We’ve all got an inner critic – that toxic little voice in our head that tells us we’re “useless”, “rubbish”, a “failure” or asks, “Who do you think YOU are to be clever / successful / happy?” or whatever. This inner saboteur comes as standard issue with all brains.
(To be clear, I’m not talking about “The voices in my head that made me do it, officer” – that’s way beyond my pay grade and if you’ve got those voices, please get specialist help. Now.)
Our inner critic can grab the mic occasionally when we’re having an off day. Or it may provide a constant stream of negativity, a running commentary on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. This toxic soundtrack can be running in the background without us being consciously aware of it, but it’s there somewhere, chipping away at our confidence and self-esteem, corroding our resilience.
What can we do to deal with our inner critic? Try these six steps
1. Notice when your inner critic is sounding off
Are there particular situations that make it worse? For example, it may be around giving presentations or having difficult conversations at work. Just noticing our inner saboteur can silence it; once it knows we’re on to it and its tricks.
2. Notice what your inner critic actually says
This is important because the words may belong in a long-forgotten script that we somehow learned and installed without realising. Listen well to the inner critic’s actual voice – it may be your own or that of someone from the past, such as a tough teacher. This soundtrack may be way out of date and way out of touch with what we’re up to now.
3. Seek to understand the positive motives your inner critic has
Often this is about protecting us from taking risks and giving us a get-out clause on trying harder, the better to keep us safe (from harm, injury, humiliation). In other words, the intention is good – but the way it’s showing up is unhelpful, often to the point of being the opposite of its positive origins as we let it hold us back.
4. Explore the ‘case for the prosecution’ with your inner critic
What’s the evidence that it’s right? There may indeed have been a presentation or two that you delivered less than winningly, so get crystal clear on the factual evidence. What actually happened? Edit out the adjectives and labels; stick to the facts. There may be some factors that were beyond your control, and others that were down to you; identify them.
5. Now put the ‘case for the defence’ to your inner critic
For every ‘disaster’ you’ll be able to find a triumph, no matter how small, that justifies your determination to nail that presentation or start that tricky conversation. There will have been presentations that actually have gone well, and tricky conversations that got results. Notice exactly what you did to achieve those results; this behaviour can be replicated in similar situations in future. It may help you to write out your ‘cases’ for and against.
6. Bring out your fan club to silence your inner critic
A simple-yet-effective strategy is to ask yourself what a good and wise friend would say to your inner critic when it’s on the attack. Or a loved one, a colleague you admire, an inspiring teacher, a mentor. Your ‘character witnesses’ can sway your inner jury. What advice would they give you, and how will you apply it? Break this down into actionable steps and notice how you feel as you take each one.
You might also find this blog post useful: ‘How do I speak up in meetings without looking an idiot?’
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