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As we’ve talked about before, women who get serious about self-care might want to prepare to face society’s disapproval. Society lets us know that some self-care (especially of the appearance-related variety) is mandatory, some self-care is optional (if we don’t go overboard), and some self-care is just RIGHT OUT.

As a near-crone, I’m finding it easier than ever to stand up for that last kind. On a day when I’m emotionally sturdy, I’ve had a good breakfast and there’s a new episode of Elementary to look forward to, I will defend against boundary violations and smash patriarchy as handily – and showily – as Xena with her boomerang thing.

Other days, I just want to be lowpro. I don’t need to prove anything or host a spectacle. Those are days when all I need is my secret ninja self-care kit of internal techniques.

In truth, any self-care visible to the world flows from the inside out. Self-care is fundamentally an attitude, one of kindness toward ourselves. But to cultivate that kindness, we’ve got some real work to do.

Because most of us were taught – unintentionally – that being tough on ourselves is what whips us into an acceptable shape. So often in our world, something difficult will arise, someone will disapprove of us or something will happen to make us feel unloved or unsafe or just small, and internally we pile on. You idiot! we think. If only you had put more work into that proposal!

(If you don’t know what I mean when I talk about that hostile internal environment, you might not have one! Or you might recognize it by another name. Anne Lamott calls it “Radio KFKD.” Hafiz called it the “10,000 idiots.” Others call it “the internal critic,” or “the Judge.”)

Over the millennia, people have devised many ways of dismantling the hostility machine. These include techniques for examining thoughts, dismissing thoughts, ignoring thoughts, and altering thoughts – techniques such as meditation, visualization, breathing, even hallucinogens. I think they’re all good, but I’ve never found anything faster, cheaper, easier and more low-profile than asking this simple question: IS IT TRUE?* That question is a sharp pin in the Judge’s balloon of disapproval.

Here’s how you do it: Say my twin sister Jane calls me selfish – ach, like it’s a bad thing! – because I tell her I can’t babysit on short notice. My Judge piles on, agreeing that I am selfish, and implying that if I don’t babysit Jane will get me kicked out of the family.

So I notice these thoughts – I’m selfish! and I’ll get kicked out of the family! – and I ask IS IT TRUE? Am I selfish and is that a bad thing here? I might decide that in this case it is acceptable to me to be selfish and save my own evening. Or I might decide that I’m not being “selfish” in the negative sense. Almost certainly I’m not going to get kicked out of the family; Jane didn’t even say that. That’s just the kind of thing the 10,000 idiots like to say because they know drama and exaggeration will get me whipped up.

Taking a moment to ask this question (we might need to announce I need to take a moment! and step away) and examine our thinking isn’t going to produce a miracle the first time out. But it will remove some of the inner conflict. So the inner result is some relaxation. And the outer result is that I get to carry on with my evening while Jane finds another way to rescue her own plans.

I’ve been asking myself IS IT TRUE? for the past six years. (Here we will leap ninja-like over hours of brow-knit contemplation. Imagine cinema’s most boring montage ever, all sitting on orange cushions and scribbling in notebooks.)

And sometimes the answer is Yes. Sometimes something painful will be true. What’s never true, though, is that we’re a terrible, horrible, awful person who should just go die now, which the 10,000 idiots have been known to chant.

What’s also true is that as your internal world becomes caring instead of unkind, the outer world changes too. You find that Jane starts asking for babysitting well in advance, and stops calling you names if you can’t help out. Hafiz said everything gets quiet, like the 10,000 idiots packed up and skipped town. No flashy fighting techniques required, just a little ninja trick of being invisible when the Judge goes looking for an executioner.

And that makes this a huge oversimplification of the world’s great project to create inner peace. There are many terrific resources on this topic. Two of my favorites are The Work of Byron Katie (lots of free resources on her site) and There Is Nothing Wrong With You, a book by the American Zen teacher Cheri Huber.

I welcome your thoughts and questions!




Image:  Nagoya Sanza wiping his sword on a sandal (detail), Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1845-1846, Rijksmuseum.


About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Boy, did this resonate with me. Only, I call that cranky voice “Mom.” ;o)

  • I’m in sync…just object to the label “crone”.

