See that black cap?
The one I'm wearing on the biggest stage. For the biggest swim of my life.
The one with the American flag I dreamt about as a little girl.
The one captured by every major media outlet in the world.
The one that forever sits on the pages of Sports Illustrated and the Guinness Book of World Records.
The one that became a weapon for my inner critic.
It's not mine.
Underneath the black sharpie are the letters SALYARDS. For Kyle. A teammate of mine who competed in the 200m breaststroke that night.
It wasn't until I arrived at the pool for finals and reached into my bag - that I realized I only had my WHITE cap. Team USA wore white caps for prelims - and black for finals.
I forgot to pack my black cap.
I was used to wearing yellow. Morning and night.
Here's the thing. I rolled with it. Because, what was my choice?
I had a race to swim.
The biggest one of my life.
My job? Lead off the Women's 4x200 Freestyle Relay for Team USA.
There was no time to waste worrying about my swim cap.
I knew I was swimming for the three girls who stood behind me - our two teammates who swam in the prelims race that morning - all the women who had come before me - and an ENTIRE COUNTRY back home.
Fifteen minutes before we marched out, my coach showed me the lineup - and who I was swimming against on that first leg. My job - keep Team USA in the hunt for Gold.
I love a challenge. And racing the current world record holder and Olympic Gold Medalist from the individual race the night before...
The whole cap debacle. Honestly? I forgot about it until a few months later when my brother pulled up a Google search and showed me the pictures from the Games.
I was mortified when I saw the black cap with no name.
I felt like a failure.
And my Inner Critic roared.
PROOF. Right here. You're not worthy of this title. You're nobody. This was your ONE shot to represent your family and you blew it.
You're not good enough. Fit enough. Lean enough. Fast enough. Athletic enough. You don't even look like an Olympian should look.
And, on and on it roared.
I felt like I got punched in the stomach - like my veins filled with cement. I wanted to run and hide. To disappear.
As ridiculous as it sounds now to write - and read - I believed those words to be true.
Because, that's how the Inner Critic rolls. Because, it can be hard to distinguish its voice from our own.
It's opportunistic and manipulative. And comes roaring in when we're down.
And down I was.
The water was home - my safe space. A place free from the roars of the inner critic. Free to be me. Free to unleash. A place to connect with something so much more powerful than me.
It's always been that way.
Out of the water. A totally different story.
And that's exactly where I was - just two months after standing atop the Olympic podium in Sydney.
Out of the water. Round-the-clock pain.
Shoulder surgery, they said.
Trying to control all the things. Furious with my body for failing me.
An eating disorder, they said.
Wondering who they hell I was in the world without my sport. Who the hell I should be.
Depression, they said.
So as I sat there, alongside my brother. Staring at these pictures - I was silently suffering.
What I didn't realize at the time:
I had a choice.
I didn't understand that the inner critic was separate from me.
I didn't understand that the inner critic manipulates us into thinking that we need it to achieve.
I didn't understand that we all have this voice inside our minds.
I didn't understand that we get to choose whether or not we let the inner critic into the driver's seat.
I do now.
And that's why I pay forward what I've learned.
There is no 'right' way to release the roars of the inner critic.
And, I share these three daily practices because they've helped me release its grip - and step into a space of FREEDOM - where I get to drive.
The voice of the inner critic is not our voice - even though it'll try to argue that it is. It's a voice born out of fear - and in a strange way - it's trying to 'protect' us. Name it. Give it a name - as if it was another person talking to you. If anyone in 'real life' tried to talk to me the way my inner critic did - I would NEVER have tolerated it. So, why was I allowing this internal voice to cut me up every.single.day?
Name it. Seriously. It's the first step to taking away its power.
Release the need to win.
Because, there is no winning here. I spent years trying to argue with the voice of my inner critic. Trying to be logical. There is no rationalizing with the irrational. No matter how hard we try - there is no winning.
There. Is. No. Winning.
FREEDOM comes when we release the need to engage with the thoughts. So, dive into mediation and strengthen that releasing muscle!!
Turn on the lights.
Silence is its best friend. Because, where there is an inner critic, there is shame. So, SHARE. Get the words / thoughts / comments OUT of your mind. Share with you inner circle - your coach - your therapist. I'll often use this sentence - "This is what my Inner Critic is saying to me..." Chances are as soon as the words hit the light, you'll start to feel / hear the nastiness and manipulation at play.
One HUGE nugget of wisdom I've learned over the years - do not ask your inner circle, partner, spouse, best friend to validate or argue with the voice of the Inner Critic. They. Will. Never. Win. Doing so only sets everyone up for a shit storm of shame.
That black cap??
You know what I see? I see an 18 year old girl who was so flipping excited about swimming in finals. At the Olympic Games. For Team USA.
I see an 18 year old girl who forget to switch out her caps because she was so LOCKED IN to what she needed to do that night.
I see an 18 year old girl who handled her mistake like a BOSS and helped her team break. the Olympic Record and bring home Gold.
That black cap is a POWERFUL reminder for all of us that we WILL make mistakes. Even at the Olympics.
It's part of being human.
And. We ALWAYS have a choice in how we respond.
Even when the Inner Critic comes knocking.
Just because it knocks, doesn't mean it gets to drive.
If this speaks to you - please feel free to share with family and friends. We are stronger together.
THIS is work I do with my clients - releasing the grip of the Inner Critic. The judgement. The ruminating. The hyper-analyzing. The criticizing. The voice that tells you all the ways you're not enough.
It's powerful work. It's challenging. And it's not work we're meant to do alone. If you're ready to do this kind of work - I've got you. Click here to learn more about my offerings.
Samantha Arsenault Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, high performance coach and mother of four girls. She is also the founder of Livingstone High Performance, LLC. and the online coaching course Rise Free Academy.
Samantha empowers women to cultivate the courage and resilience needed to unapologetically step into their light. She inspires, empowers and equips her clients with the skills needed to let go of beliefs that are keeping them stuck - so they can achieve their own gold medal moments - AND - open the door for freedom, balance and joy that transcends.
Samantha candidly shares her battles with her inner critic, depression, perfection, PTSD and parenting as a working mother because she believes in the transformative power of story – and the strength that comes from knowing we are not alone. She is on a mission to pay forward all that she’s learned to help others find joy and live free.
A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls. You can learn more about Samantha at www.samanthalivingstone.com.