The inner critic is that voice inside your head that is regularly telling you that you are not good enough or that you can’t do something—it constantly judges you and finds you wanting.
There’s a lot of advice out there telling us how to shut down this inner critic. But is this always helpful? As I have said many times before, what we resist, persists. The more we try to suppress something, the harder it tries to sink its fingernails into us.
We can't ever get rid of our personal fears and anxieties completely. In fact, in many cases, it can be helpful and insightful exercise to explore these feelings. What are they telling us about ourselves…about what is going on in our lives? What are these emotions pointing to? When we learn how to address and manage these feelings -- when we learn how to talk back to our inner critic -- we can turn a potentially toxic situation into an opportunity to learn and grow.
But this doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time (around 63 days!) to reprogram your responses to your inner critic, as I discuss in detail in my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle. You have to learn how to make your inner critic your friend, but this won’t happen overnight, so remember to give yourself grace!
Below are some tips to help you manage your relationship with your inner critic:
1. Don’t just try to silence the voice.
If we are completely honest, we cannot always control our inner critic. The harder we try to control these thoughts, the more stress we may experience, which can end up making the situation worse. We may feel like we are failing ourselves if the thoughts don’t just “go away”.
A better strategy is to question your thoughts instead of suppressing them, as I mentioned above. If your inner critic is telling you that you will fail at something, for example, question why it is saying that. Try to find the evidence behind the thought—become a “thought detective”. Next, try to find reasons why you won’t fail. Focus on the successes you have had in the past, not just your failures. Remember the times you overcame a challenge and celebrate them!
2. See it as a protective mechanism.
It is natural for us to experience fear, especially if we have been in situations in the past that have put us under tremendous stress. Remind yourself of this when you start to hear that inner voice. Acknowledge the fear and explore its roots—be graceful and compassionate towards your past self. Then, recognize that you are no longer in that same position, and no longer have to fear that specific experience. Your past and present, although connected, are not the same.
3. Tell it to move on.
This may sound silly, but you can respond to your inner critic in the moment with a simple thought, such as “Okay I hear you, but I don’t want to listen to this, so I am going to move on” or “No, but thank you for sharing”. Treat your inner critic like you would treat a scared child. Acknowledge the small nudges that your inner critic is sending you, but focus on your next steps to try to stop yourself going into a downward spiral. Indeed, if you acknowledge the thought as soon as it arises, you can better prevent the negative thought spiral.
4. Take risks!
It is so easy to get into a toxic cycle where you listen to your inner critic and think you aren’t good enough. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking will only make your feelings of inadequacy and failure grow stronger, which can develop into a toxic mental habit and impact your wellbeing.
But, if you are willing to take a risk and challenge your inner critic, you will feel your self-confidence beginning to grow, and you will learn how to discern what you should listen to and do in future situations. When you take this risk, you are essentially acknowledging your inner critic, but not allowing it to hold you back.
5. Be preemptive.
If you are prone to a lot of negative self-talk that keeps you from doing the things you want to do, start working on breaking that habit. Try to analyze and question these thoughts as they arise—make it a daily habit to be a “thought detective”. When you start analyzing these negative thoughts, you may also begin finding a common thread, pattern or trigger that you can work on. Many of the fears that come from our inner critic are not rooted in the present moment—they come from past experiences that affected us in a certain way.
6. Shift your focus.
Start trying to focus on how you want to feel and what you want to believe, rather than just what your inner critic tells you. Remember, whatever you think about the most will grow! If you focus on a thought like “I want to believe I am good enough” while you work on the root of the negative thought and build a new habit, the “I want to believe” will eventually become “I believe”!
Get into the habit of reminding yourself that you are way more capable and way more valuable than your inner critic says you are. Remind yourself that it is possible to learn how to work with your inner critic and manage it, while still recognizing your own importance and trusting your own decisions!
For more on managing your inner critic, listen to my podcast (episode #338), and check out my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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2:16, 5:00 What is the inner critic?
3:30 Why you shouldn’t suppress or ignore your inner critic
4:10, 6:00, 16:00, 23:00 How to speak back to your inner critic using mind management & self-regulation
8:20, 12:45 Getting to the root of your inner critic
10:00, 12:00, 15:30 How to make your inner critic your friend
11:40 The more you think about something, the more it grows!
17:00 Managing intrusive thoughts like the inner critic
18:00, 22:10 How to become a “thought detective”
24:00 How to manage your inner critic
30:10 What it means to talk back to your inner critic
This podcast and blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.