you think of something better, cool. That’s a learning experience.
One example. Just a synopsis, it would be really long to type. Climbing with a partner. His jumar (ascender) got jammed. Halfway up a slippery cliff. Rope wedged in the same crack as the jumar. Starting to get cold and wet. Only decision I could see was to unhook and free climb to get above him and work from there. Shitty climb on slippery rocks with no protection and a 40 foot fall.
It worked. Six months later I thought of an easier, safer solution, and I was kicking myself for not thinking in a few minutes of something that took a half year of unadrenalized pondering. Sigh.
Examine effects, not feelings. Most people’s problems are second or third order. Writing the essay is the primary problem. Worrying about the grade you might get is the secondary problem. Worrying about what people will say about your grade is tertiary. A big piece of ‘non-attachment’ is ignoring the secondary and tertiary concerns. Which is actually easy, because the primary problem/solution is usually physical and real, as opposed to both emotional and imaginary (and if it’s going to happen in the future it is imaginary in this moment.)
Be in the moment. Related to the last one, but I get very specific about this. I mean to be in your senses. Look, listen, smell, touch, taste. Don’t look and then start an internal dialogue describing what is right there. Look, don’t describe. Listen, don’t judge. Live, don’t interpret. I know that’s hard, but it is really powerful.
With a lot of attention/practice/mindfulness, you can do this with your internal states as well. This lets fear, anger, love, rage, annoyance, self-doubt—all that stuff— move through you without sticking. You can feel anger without becoming angry, and love without becoming stupid.
Think less. The less time you spend thinking in words, the easier the last two points become. Meditation, solitude, hunger and fighting are some of the paths I’ve found. Those are in order, from easiest to hardest, but also from least to most effective.
After Action Debrief. I’ve written about it here XXX link XXX. I f you’re going to have a critical voice in your head anyway, you might as well train it to be useful. In a nutshell, the AAD is just three questions: What happened? What went well? What could I/we do better next time?
That’s it, but you have to be strong enough to say, “That went about as well as it could have.” Let yourself have your wins.

Focusing pain. Sudden sharp pain tends to clarify your mind and order your priorities. Give yourself some pain if you are too much in your head. Snap your ear whenever you catch yourself in your critical head.

There are more strategies that work. Remember that your brain can and should be exercised and disciplined, just like your body.


Kai Jones said...

Imagine the internal criticism (if it's in the way, or unjustified, or whatever) in the voice of someone funny. Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Ned Flanders.

Label it "old, bad code" or "the tiredness/sickness/hunger/thirst talking" if either of those things are true. A hard childhood taught me great survival skills for surviving a hard childhood, but they are old, bad code for living with good people who treat me with respect and affection. Likewise when I'm tired, the negative self-talk is a sign to take care of my real need even though it is distracting me with old mistakes or with second-guessing myself.

Unknown said...

This topic is very dear to me. I have lived with that internal Sensei all of my life. I got it from my parents who got it from their parents, etc. My parents knew, unconsciously, that it was wrong but not how to break the pattern. But they actively worked at giving their children the keys to maybe breaking the chain.

Any deviation from perfection is criticized. I got that from my parents. And from the military. And from martial arts teachers. It is a traditional, historic teaching methodology.

Because it works. It is selective ,effective and sufficient. But it is not creative and efficient. It makes the majority of people reasonably skilled at the demanded task. But genius occurs despite of it, not because of it.

Yet, that is how many people are raised. Or taught a skill. The traditional apprenticeship. Or traditional martial arts training.

Any deviation from perfection is criticized.

I am not a natural runner. I struggled with runs in the military. Mostly because no one taught me how to run. I learned to brute force my way through them. (In my 30s, I started studying technique and got much better at it. If only someone had shown me..) But any deviation from perfection was criticized.

I can clearly remember an APFT when I ran. And I ran with everything I had. I crossed the line after two miles and drive heaved for 30 seconds. 13:23 for two miles. The fastest I had ever run it. And, after I recovered, the first thought I had was: I should have done it faster.

I contrast it with the fastest that I have ever run a 5K. A couple of months later, running on my own at night. I felt good. So I ran faster. It is the only time in my life that I can remember running past people and someone said 'Holy Shit!' I just ran and ran and felt good. Because I was running for the pleasure of it. When I stopped, I had run an 18:43 5K. For fun.

And they felt totally different. In one, I was kicking myself. In the other, I just said: That was cool.

A difference in my 30s. I ran a flat out 2:21 800M. The fastest I have ever run for distance. I gagged a bit, slowed my pace and thought: That was awesome.

Every day of my life, I have that internal sensei. Any deviation from perfection is a failure.

And that is the one thing that I want to avoid giving my children.

How to kill that sensei? The best I know is to admit mistakes, ask what lesson can be learned and then thank the mistake for happening and being a teaching point.

Be thankful for the mistakes that we notice. Laugh at them and learn from them.

Tia said...

But what if that constant internal criticism gets you what you want? What if it drives your success?

Using your climbing example, if you did not have a persistent internal critical voice, would you have even come up with a better solution 6 months later? A solution that might help you or someone else in the future? Or would you have simply debriefed immediately after the incident, focused on the fact that you had a good outcome, and left it at that?

