The Art of Critical Thought.
This is the last entry in my blog series, Brain vs Heart.
I started this series because so many of us are caught in a Mind/Body—Yin/Yang dynamic.
Our Social Selves pull us in one direction while our Essential Selves pull us in another.
As a Life Coach, I have a front-row seat to this struggle.
And what I often witness is a normal, healthy person locked in an argument with themselves.
Mary wants to quit her corporate job, but she's afraid to lose the paycheque and social status.
Jeff wants to leave his sexless marriage, but is torn apart by feelings of guilt and moral obligation.
Susan wants to sing on stage but her harsh inner critic won't let her get anywhere near it.
Their situations may be different, but their goals are always the same.
They want to stop the inner game of tug-of-war and make sense out of all the noise.
And it's my job to help them do that.
So . . . I ask a lot of questions and take a lot of notes.
I also listen. HARD.
My main objective is to isolate those back-and-forth voices so my client can understand WHO is actually speaking into the microphone.
When Mary tells me that she can't leave her job because her father would never forgive her, I lean in.
Is this her healthy adult-self speaking? Or is it Mary as a child?
I ask her to pause and check in for the answer.
As she does, Mary realizes that the part of her who's afraid of Daddy's judgement isn't the adult woman she's become, but the teenager she used to be.
And Mary doesn't want a teenager making the big decisions of her life.
Which is exactly why I encourage her to start a conversation with her younger self.
Shutting her out will only create backlash and confusion.
If Mary doesn't examine how her inner teenager feels, she'll act on old programming from the PAST instead of important information coming in from the NOW.
Carl Jung said it best.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
We know this, right?
And yet we often forget that there's more to the human psyche than just the thoughts we're aware of.
The psyche is the home of both the conscious AND the unconscious.
It also includes your emotions,
and your persona,
and your imagination,
and your problem-solving skills,
and your protective defence mechanisms,
and your shadow self,
and your heart's desires,
as well as all the memories of who you've ever been.
These parts interact with one another to form a complex whole that operates as a system.
We're not just THINKING beings. We're physical beings, intellectual beings, intuitive beings, sexual beings, spiritual beings, and emotional beings.
And we must bring ALL parts of ourselves to the process of living and navigating our lives.
As Mary listens to the part that's anxious about her Father's opinion, she uncovers two false interpretations she made as a teenage that were never resolved.
I owe a debt to my father that I can never repay.
I'm only good (and worthy of love) if my father approves of me.
No wonder she was struggling!
With this out in the open, Mary can start to address these mind mistakes in a conscious way so she can focus on the issue at hand—and make an informed decision about her job.
This process, dear reader, is called the ART of CRITICAL THOUGHT.
Most people are surprised to hear this.
They think that critical thought means figuring everything out by using logic and analysis.
But it doesn't.
Critical Thought is the art of evaluating thought from a vantage point that can help you improve it.
If you just accept your thinking as TRUE, you're bound to run into trouble.
As you saw with Mary, the mind can be hijacked by false interpretations and childhood conditioning.
The thinking part of the human brain often fills in the blanks, jumps to conclusions, forecasts the future, and uses flawed logic.
In fact, most of our "logic" isn't logical at all.
And that’s a big problem if we let the mind run our lives without proper leadership and support.
The Brain and the Body (Intellect and Emotions) were designed to work as part of a team.
In order to utilize this team (and get all the moving parts working together) you'll have to take a leadership role by assuming the position of OBSERVER.
This means pulling back from your thoughts and your emotions until you're the AWARENESS that's witnessing them.
Scroll back up and look at the image again.
As you take in the details of both the Left Brain Processes (Head) and the Right Brain Processes (Body) I want you to notice that you're observing the whole operating system from a distance.
This is the position you need to be in when things get muddled and confusing.
Which is why I love the coaching process so much.
A coaching session provides the time and space for you to put everything on the table so you can consider all the feedback from your inner council—while also checking for quality, truth, or hidden agendas.
Mary calls these sessions "true self-care" and loves the process as much as I do.
The minute she becomes clear about why her anxiety levels are so high (it was more about Dad's approval than it was about the money) she feels a rush of relief.
In our follow-up session, we take a look at the benefits of her job and discover some hidden gems:
clear career progression
support groups within the company
the ability to move around the company without actually leaving
I ask Mary to imagine some different scenarios while checking each one with her Body Compass.
Instead of quitting outright, could she apply to move into a different position?
Could she cut her hours down to four days a week?
Could she get an assistant?
Mary tunes into the physical sensations in her body and reports back to me:
a tightness in her face,
a closed throat
a heavy feeling of dread in her stomach
"Nope," Mary says. "Everything is telling me it's time to go."
I could tell by her grounded energy, that Mary is ready to follow her OWN truth instead of continuing to follow someone else's.
"I still need to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head," she tells me.
I promise her that the next session's focus will be on creating an exit strategy that makes sense—which will also need to include having a difficult conversation with her Father.
Navigating with your WHOLE SELF isn't easy, but it's so much better than just rushing into action without any sense of conscious direction.
Life doesn't move in straight lines, dear one.
It get's complicated and confusing and messy.
If you're looking for true guidance (and are tired of being stuck in the mind-maze) learning the Art of Critical Thought is worth your time and effort.
If you need help with that, let's talk.
I'm pretty passionate about this coachy stuff, you know.
And I think we can do some amazing things together.
Sending you so much love,
Illustration Credit: All characters used in the above images were created by Nick Seluk from the Awkward Yeti (I'm a huge fan!). I'd like to remind my readers that this blog expresses MY views, not his.