    • Nothing wrong with crone…except as a stereotype that doesn’t match the actual definition.

    • I wondered about her use of the word crone, so I looked it up. Besides the derogatory meaning, it also means “a woman who is venerated for experience, judgment and wisdom.

      • I was also curious about its usage and very pleased to read your definition.

  • At 70, I am a crone … and proud of it. Lovely post, resonated with me.

  • My yoga teacher has been discussing the work of Byron Katie with us! Loved this post!

  • Thanks for the good article, Max.

    I’ve attended a Byron Katie’s talk, and I got a whiff of snake oil in the room. She is kind of the female version of Tony Robbins. I agree that we need to reprogram our inner critic every now and then and ask ourselves if what we are thinking is true, but that inner voice should be our own. Reading far and wide and developing our own customized amalgam of ideas is what helps me live an authentic life. A person who resonates most consistently for me is Pema Chodron.

    BTW, I used to have a problem with the word crone, but not anymore. It was once a positive word for women and the rise of patriarchy rendered the word derogatory, but it meant older, wiser, experienced, and came from the word crown.

    • I love Pema! I have several of her books and many of her audio CD’s. She is help me through some sticky times.

    • We are very much agreed that the voice we rely on must ultimately be our own. And the Judge is emphatically not our voice.

    • You guys, I did not know the etymology here. Thank you for hipping me. Ready for my crown

  • Love this – thank you!!

  • Interesting that you would use selfishness as your example! I was repeatedly told that I was selfish and jealous. And, in fact, I was told in my early 30’s by my mother that my jealousy was the cause of all the problems in our family. It still gives me inner chills 40 years later but I know it isn’t true. Issuing blame was also a major component in my family. My father died 1 1/2 years ago, still telling me that something was his fault while I consistently replied that we don’t playing the blame game anymore.

    Thanks for your words of encouragement!

  • My husband is a painter, and he did a large painting that he called “The Critic”; a tangible visual representation of his own inner critical voice… always questioning his abilities, his talent, his worth as a human being. Oddly enough it’s quite beautiful… it’s a powerful painting. But it’s also kind of intimidating as you can feel the judgement emanating from the central figure.
    I wish creating that painting had worked that voice out of him, but it didn’t… I think I’ll share the “is it true” technique with him. Although when it’s bad, that critical voice answers “yes” pretty loud.

    • Sorry, Kathleen – my smiley got snipped, and without it my comment looks like marching orders. It’s just a suggestion 🙂

    • See Byron Katie for what to do when you get the yes answer

  • Kind, useful, honest, funny, inspiring. I find myself looking forward to your columns.

  • It’s good to see these thoughts out in the open. Cuz they have too much power when they’re just rattling around inside. But their power is just gone when we talk about them.

  • I like your simple question “is it true?” because it allows for useful reflection, and cuts out the extra noise. Sometimes I need to face my mistakes and learn from them. As you point out, my mistakes do not mean that I am monstrous. Just that I am human, and as deserving of happiness as anyone else. And if I haven’t been making mistakes, I probably haven’t been taking any chances, or trying anything new, either.

  • I am quite familiar with all of those voices. Between my family and an ex-husband they got flung at me a lot even when they weren’t in my own head. Thank you for the article!

  • My inner judge was so enmeshed with me, that I had to first recognize her as a separate entity. Then I learned how to deal with her. she cannot be dismissed. She must be greeted first, let in the front door and then shown out through the back door. Perhaps I have now come far enough that I don’t even need to let her in the front door anymore. Perhaps now, when she comes knocking, I can just ask “Is it true?” And if the answer is no, she can just move on.

  • I love this “Is it true?”

    And this: “What’s also true is that as your internal world becomes caring instead of unkind, the outer world changes too.”

    Thank you Max.

  • Love!
    Your (Our/ My) 10,000 idiots are no match for “Is it true?”!

    Havi Brooks (Fluent has long advocated “talking to your monsters” – and giving them a New Job, instead of their spurious interpretation of “keeping you safe” from something that probably happened a zillion years ago.

    • Karen J, I <3 Havi SO MUCH. It's such a thrill when I meet someone who knows her 🙂

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