If you are a high-achiever and always have a long to-do list, it is likely that you are familiar with a nagging voice that just won’t let you relax. The one that keeps telling you that if you take time to slow down, everything will fall apart. The one that steals the peace of your present day and convinces you that if you worry some more, you might come up with a solution to all your problems. The one that tells you that who you are isn’t good enough, so you need to read that next book, attend that latest self-development course, be better, do more, and follow in the steps of others who seem to have cracked the code so they must know better than you. Then, maybe, you will finally feel content and confident in who you are. Then, you will be happy, fulfilled, and will be able to relax.
I call this nagging voice a thieve of joy and peace. It creates rumination, overthinking, and self-judgment, and it takes over so fast that before you know it, you are down the rabbit hole chasing and wrestling with stories that either belong to the past or to the future. It arises in thoughts, feelings, sensations, or images that trick us into believe that their messages are facts and that what they’re telling us has merit to it.
Oftentimes, in attempts to silence that voice, you may put a lot of effort into trying to predict possible outcomes and do everything to control the situations you are about to face. That control seemingly keeps your anxiety at bay because it creates a false sense of comfort and predictability. But the more you do to placate the internal anxiety, the more tension, panic, and fear it creates, leaving you unable to deal with things you didn’t anticipate.
If you grew up in constant scarcity, your life narrative becomes one of struggle and hardship. This script says that, only through hard work can you have the life you want, only after suffering can you experience ease, only if you are constantly ahead is when you are not falling behind. Then finally, you may come out the other side as a victor. But unfortunately, this story doesn’t end there. Instead of relishing in that victory, celebrating yourself, and soaking in the good moments, you start anticipating the next struggle. You anxiously wait, unable to relax because you learned that you need to be prepared, you need to control, put effort, try harder, and do more… or you will fail.
You may notice this voice or sensations most clearly when you sit down to relax and do anything that’s not considered “productive” by our standards. That little voice might say “what are you doing enjoying yourself and being all self-indulgent?” It might be telling you there are things you COULD or SHOULD be accomplishing instead of just being and not fighting the next big fight and suffering.
Throughout my life, the narratives that fueled me were ones of an underdog. Opportunities appeared only after struggles. I was fascinated by stories of those who made it through major adversities and came out on the other side, not merely surviving, but thriving! My mom and I would watch the Oprah Show on our old black and white TV, and I would be completely drawn into the story my mom was telling me about Oprah and how she made it through it all. That was the first seed planted in me that if I just work hard enough, I can succeed.
In different chapters of my life, I was constantly searching, working hard, unable to relax, and being pulled towards the next big thing. Constant anxiety made it difficult to truly celebrate all the accomplishments that seemed so distant at one point. Had I not had this voice pushing me and nudging me, my life would have been very different and perhaps I wouldn’t have accomplished most of the things I dreamed of.
But at some point, I noticed that this feeling of restlessness felt unnecessary, draining, & tiresome. It kept arising any time I would slow down and relax. As if I anticipated that the good things in my life were about to last only for a short while and my next struggle will find me unprepared. I kept having to remind myself that this is an old voice that doesn’t serve me anymore, and that good things can last and don’t always have to be preceded by difficulty and lack. Letting go of the control became an intentional act of self-trust and faith that I deserve peace and happiness even when I don’t suffer.
If you find yourself constantly controlling every little action and putting a lot of effort into predicting outcomes, you are not allowing for effortless opportunities to come to you. Sometimes the most difficult act is to let go and simply trust; to notice the anxiety and let it be there; to hear that little voice saying you’re not good enough, and believe you are in spite of it, to notice the discomfort of your feelings and further lean into them.
A few tips for dealing with the internal critic, anxiety, & overthinking.
I love my mornings! It’s my favorite time of the day! I love its quietness, peace, and the possibilities inherent in the beginning of a new day. Mornings for me represent an opportunity, a new chance to hope, plan, reflect, and create intention about the day ahead of me.
This wasn’t always the case.
Over the course of the years, when my life was unpredictable and directionless, I was always rushed, mindlessly going through the motions, daydreaming of being in a different life, while doing the same thing over and over again. The last thing I wanted to do is to be present and allow myself to acknowledge my anxiety and fear about the future. It was easier to push those experiences down and not feel any of the feelings.
When I worked on cruise ship, I lived in a tiny room with two bunkbeds. Of course, this meant having to engage with another person as soon as you open your eyes (introvert’s worst nightmare!). At that time, my morning routine included smoking a cigarette while feeling anxious about the day ahead. It set the tone for the entire day and my life at the time.
It’s not to say I did not have a lot of wonderful experiences and fun memories during that time in my life. I had an opportunity to travel to the most beautiful places in the world and work with people from around the world. But I rarely noticed and cherished them as they happened, never slowed down enough to appreciate and be grateful for those moments, experiences, and people.
The big shift for me happened during my undergrad studies during my mindfulness course.
I learned about the power of being present and intentional. Over time I developed a morning routine and having a quiet time for myself was a game changer. Currently, my mornings include meditation, journaling, setting my intention for the day, spending time on visualization, and after that, a workout. And of course, I drink my coffee for a looooooong time… However, I do not like to be rigid with my routine, so if there is something that is needing my attention, like a creative idea, I try to go with it and give it my time.
Why is this important, you may ask?
When we quiet down and tune out the noise around us, we have no choice but to hear what is going on inside. When we are sad, hopeless, plagued by pain, resentment, anxiety, self-criticism, shame, or any other painful experiences and thoughts, slowing down and being quiet is going to be difficult because it amplifies those experiences. It is like a mirror in front of you reflecting everything as it is, with no distortion. We will want to push it away and ignore it; we will want to be busy, and we may find comfort in the noise, chaos, and constant doing. We will desperately want to pretend that what we don’t like about ourselves and about our life isn’t real, and we will want to silence that inner voice and feeling that comes up to tell us that something isn’t right.
Can you benefit from having a morning routine?
If you’re rushing from one thing to the next most of the time and not feeling like you choose how you spend your time, if it frequently feels like you’re not in charge of your life, if you feel like you’re constantly avoiding problems and it feels as if things are out of your control, then having alone time is essential. Setting your intention and creating purpose early in the day will make a big difference in how you show up in your life.
This is a great way to start creating a healthy sense of responsibility for your life.
You will be able to decide where to focus your time, you will be able engage in tasks, people, and thoughts that will propel you to have a sense of control over your life, one day at a time. Over time you will realize you are not merely a bystander in your life watching things unfold. Maybe at some point this was the case, but now, you get to decide what role you want to play in your life.
Fully lived life is not free of pain and difficulty.
You will experience events that are out of your control. But you will have the opportunity to choose how you respond to the things coming your way (the things you CAN control) instead of reacting on autopilot.
Things you can spend time in the morning to connect to yourself and be still:
You might think “Who has time for that?!” or “I’m not a morning person,” or “I have kids that I need to keep alive.” Sure, those are valid reasons, but see if there is even one small thing you can do differently to make your mornings start on a positive note.
Here are few suggestions to start with:
1.If your mornings are chaotic with people and noise while everyone is trying to get ready, try waking up before everyone just early enough to sneak away for a few minutes for yourself in peace and quiet.
2.If you work such hours that you wake up later, you can still do this at the time when it is best for you.
3.If the circumstances don’t allow you for any “me-time,” try to engage in positive thoughts right after waking up while you’re still in bed, before starting your day.
4.Reflect on what could get in a way of you creating a more peaceful, intentional morning routine, and why it would be difficult to be quiet for a bit and tune out all the noise.