By Caitlin McFarland,
Webinar Coordinator, AMSA Wellness & Student Life Action Committee
You are not the voice in your head.
This line from The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer has been with me for the past month. I am a person prone to low self confidence and am intensely critical of my work, my choices and myself. While these tendencies have spurred me onto excellence in my professional life as a research technician, once I started medical school, an atmosphere of high competition and intense evaluation, the neurotic self criticism that worked for me in the past has, at times, become over-the-top and debilitating. The invitation to take a step back and reevaluate my critical “self talk” did not come a moment too soon as I immerse myself in studying for Step 1.
In the tradition of mindfulness and meditation, Singer, a longtime practitioner of yoga and meditation, encourages the reader to recognize that there is a running dialogue in their minds at all times and to view themselves as separate from the dialogue: In short, to view themselves as the ear to that dialogue rather than the mouth. Throughout the book, Singer gradually offers the reader tools to become more objective about the constant inner commentary and to observe themselves labeling experiences as “positive” or “negative”, recognizing that the labels we give experiences are drawn from our past experiences. Among these tools is simply “self-observation”; stilling yourself and listening to the mental chatter, paying attention to it and more importantly, paying attention to what it is saying.
I have tried to practice this for the past week since I started reading Singer’s book and caught myself catastrophizing a low score on a practice qbank question block (“I haven’t learned anything- how will I ever pass the boards?”). This kind of mental statement is perhaps my way of motivating myself to shape up and hit the books, but in the moment I felt paralyzed and hopeless. If the assertion that I haven’t learned anything in medical school, shouldn’t I give up now?
The point is that what we tell ourselves is not always true. If I had a friend who told me some of the things I tell myself, they would be out the door ASAP!
So my Wellness Wednesday challenge to you this week is to take a moment to really “hear” what you are telling yourself. Then reflect on it. Question it. If you, like me, are your own worst critic, this awareness might be the first step toward getting out of your own way.