“Often times when things sound worse ’tis truly that your hearing has improved.”
I woke up one morning, long before the alarm, to the feeling of these words repeating in my head. I grabbed a pad of paper I kept near the bed, wrote them down, and then fell back asleep.
Have you ever known a “film expert” who doesn’t seem to enjoy watching movies as much as the rest of us? Ever known a musician who is critical of every band she hears? They notice the flaws in everything. Imagine what happens when they try to make their own movie or album. Do you think that they could silence their inner critic long enough to create something? Is ignorance really bliss?
Have you felt that at times your life is getting better while at others it seems to stagnate or just get worse? Do you have good moments and bad moments? Of course you do. We all do. The reasons for this are many. The world is a tumultuous place. Most things are out of your control. Some are not. You can have some impact on your circumstances. Most of the time this is what we focus on. How can I change my life?! I am all for making big changes. Growth and transformation are my bread and butter as a life coach. But there is something else I always work on with my clients.
There is one thing that is not bound to circumstance but is incredibly maleable. Rarely do we acknowledge just how much it changes our experience of the world.
Most of us know that when we are in a good mood things roll off of our back. We can see the light in everything. When we are in a bad enough mood even the smallest comment might shake us at the roots. Have you also noticed that this process happens in cycles? Good day. Bad day. Good mood. Bad mood. We all cycle through various states of being; more resilient/less resilient, more flexible/less flexible, more positive/less positive. People talk about a lot of different reasons ranging from hormones to how much sleep we have gotten to the time of the month. “Upper Limiting” is another concept worth understanding that I will likely talk about in the future. (The famous coach Gay Hendricks quite literally wrote the book on that)
What I am talking about here is something a bit subtler. This isn’t about self-sabotage. This isn’t about how a night of drinking makes you feel depressed the next day (it can). What I am talking about and what the phrase I woke up hearing refers to is a natural bi-product of being self aware. When we are self aware, we are self critical. At any given time we have the ability to look at anything we are doing and judge it according to the highest standards that we hold. Right now I am writing this article and I am feeling ok about it. I am not as deeply into a flow state as I’d like. The words are coming out comprehensible, but they are far from the most poetic thing I have ever written. I am doing my best, but I am also being my own critic.
When I read this in the future I will have a new judgement of it that I necessarily can not have now. Why? Because I, and therefore my perspective, will have changed. How often do you acknowledge changes in your perspective?
What would happen if I were to take a writing course tomorrow and then come back to what I have written? Might I hate something I love today? Might I see a better way to say this very sentence right here? I might. Does it mean that what I wrote got worse or did my perspective simply change?
Why is this helpful to be prepared for?
Engaging our critical abilities can be an asset or a curse. Seeing flaws in what we have done can hurt. It can take the wind out of our sails. Paradoxically, it is also a sign of progress. When you look back at something you made yesterday or last decade and you see a million ways that it could have been better do you feel a bit ashamed of what you did? Or do you well up with inspiration and immediately want to create the greatest thing you can in this moment right now? Do you realize that you have improved?
In my experience with myself, my friends and with my coaching clients I notice a tendency to feel defeated by the limits of past efforts. Listening back to a recording of that song you wrote while in high school often makes us laugh at how silly we once were. Rarely does it inspire us with how aware we now are. This doesn’t only happen when looking back at past efforts. With anything we do our ability and our awareness are constantly surpassing one another in a game of leap frog. Get a little better on the guitar? You will suddenly think you sound amazing! Hone your ears a little more….now that same ability falls short. And the cycle continues! This happens in seconds. We can suddenly become critical of what we are creating while we are creating it. If we fail to see the opportunity in our perspective we might just quit.
Here’s the issue.
It is my experience that those who fail and, more importantly, those who quit, tend to let their increasing critical ability defeat them instead of letting their increasing ability to perform and be critical inspire them. What about you? Which side of the equation do you tend to focus on? Do you remember how much improvement you have already made each time you see room for more growth? Do you recognize that you are seeing a flaw you hadn’t seen while you were first working….so you can now do better? Or does your ability to be self critical always take center stage and make you feel defeated because you “never get it perfect”?
Sometimes, when things sound worse to you, they haven’t changed at all, but your perspective, your ability to see both the beauty and the flaws has changed. If you are not gentle with yourself, if you are not aware that your perspective evolves, you might get lost in judgement and fail to honor the growth that is happening on both sides of the equation.