I love being my own guinea pig. If I’m going to suggest an exercise or technique in my private practice, you better bet your booty that I’ve tried it myself to see if it actually works. This month I’ve decided to try my very own Seven-Day Criticism Free Challenge. For seven days I will attempt to refrain from verbal criticisms (towards myself or others). You’ll find the rules below if you wish to partake in the adventure. For those who’ve subscribed to my newsletter you’ll see the first hand account of my attempt. *Spoiler Alert – I made it three full days!
Rules of the Challenge:
1) Know the difference between complaints versus criticisms. Complaints are okay, and necessary at times, criticisms are not. During the challenge it is acceptable to produce a complaint about a situation or event but it must follow this guideline:
Express your feelings about a specific important event and then what you would like to see differently. You can do this in your mind or though a dialogue. (“It hurts my feelings when you’re looking at your phone during our time together. I would like you to enjoy dinner with me.”)
Criticisms include expressing negative feelings or opinions about yourself or about someone else’s character or personality. It counts as criticism if you use the words “you/I always” or “you/I never”. (You’re always late; You never think about me; I’m always horrible at public speaking.)
2) It’s all about the tone of voice. If you’re making a necessary complaint, see if you can make your voice more soft and gentle. Imagine you have a puppy or baby in front of you.
3) The Seven-Day Criticism Free Challenge includes omitting your negative self-talk. Self-criticism is sooo not allowed. Any time you begin to notice that judgmental voice being harsh and mean, remind yourself of the challenge. You can simply replace the thought with a more helpful one or remind yourself that you’re taking a break from negativity right now.
4) If you’re starting to get critical about a person or situation (traffic, long lines in the grocery store, empty toilet paper roll) immediately make yourself say a positive about that person or event. (“Empty toilet paper roll?! Huzzah! Now I can perfect my waddle stance!”)
5) Lastly, this will be the hardest of all the rules in the challenge. Do not speak out loud, or to another, a criticizing thought. How many times do we come home and unload all of the day’s misfortunes upon an unsuspecting ear? For one whole week see if you can avoid this. (Sorry, criticizing Sally for leaving her spoiled lunch in the office fridge again will have to wait).
What’s the purpose of all of this, you ask? To witness how criticisms and judgments prevent us from connection. I realized the other day how incredibly guarded I was being when I participated in some group work. I was judging myself and others within the first five minutes of our introductions! As the day progressed and the group focused upon witnessing these judgements, I felt an incredible shift in my heart. I felt open to receiving love. If I would have kept that door closed I would have missed out on the amazing connections I made with some of the other participants.
So give this challenge a try my friends and leave your experience in the comment section below. Try and beat my three days and celebrate in victory!
*More on criticisms versus complaints can be found in John Gottman PH.D. literature.