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Criticism Kills

Golfing has taught me much about myself. It has taught me that my mind is less one-pointed than I had hoped. Upon reflecting on my wandering mind, I realized that the source of that lack of one-pointedness is the criticism that I speak to myself every time I hit the ball. Even when I hit a terrific shot, I hear myself say, “You wanted to hit the ball closer to the hole and you didn’t do that.” Or “Your tee shot was not as straight or as long as it could have been.”

One golfing day I experimented with my self-talk. Whenever I hit the ball, I said aloud, so that my mind would actually hear it, “That’s a great shot, so straight.” And “You picked the right iron for the distance you wanted to hit it.” And “That putt had great speed and distance.” As I moved from hole to hole, I continued this affirmation of my behavior whether my behavior was ideal or not. At the end of the nine holes I had one of the best scores of the season.

From then on, I paid very close attention to my self-talk. I learned that criticism, rather than affirmation, was killing my golf game.

I have since seen that same phenomenon happen with others. I noticed that whenever I say anything to Mary about anything, that is not affirming, she winces. Sometimes, she even defends herself by barking back at me. I have watched the effect of criticism on my grandchildren. One time, when one of the kids came running up to his or her parent, excited and smiling about showing the parent what he or she had done, the child ran so fast, almost tripping. It didn’t seem to bother the child, but the parent immediately said, “Be careful. Don’t run so fast!” Immediately, the child stopped smiling, quietly turned around and walked back to what s/he was doing.

As a parent, I remember regularly talking to my children, but usually saying things that would correct their behavior or make them safer or change their wrong/harmful thinking, rather than affirming their presence in any way. Unless I affirmed them and told them that what they were doing was good, I would remember them rebelling against me. I needed to affirm them as much as possible, even if their actions were not perfect.

I realize now that I need to do that for myself as well. When I critically self-talk, I am killing my spirit. I see others do that to themselves as well. My spirit keeps wanting to tell myself that I am good and that I am doing the best I can. However, my critical, perfection-oriented mind-chatter reverses the wonderful reality of my divine, infinite and perfect core.

I now know, too, that the most important aspect of self-talk is that the more we do it, the deeper the samskara becomes. Remember, yoga says that samskaras are the unconscious patterns in the mind that trigger action. The more we criticize ourselves the easier it is to continue making mistakes and doing things we do not want to do. Also, the more we affirm our wanted and good behaviors, the more often we will do the things that are really important to us. We need to keep saying good things about ourselves, even when we make mistakes.

My positive self-talking commentary on my golfing helped me find the solution to my poor golf game. I needed only to think positive things about my what I was observing as I golfed. I needed to observe the positive aspects of what I was doing.

Positive self-affirming thinking works and now I must train myself to continue the effort.


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