Yeah, maybe so: My Aikido practice of the mind

My inner critic is vicious. She never has anything nice to say, and she never stops with her neverending list of what is wrong with me.

Once upon a time, I believed everything she had to say. Not only was it coming from inside my own head, but it so often spoke in echoes of things I’d heard from others. Her criticism must be accurate, right?

I recently had to do an exercise where I was to write down all the things the critical voice had to say to one day, and it just so happened that this came on a day when I was particularly struggling with a situation that was making me feel like a horrible person. The exercise helped me see just how much my relationship with this inner critic has shifted.

I still hear all of the criticism in my head, but my way of reacting to it is different. It’s not that I ignore it—because ignoring it lets it slip into my subconscious anyway. Nor do I argue with it since that allows it to build strength as it tries to convince me just how horrible I am.

Rather, I acknowledge the message, shrug with a “yeah, maybe so,” and move along with whatever I’m doing.

The critic will tell me, “Your artwork is so amateurish. You’ll never make anything of any value.” And my response is, “Yeah, maybe so, but I sure am having fun with it anyway.” And I keep right on doing my artwork.

The critic will tell me, “Your writing sucks. You’re wasting your time and the time of the people who read it.” Again, I respond with, “Yeah, maybe so, but I learn so much when I write.” And I keep writing anyway.

The critic tells me, “You are a horrible person, and here’s the evidence ….” And I still reply with, “Yeah, maybe so, but I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.” And I keep right on doing the best I can in whatever situation I am in.

Aikido, a Japanese martial art, “is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on,” according to Wikipedia. That’s the best image I can imagine for what I have learned to do with my inner critic.

I step forward and engage it, but I use the motion of its attack to redirect it instead of engaging it head on.

I notice whose voice the critic may be speaking in because that tells me a lot about who I’m listening to and whose words are shaping my negative view of myself.

I notice which messages keep coming up so I can be aware of where my tender places are.

And I pay enough attention to be able distinguish genuine feedback (“you could do this better”) from nasty attack (“you are a total failure in every way”). The feedback I’ll make note of for future attempts at a task so I can improve what I do. The attacks I simply redirect.

I don’t argue, which would be engaging head on in a battle which I don’t have the strength to win. I just shrug and refocus my attention on how much I enjoy the work (or the results of the work, if the work in question is something like housework).

This gentle Aikido of the mind is a practice I stumbled upon more out of exhaustion than anything, but I’ve been surprised at how much energy it has freed up to do other things.

“Yeah, maybe so” may just be the most useful phrase I know right now.

How do you deal with your inner critic voices when they start yelling their abuse at you?


Image credit: 51st All Japan Aikido Demonstration by L’oeil étranger, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

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5 thoughts on “Yeah, maybe so: My Aikido practice of the mind

  • June 18, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    I like this “Yeah, maybe so.” It’s a quick and easy acknowledgement and response to a very persistent voice. I’ll have to use this more. Very good point, too, about the futility (and danger) of simply ignoring the voice, as it lets it slide into subconscious only to resurface with more bite.

    I’ve likened my inner critic (which is equated with my “thoughts”) to dust bunnies. They just kinda hang out and you see them congregating in the corner, catch them under the couch or wherever, until one day you notice they’re dust WOLVES and they just gotta be sucked away by the vacuum cleaner. Then they build up again and you get rid of them after they grow again, ad infinitum.

    I cannot address each critique/thought or that would disrupt too much of my day/energy for other things, so I see them for what they are, let them be as they are. Eventually they get too disruptive and big so I must manage and deal with them. No way to completely get rid of them so it’s a necessary exercise that gets repeated, with no big effort or energy expended.

    • June 18, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks so much, FeyFrau! I’m glad this idea speaks to you too. I hope you find it as helpful as I have, if you use it.

      I love your story of the the critic being like dust bunnies that become dust wolves! Oh my, can I ever relate to that! I do know what you mean, though, about how they can only be allowed to just be as they are for so long before they must be dealt with. This image is a wonderful way for me to envision that process! Thanks for sharing it.

  • June 24, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Wonderful post, Kenetha, and I, too, really appreciate the Aikido action of redirection for it allows objectivity, an expansion of perspective. Most of all, I love your “yeah, maybe so” for that is brilliant. In a way it is similar to what I do during meditation as well as for the rest of my day but I cannot say that my language is as succinct as yours. What your phrase does is instantly defuse the voice for you’re not arguing the point nor are you internalizing it. It is taking the wind out of the sails so no drama just what is. Great post and as always, well written.

    • June 25, 2014 at 8:42 am

      Thank you so much, Karen! I’ve found that “yeah, maybe so” to be so liberating for the exact reasons you mention. It just side steps the drama and allows me the space to move forward in more productive ways. Thanks again for the kind comment and the encouragement!

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