The Conversation is a silent saboteur that kills productivity and confidence. Here’s what it is and what to do about it.
I noticed this thing that happens when I slow down in my ceaseless doing or even (unthinkably!) stop during the day to engage in some self care.
I call it The Conversation.
It happened today when I stopped at my favorite cafe in the West Village to eat lunch, on my way back from early morning trampoline practice. I had already indulged myself by stopping at the pier in Hudson River Park to journal morning pages. (Note how I phrased this – you can see evidence building.)
It was noon, and I had — I have — a long list of things that I feel pulled to do today: work, follow ups, errands, writing. You know the drill.
I wasn’t going to stop for lunch. I had eaten a protein bar after practice. But then I felt hungry as I started to walk home, so I decided to stop.
I heard the voice telling me that I wouldn’t be effective without proper nourishment. Yesterday I did not nourish well and I felt the effects today. I know that I need to nourish properly today.
I walked in and ordered my panini at the counter. As I sat down to wait for the server to bring it to me, I told myself I’ll make it quick today and not get lost in my writing, as sometimes happen when I stop here.
(This blog post, typed on my iPhone for while I sat in said cafe for almost 3 hours = example of what happens here).
As I sat down, I heard the voice of my internal observer calling me out for this bargaining.
There it was again.
Welcome to The Conversation.
What is The Conversation? So glad you asked. I’m going to explain further below.
This is a long article, so here’s a brief road map of where we’re going. First, I’m going to share where The Conversation happens, to provide some more context. Then I’ll disect exactly what is happening in The Conversation. I’ll share how it operates as an Agent of Empowerment and as an Agent of Sabotage. Finally, I’ll share a few tips on how we can prevent The Conversation from being an agent of sabotage.
Where The Conversation Happens
I have noticed that The Conversation happens when I pause in my day for self care, or when I make a decision to do something in a way that is purely aligned with my truth but perhaps not what what others expect me to do or what people say I “should” do.
Last week there was a Conversation about whether to shower and change and put on makeup before heading uptown for a last minute Saturday afternoon showing of an apartment.
I increasingly notice the Conversation when I sit down to write morning pages, in which I hear justifications around how this is part of the important work.
The Conversation happens around the importance of rest and taking time to do nothing.
When I take the time to nourish properly, to stop for lunch and allow myself to be served, The Conversation inevitably happens.
The Conversation almost always happens when I allow myself several hours of deep work to write or work on a project.
The Conversation isn’t restricted to self-care. It also happens when I push myself to work intensely on a project or push my workouts in the gym. But mostly it happens when I’m in a place of not pushing. It shows up when I’m receiving or resting or nourishing.
In all of these places, I hear the voice that justifies why it’s ok to slow down or stop for lunch or spend time engaged in deep work.
Defining The Conversation
The Conversation is the internal negotiation that happens around something that we desire or decide to do. It’s the voices of resistance and response that arise to meet us in areas where we are facing an opportunity for growth.
The Conversation is a form of resistance – to receiving, to seeing myself as worthy the investment of time and space to engage in self care and nourishing practices. And The Conversation is also a form of response to that resistance.
Almost always, there is some guilt or shame around the thing I’m doing. The first part of The Conversation isn’t always audible to me. It’s under the surface — a silent voice that plants a seed of unworthiness. When I listen closely, I can hear it. It says:
You can’t afford to take time for yourself with the big list of things you need to do.
What I tend to hear first is part two: the voice that justifies why what I’m doing is necessary. This voice tells me that eating and rest are essential and that the important work often doesn’t have the pull of the urgent work.
Then I hear the voice that says:
This is the problem: that this conversation even happens. That I have to justify to myself why it’s ok to stop for lunch and eat, despite the list of things to get done today.
And then I notice that I feel angry for The Conversation taking place. I resent that The Conversation is necessary.
The Conversation as an Agent of Empowerment
On the surface, it can appear that The Conversation is helpful to us.
For example, part two of The Conversation is an attempt to break the pattern of feeling guilt or shame about receiving or nourishing. The voice that reminds me that nourishment is important is responding to the part of me that feels guilty for taking time to eat lunch and not “being productive.” This voice is sticking up for me, telling the first voice that I am worthy of nourishing care.
Assuming we don’t take it too far to the other extreme, this is a good thing.
Noticing when this voice speaks up helps me ground into the higher truth that I am worthy. It also brings my attention to the stealthy voice that started this dialogue by planting seeds of unworthiness and not enough.
What’s not helpful is the judgment that often accompanies the noticing.
This is how The Conversation is a stealth saboteur.
The Conversation as an Agent of Sabotage
The judgment arises in the voice that says,
The fact that this conversation even must take place is a problem.
This is judgment.
