Inner critic nagging you to do something?
Does it often feel like the negative voices in your head are taking you over? When they are speaking loudly it can feel as though they have actually become us, all of us, rather than just being a part of us.
It’s actually good to get to know our inner critics (sometimes also called our saboteurs), to be aware of which are the negative voices that come up most often for us. Are you aware of yours? Could it be the Perfectionist, the voice that says it’s not worth even starting something if we can’t do it perfectly? Perhaps it’s the Over-Achiever, the driving force that keeps you working at all hours, competing against yourself and others, and determined to achieve that next goal, except there is always another next goal. Maybe it’s the voice of the Over-Enthusiast, tempting you away from the task in hand to focus on the new shiny thing that looks more exciting and fulfilling. You might have others, different voices that bring the negative perspective to you.
Whichever voice is the one that speaks most loudly, it’s important to have a way to quieten it, because if we allow it to take over our mind, it can cause significant amounts of damage, even stopping us from finding happiness altogether.
The human brain has a negativity bias. A negative outlook is a survival mechanism. Those of our ancestors who survived to pass on their genes, eventually to us, were those that were on the look-out for danger, who could see the risks in what they were doing, and were then able to take avoiding action to keep themselves safe.
The ones that didn’t consider the risks are much more likely to have become extinct along the way, as they fell prey to an animal they didn’t notice coming up on them, failed to consider that the weather might change and that they needed to save and protect their food, or succumbed to some other failure to see a risk and take appropriate action.
So, how do we take the good from what those negative voices are telling us, but at the same time not get so caught up in their messages that it causes us damage?
First, we need to recognise the voices when they come, and to see what it is they are trying to tell us or to protect us from.
As an example, if you are at work and your Perfectionist comes up, telling you that you mustn’t leave the office until that presentation for tomorrow is perfect. Think about why that voice is coming up. Likely it is trying to protect you from embarrassment the following day, if a typo or other error is only noticed as you are actually delivering the presentation. In this way, we can see how that voice is actually trying to be helpful.
Sadly, what is more likely to happen if we follow that voice, is that we get more and more tired by staying late, which of course means we are actually more likely to make the very mistake that the Perfectionist is dreading.
Instead, if we can move to a place of discernment, then we can acknowledge that voice and the importance of what it is telling us, but also make a healthier decision to leave work, get a good night’s rest and to check the presentation again in the morning when we are fresh and more likely to pick up any last mistakes.
Ultimately, this is where we always want to be heading. To a place of discernment where we can recognise the voice of our inner critic and make an informed response to it, rather than simply reacting in the moment. The first step in doing this is to be able to disempower our saboteurs when we need to.
Ten ways to disempower your inner critics
- Discredit what they are saying by deliberately looking for examples of when it is not true, so if your inner critic is saying “You’re terrible at public speaking”, then think about the times when you’ve spoken up for a cause you feel passionate about, or when you made a speech at your best friend’s birthday. It doesn’t have to be in the same context, it just has to be an example of when what the voice is saying is not 100% absolutely true. By doing this we are opening ourselves up to other possibilities.
- Create a mental distance between yourself and the saboteur. You can do this by naming it (eg My Judge, My Perfectionist) and stating what it is doing, for example “I notice my Judge is telling me that I am doing it all wrong”. By placing the voice into the third party position, we can see the voice is not us, but simply one voice among many possible voices that we may choose to listen to.
- Create a physical distance between you and the saboteur by centring yourself when the voice comes up, so that you have a literal and metaphorical space to consider what it is saying and whether you want to act on its advice or not. You can quickly centre yourself by feeling your feet flat on the floor, placing one hand on your belly and taking three deep belly breaths, really feeling yourself sinking down into your body as you breathe out.
- Build your curiosity and creativity ‘muscles’ by spending getting playful with the voice when it arises. See if you can find the funny side of what it is saying, as this can often generate fresh ideas and resources that we can use instead of following the same old pattern being advocated by that inner critic.
- When you hear your inner critic come up, do a quick body scan and notice what feelings, sensations and thoughts are arising. Over time you will become more familiar with what this feels like and will be able to spot your saboteur in action more quickly and take action to prevent yourself from being completely hijacked by it.
- Imagine what a friend would say to you, or what you would say to a friend if they shared that voice that with you, and you were actively seeking to be kind and compassionate in your response towards them.
- Step into a different persona for a brief while. I often ask myself “What would Freddie do?” Getting into the person of Freddie Mercury gives me a completely different perspective on what the voice of my saboteur is saying.
- Get outside. Opening ourselves up to the open skies literally helps us to see the bigger picture and what other possibilities are available to us.
- Move your body. Our inner critics frequently come up when we are stuck. Physically stuck. Mentally stuck. Emotionally stuck. Moving your body, whether you are dancing, walking, running, changes the energy and makes it easier to release the negative impact of the voice.
- Be kind and compassionate towards the inner critic when it comes up. Acknowledge it rather than trying to push it away. Thank it for bringing its point to your attention and inform it that on this occasion you are going to do something else.
Make friends with your inner critics. If you are able to do this, and at the same time keep them in a proper perspective, you can learn a huge amount about how you show up in the world, and be clearer on what action you need to take, should you decide that you do want to shift this.