I went for a run this morning because my internal voice said, "you're weak and lazy." I was motivated to succeed academically because my internal voice told me I wasn't smart enough to succeed. So there's the motivation. But I still enjoyed my run this morning and (to a certain extent!) studying. Would I be able to accomplish more if "killed the voice?" Maybe. I'm open to that possibility.

It's certainly important to be aware of how your thinking affects outcomes. If fear of failing keeps you from trying to succeed, if it paralyzes you, it no longer serves a purpose. But it's possible to feel like failure is chasing you, and still enjoy the run.

Josh Kruschke said...

Constroctive or Destructive.

Bryan Leed, Dayton, OH said...

If I were a superhero, my codename would be the Spelling Bee, (spB), because my true life “mutant power” is that typos seem to jump out at me (except in my own typing). At my job, I often proofread websites, mass emailing, final programs, and such, so I am the best I am at what I do, at my company. I still can’t proofread my own writing and typing. It’s true.

I have, (or had), a personal freeze against fighting. I’m a 53 year old guy trying to fix identity problems from my whole life, making some progress. As a kid, mom said she did not want her boy to get into fights. She did not realize this means “you lose.” She thought it meant “Let’s all just be friends.” I couldn't argue it back then. My parents divorced and she move out of the country, so I only saw her every few years for the rest of my life. I tried to stay true to her wishes, but it also caused problems when I would be guilt ridden to take a stand on what’s right if it meant a fist fight. So over four decades later, I’m on a martial arts self-improvement plan. I recently told my mom that I’m going to a Rory Miller seminar on InFighting. “BUT WHY?!...” she emotionally protested. I had to interrupt her to say, “Because a man needs to know these things!” She just shrugged, over the phone, and said, “Oh, okay.” I can’t believe that something that has dogged me for decades had such a simple solution. This is also why fathers need to teach boys how to become men, because moms just don't get some aspects like fighting.

Unknown said...

This has been on my mind a bit since your other post. What worked for me was to treat the internal critic as an external critic. Like a little imaginary a**hole friend. After I realized that, it was easier to treat the criticism objectively, so I can motivate myself when the criticism is apt, but when it gets excessively negative and picky I can tell that jerk to FO and not feel like i'm banishing or suppressing a part of myself.

Mac said...

Focus on the breathing bubble. Breathe out. Deeply. All four fingertips come together. IN deeply, fingertips separate outward to hands grasping a basketball shape. Repeat twice more. Eyes up -scan. Smile (that SPECIAL type of smile). Continue day.

Neil Bednar said...

Brilliant and powerful. It's the useful example of how to act in many situations that makes you nervous in a way that is analogous to climbing a ladder and being told to "not look down".

barbara said...

Killing the Sensei seems a bit extreme to me.^^

my inner Sensei tries to stop me in general even before I have begun, with ideas like "if you cannot guarantee doing this perfectly, you have no right even to begin!" and similar things. And too often, she manages in fact to stop me, or at least to delay me, sometimes for long periods.

I talk to her:

1. I heard what you are saying and I am grateful that you care for me, that you want to protect me
2. I understood what you are saying
3. I thought carefully about your objections
4. Nevertheless, I came to the conclusion that now I'll do X, what is what I in fact want to do, and not Y, like you tell me to do. Yes I know the risks. Yes my decision is firm.

This allows me, that I'm at least left in peace in this one instance. Over time, my Sensei has gotten more reasonable - less hysteric, less dominant. A useful helper, not a tyrannical boss. most of the time, anyways.

Perry Nixon said...

Thanks Rory! At least i know the answer isn't clear cut.

Since everyone's sharing their sensei's, let's meet mine.

I had 4-5 years of being taught to pull my shots and being reprimanded for any form of success (i block my instructors kick, so he does it again and knocks me down, in non-contact sparring.) He told me it was because i was too aggressive, with my... block. I started martial arts at ~15, i wanted to gain confidence but got the opposite.

Last year, the best instruction i ever got was a boxing coach who threw his helmet away and told me to 'just attack him.' We wrestled around bashing each other for a while. A few days later his wife was hospitalized, so i, not being a sociopath, decided to leave it at that.

It was enough for me to know that i can still have what i wanted, but i don't know how to get it. Maybe for me there is no other way. It might just be a while before i find someone else who likes to play rough.

I still like whole martial arts thing, somehow.

Unknown said...

I've worked as a writer and editor. My rule for self-editing is that I have to give it time to sit and the more I care about a piece of writing, the longer it has to sit. Once it has sat long enough I can judge it and edit to some extent.

The time required is long enough so that:
1) I no longer see what I think I wrote (what I intended to write), but what I did write; and,
2) ideally that it reads as if it wasn't written by me, so I can be objective.

Since 2 is never completely true, for important writing, an outside editor is always necessary, but I can catch a lot by simply waiting before I judge and do the big edits/rewrites.

It is very common for me to re-read stuff I thought was good a month ago and decide it's crap, but it's also common to re-read stuff I thought was bad and realize it's actually good.

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