“Hey, you suck!”
I hear a voice yell out as I’m running down the sidewalk; the cars sweeping by from the neighboring roadway.
I thought to myself, “Probably someone I know messing with me.”
A few minutes later, I hear it again, “No really, you freaking suck!”
Oddly, it sounded like the same voice that heckled me before. Was it really some jerk who drove past me who didn’t like my lime green and black shoes?
On my cool down walk back home, I hear it one more time, this time it’s a little louder, “You terrible person, who do you think you are?” I recognized the heckling voice. It was something that I think you, the reader, would be familiar with.
Was it a resentful student I gave a bad grade to years ago? No.
Was it someone who found out my details from the internet and decided that today would be a good day to make me question life? Nah.
Turns out, it was the voice inside my head (and your head), which spews filth in the hopes that you stay down and grovel at its presence.
We can all be schizophrenic at times
I do not have schizophrenia nor do I believe you have it (unless you’ve been diagnosed, which still isn’t a high likelihood). However, all of us have a voice inside of our heads that represents everything we hate. Everything we loathe and wish ourselves rid of is contained within it. This voice…this thing is constantly trying to keep us down. It whispers lies and twists words in just the right way that it makes you doubt yourself.
I’m talking about something which has been named many things: gremlin, troll, devil on the shoulder. Personally, since I’m nerdy, I think of it as a dragon. A dragon that breathes fire and seeks to hasten my demise. It’s something that I have contended with all of my professional life. I’m sure at a few points in your life, you have contended with it too.
Is this dragon a disorder of the mind? No.
I would argue that it is a product of the social pressures and influences throughout our entire lives. Even though I have a supporting family, there is still that lingering dragon that emerges and whispers two of the deadliest words in the world, “What if…” It uses phrases like:
“What if you fail, then they will hate you.”
“What if you’re wrong, and they despise you for it.”
“What if you make a wrong move, you will be ridiculed and made a laughing stock.”
Everyone’s dragon is unique and knows just the right words to make the most confident man or woman fall into doubt. It knows exactly where to sink its teeth to get maximum effect that makes us question our motives, desires, direction, and in some cases, even our existence.
Who is this dragon?
Recently, I’ve come to enjoy the work of Steven Pressfield. A writer who didn’t begin his career until the second half of his life. He has a great definition of the dragon for us. In his book, The War of Art, he terms this monstrosity the resistance.
The resistance, by definition, resists any change: encouraging the comfortable and status quo. It tells you that you aren’t good enough and that project you’ve been meaning to start can wait “just one more day.” When you do try something and fail, it’s there waiting for you to say “See, I told you so!” It’s the very antithesis of progress.
This is something we all contend with one way or another. Whether it’s on a project, a future idea, or working towards the ideal career, we all have experienced it and have succumbed to the beast. It’s a nasty thing that any professional (particularly artists) fight against. Regardless of its expression, the main point is that this resistance, the dragon, knows your weaknesses and attacks them when it can. It does so mercilessly and we believe it because of our belief that nothing is truer than our inner voice.
Becoming the knight in shining armor
One of the hardest things for me to do was to learn to put this bastard in his place. It was hard because he poked his snout whenever I deviated from the path that was pre-determined. Any sort of movement that was away from the norm was met with mental slander and ridicule. That dragon tried to burn everything that made me stronger and I fought him every step of the way. I’ve always imagined my battle with it like those in fairy tales: where the knight, adorned in his shiny armor with his sleek sword, trudged up the mountain top to fight the dragon at his lair with his trusty steed. The knight exhibits this bravery and makes it his mission to end the dragon in its lair. However, my battle isn’t fought with sword and shield, it’s fought with willpower and words.
You see, the dragon only has power if you choose to give it power. When the dragon uses just the right words to make you question yourself, its doing so because it’s been given the authority to do so. I’ve always viewed my mind as a temple that needs to be cultivated. Great influences and positive experiences help to build it up while negative thoughts rot it down. When not taken care of properly, it no longer becomes a sacred place, but turns into the many of the Inca ruins we see today. It becomes decrepit and a dragon takes up residence to guard against whatever positivity was left.
That’s why consistent upkeep and positive reinforcement of the mind is so important. We need to know that what we’re doing is right even when negative influences start creeping in. That is where the knight in shining armor comes in; she becomes the one to slay the dragon and take back the dominion of your mind. How do we equip our knight who ventures up to battle the dragon? By recognizing those thoughts for what they are. Bullshit. All of it.
Your inner dialogue saying you’re not good enough? Call it out. Show it substantial proof that you are good enough. It can’t argue with real evidence that you have friends and family that deeply care about you. It can’t reason with you when you’re wholly convinced that your purpose is right. I’ve stepped through some of this process in my last article HERE.
Your inner dialogue says no one will like your writing, idea, etc.? Call it out again. Show it the positive experiences you’ve had with your work and the possibility that even more can come out of it. Slay it to the core by knowing uncertainty is something to be okay with, not to fear.
By calling out the dragon’s words for what they are, you give yourself tremendous power over it. You will find while practicing this, through recognizing and mentally calling out that voice for its lies, that it becomes quieter. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to completely rid ourselves of this dragon; he sticks around whether we like it or not. However, we can choose how much power we give to it and lock it back in its soundproof booth when the time comes. Starve it of power and it can’t touch you.
Find out what the dragon uses to trigger you, then use it against him
We’re all fully capable of doing whatever we set out to do. We can conquer our doubts and become the person we set out to be. However, dealing with the resistance/dragon is a necessary part of the process. It’s messy, but one that is worth it.
Part of the reason why I wasn’t able to write last month was because I was contending with my dragon. It took me time to slay it again. However, after a few conversations with my trusted few, I was able to lock him away once more. So for this month, I’m going to post weekly. They may not all be posts in making you awesome, but they will have value and will (hopefully) be enjoyable reads.
Here’s to you, great person. Now, go slay the dragon.