Posts Tagged With: letting go of self criticism

Day 432: You must have some idea

This post was inspired by this (inaccurate) thought of mine, this morning:

I have no idea what I’m going to blog about today

… which reminded me of a psychologist I met, about 18 years ago, at a hospital psychiatric unit, where I did my first year of training as a therapist. Let’s call him … “Dr. Him.”

I would characterize Dr. Him as “hard to read.” I had trouble finding emotional clues in his face or in his body language, to get a sense of what he was thinking.  In ways, he was the very model of a modern psychotherapist.*

When I find somebody difficult to read, I project — or “mind read” —  even more with that person.  And I know I’m not alone in that. All year, at my training, I observed many people trying to figure out what Dr. Him was thinking.

Dr. Him didn’t say very much in the therapy groups at the hospital. But when he spoke, people listened.

There was a certain “catch-phrase” Dr. Him would use, in therapy groups. If somebody started a sentence with “I have no idea”  (examples: I have no idea why I’m here/what I want/why I did that/where I’m going), Dr. Him would reply:

You must have some idea.

And each time, the person had more to say.

Personally, I usually avoid catch-phrases, because I don’t want my responses to seem rote, or rehearsed.  But catch-phrases stick, don’t they?

I wanted to tell you a couple more stories about Dr. Him, today. In both of these stories, he has less of a starring — that is, more of a supporting — role.

During that first-year internship, I felt pretty insecure in my new role as therapist.  And when I feel insecure, I tend to project judgment onto certain people.

When I was having self-judgmental thoughts, such as

You don’t know what you’re doing! What makes you think you can be a good therapist?

… I could imagine other people having those same thoughts about me, too.  For me, during that year, Dr. Him was usually “it.”

I recognized that I didn’t know what Dr. Him was really thinking, and I would tell myself to stop having those thoughts and projections. How did I tell myself to stop?

Maybe I imagined a stop sign, like this one, from my trip last month, to Panama:


(Although I don’t speak Spanish, so my memory is probably less than accurate, there.)

No matter how I tried to stop them,  those pervasive negative messages kept coming back, during that internship.

One morning, when I was getting ready to leave my home and go to the hospital, the judgments were particularly loud and strong. That morning, I really believed the self-doubts. And, I imagined Dr. Him judging me, too.

As a result, I felt exhausted. Almost paralyzed.  And I remember staring at myself in the mirror and talking to myself, like so:

You’re afraid of screwing up, Ann. That’s what it is.  Okay, try this! Today, your GOAL is to screw up, to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, you’ve met your goal!

That freed me up, in ways I found astonishing.  The judgmental thoughts — and projections — fell away. And I left the house, eager to meet the day.

Here’s my second story, about Dr Him:

At the last staff meeting of anybody’s internship, people would give feedback, as a way of saying goodbye. I have several memories of my last staff meeting, at that psychiatric unit, but these stand out:

  1. I was afraid, as time was running short, that I would NOT get my feedback.
  2. I got my feedback, at the very end of the meeting.
  3. Several people said positive things, as they said goodbye to me.
  4. Dr. Him said, “You’re an intern?  I consider you a colleague.”

I was going to write, “I have no idea what image to use for this post …”

…. but I did have some idea.

Thanks to Dr. Him, to people who try to stop unhelpful thoughts (as best they can), and to you — of course! — for stopping by, today.

* I was thinking of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Very Model of a Modern Major-General” there. If you’re interested, here’s a version of that song, from 1980, with (perhaps) familiar faces.**

** Including Kevin Kline and Linda Rondstadt. Also, thanks to ThePenzancePirate, for uploading that video on YouTube.

Categories: inspiration, Nostalgia, personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Day 423: Teaching an old dog new tricks

Yes, that’s the title for today’s post.  “Teaching an old dog new tricks.”

First of all, what does that mean?  It’s an English idiom, defined as follows, according to

Idioms & Phrases
teach an old dog new tricks

Change longstanding habits or ways, especially in an old person. For example, His grandmother avoids using the microwave oven; you can’t teach an old dog new tricks . This expression, alluding to the difficulty of changing one’s ways, was first recorded in 1523 in a book of husbandry, where it was used literally. By 1546 a version of it appeared in John Heywood’s proverb collection.

I’m noticing the reference to microwave ovens there, something I blogged about here (and which actually does relate to teaching an old dog new tricks).

As I look at the other definitions of that idiom online, I’m learning it may be the oldest proverb/idiom/saying/whatever-you-want-to-call-it on record. Wow. That’s impressive.  I’m also reminded that the actual idiom is the negative form, that is: 

You cannot teach an old dog new tricks.

Prov. Someone who is used to doing things a certain way cannot change. (Usually not polite to say about the person you are talking to; you can say it about yourself or about a third person.)  I’ve been away from school for fifteen years; I can’t go back to college now. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Kevin’s doctor told him not to eat starchy food anymore, but Kevin still has potatoes with every meal. I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.


Geesh!  I have so many reactions to THAT definition, I’m wondering this: Will I be able to avoid my old trick of digressing and digressing away from what I wanted to say, like a dog off the scent, with a dog’s chance of getting back to where I want to be?