On the surface it may seem like I am simply calling it out and naming what’s there. But beneath that is this:
I shouldn’t need to have this conversation. I should be evolved beyond this. I should be able to enjoy lunch on a Saturday without needing to be reminded that self care and nourishment is important.
Beneath every “should” is an expectation that we feel we aren’t meeting. That leads to one of two places: failure or unworthiness.
Beneath the surface, it sounds like this:
What’s wrong with me that I can’t just relax and enjoy lunch without feeling guilt over my self care? What’s wrong with me that I need to remind myself of the importance of taking time to nourish properly?
The Spiral of Self-Sabotage
Meditation teacher Tara Brach refers to this judgment — making what we feel “wrong” — as the “second arrow.”
For a moment today as I noticed The Conversation starting I thought, I don’t want this to become a second arrow.
Then I realized: I’m too late. This is at least three arrows, and can escalate easily to five without an intervention:
- Arrow 1: I feel some guilt or shame around something, at a level so deep I don’t always even notice it.
- Arrow 2: The voice that justifies why it’s ok to do the thing: stop and nourish, wear what I want, take time to write.
- Arrow 3: I judge myself for that fact that The Conversation even has to happen.
- Arrow 4: I feel angry and resentful about the fact that The Conversation takes place.
- Arrow 5 I judge myself for feeling angry and resentful.
Without an intervention, it’s easy to get sucked into what I call the Spiral of Self-Sabotage, the place where unworthiness overpowers brilliance and self-loathing subdues self-confidence.
The Spiral of Self-Sabotage is one of the key ways that we get stuck.
Even if you avoid the Spiral of Self-Sabotage, The Conversation is a productivity killer.
First, The Conversation is an energy drain. That energy can be put to better use elsewhere.
Second, If your head is wrapped up in The Conversation, then it isn’t focused on whatever you’re actually doing.
The Conversation destroys presence. And presence is the key to productivity.
What’s the Fix?
If you’re still reading, the is the point where you expect to learn how to fix this. I wish I had some easy answers for you, but the truth is that this is a big nut to crack.
The obvious best fix is to end The Conversation.
Yeah. Good luck with that…
From what I’ve learned from my teachers, everyone experiences The Conversation in some form. So the next best fix is to avoid sliding into the Spiral of Self-Sabotage.
I avoided it today, but other days I’m less successful. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Step 1: Notice
The first step is simply to notice what’s happening.
I think it’s important to realize that The Conversation isn’t new; it has been there all along. This is what makes it so deadly for so many of us: it runs in the background, often without our conscious awareness. It’s a silent energy drain; a stealth killer of confidence and dreams.
What’s new for me is that I’m noticing what’s beneath the surface and pulling it out.
This is an example of the habit of noticing that I’m cultivating in my meditation practice.
Things tend to get worse before they get better. I can appreciate how in the past I wouldn’t have noticed the conversation, or I wouldn’t have been able to detach from it. I would have been caught up in the belief that these thoughts were all mine, instead of simply thoughts that passed through my mind.
Noticing it is a huge first step.
Step 2: Release the Judgment
This is the holy grail: simply to notice what is, without judgment.
I trust that with enough continued meditation practice I will be in a place where I can notice it and call it out without making myself wrong in how I feel OR in the ensuing conversation.
I imagine that it might sound something like this:
Ok. This is happening. I’m stopping for lunch. A voice in my head tells me this is indulgent because I have a lot I want to get done today. And another voice in my head is telling me that I cannot be effective unless I slow down and nourish. I am noticing both of these voices are here with me as I eat my lunch. This is what’s here.
I’m not quite there yet, although I have days, like today, when I can extract myself quickly when I notice the judgment start to set in. I trust that further meditation practice will help me with the non-judgment part.
Until then, I’ve noticed another step that has helped me release the judgment even when it starts to arise.
Step 3: Talk About It
Here is something I know: I’m not the only one who experiences The Conversation.
In fact, almost every one of my clients, friends and other people I meet admits to some version of this around some part of their lives. Some don’t hear the whole Conversation, but they feel the effects. If that’s you, Step 1 helps a lot. It also helps to have someone direct your attention to where The Conversation is happening.
In fact, helping others see where The Conversation happens in their lives has helped me notice this in my own life.
Women and high-achievers are especially prone to The Conversation. Other people at high-risk for this are creative professionals and people who are motivated to work in service to others.
If you fall into all categories, you probably have The Conversation many times throughout the day. It plays in the background no matter what you’re doing. Welcome to my world. Fun times with the voices.
We don’t talk about this enough. So let’s change that, as a start.
Notice when The Conversation happens. Talk about it. Preferably with someone other than the voices in your head.
You are not alone.
Perhaps together we can release our judgments around it.