Well, I’ll quickly say this. That last definition:

  • Encourages indirect communication (also known as “politeness”) (also known as “talking behind somebody’s back”).
  • Encourages negative self talk.
  • Made me hungry.

Okay!  Back to some things I knew I wanted to write, today.

First of all, is it even okay to use my idiom du jour?  Or is it too politically incorrect?

Well, I AM using it, aren’t I?  This IS my blog, after all, and every dog has its day. But is it nice, or helpful, to use that idiom?

Three of the words in that saying DO make me uncomfortable, actually:

  1. The word “old,” which can be interpreted as an insult.*
  2. The word “dog,” which can be interpreted as an insult.*
  3. The word “tricks”, which can be interpreted as an insult.*

Also, I hesitate to use the original saying:

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

… because it is the absolute opposite of what I believe:

People can change, no matter where they are in their lives.

So why did I choose that saying, this morning? Because I’ve been aware of some old, doggedly automatic habits of mine, lately.  And I’ve been working like a dog to change them.

Here are two old, dogged, tricky thought patterns I’ve been noticing:

  1. After I publish a post and I notice something “wrong” with that post — a grammatical error or any other type of mistake — I tend to dismiss or minimize any positive comments I get from readers before I can correct the error(s).
  2. If a stranger smiles at me, my automatic response is this: to check myself, to see if there is something ridiculous about how I look.

Those are old tricks, for sure, dear readers.

How am I changing those and teaching myself new ones?

As always, it helps — a lot — to catch those puppies in the act. It also really helps to name them.

Maybe I’ll call the first one “Fido” and the second one “Spot.”

Okay! I see I’m up to some old tricks in this blog post, dear readers. That is, I’m approaching the end, without a helpful and/or playful image in sight.

Let’s see what pictorial bones I can toss out there, right now.

Hmmmm. I can’t find my iPhone.  That’s an old trick of mine: hiding — or temporarily losing — important things, perhaps to make my life more interesting. (Here’s a new trick in response to THAT: having faith that I’ll find my iPhone, in one of the old familiar places.**)

So, let’s go to Google Images, and see what we can retrieve for “teaching an old dog new tricks.” Yes, let’s see if that dog will hunt.


(I found that image here.)


(I found that image here.)


(I found that image here.)


(I found that image here.)

My conclusion for this post? There’s life in the old dog yet.

Thanks to dogs of all kinds, all humans who contributed to the images in this post, and to you — of course! —  for barking up this tree/post, today.

* Especially for a woman.

** My phone usually hides in my pocket, my bag, or my car.

Categories: humor, inspiration, personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Day 338: The joy of doing what scares you

Okay, I had NO idea THAT would be the title of today’s blog post.  But there it was, flowing from the tips of my fingers, unexpectedly.

I had lots of other possible titles in mind, as I typed the title of today’s post, but that one just appeared, like magic.

I’ll tell you what I DID know, about today’s blog post. I knew it would relate to what I’m doing today: giving a presentation about my therapy groups to people I don’t know.

Last week, to help myself prepare for today’s presentation,  I wrote this here post, about saying “SHUT UP!” to unhelpful, self-critical thoughts. Unhelpful, self-critical thoughts tend to rush in when I’m doing something new, when I’m taking a risk, when I’m doing something that scares me.  Am I alone in that?  (I know I’m not.)

So why the title of today’s post? Because I’ve definitely known the joy of facing and doing something that scares me, including these experiences:

  • Living away from home, for the first time, when I went away to college.
  • Traveling across the U.S. by bus, and seeing my country for the first time.
  • Leaving my country for the first time, to spend two weeks in Mexico.
  • Teaching a course, in Communications, to a bunch of college freshmen.
  • Giving a lecture, about my love of movies, to a giant room of people.
  • Performing my own stand-up comedy routine, at an Open Mic night.
  • Planning and giving myself a 60th birthday party.

For each of those, joy was there, but so was fear. And part of the preparation, for everything on that list, included negative self-talk — doubts about myself and my capabilities.

When I’ve done presentations before about my therapy groups — and I’ve done several over the past two years — joy, fear, and negative self-talk have all been there, too.

As I’ve said to my boyfriend Michael, I seem to always include an “I SUCK!” step, when preparing for things that scare me.  I’ve said, “I wish I could skip that step! But maybe I can’t.  Maybe I believe that step helps me prepare.”

You know what?  I skipped that step entirely, this week, thanks to my own SHUT UP! blog post.

Part of me still believes the “I SUCK!” step is a necessary part of preparing and giving a good presentation.  But I’m not listening to that, either. The movie-quoted SHUT UPs, from last week’s post, are still ringing in my ears.

Here they are again, just in case anybody needs them today:

But what about the possibility that my old belief is correct: that I HAVE to go through the “I SUCK!” step, in order to do a good job?

TIme will tell, my dear readers, and very soon.

Let’s see if I can find an image, quickly, to end this post, so I can prepare for my presentation.

Here are the two most recent photos on my iPhone:



Those are meals Michael prepared for me and my son, this week, and they included things he had never done before.

I sure hope he skipped the “I SUCK!” step.  Because those meals were DELICIOUS.

Thanks to (again, for the video), to Michael, and to all my readers, who definitely do NOT suck, even when doing something new or scary.

Categories: inspiration, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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