“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ~William Shakespeare
You’re launching a new project. You’re a new committee member on a high profile initiative. You’ve agreed to take on a new challenging assignment at work.
And then you hear something, some voice coming from deep within your head:
“What are you doing?”
“Who do you think you are?”
“Don’t goof this one up – remember the last time!”
This voice might be deep and resonant, loud and stern; it might be soft and quiet, almost seductive. It might sound a little like a critical teacher you once had, or perhaps a beloved relative.
It definitely sounds like THE TRUTH about you and whatever situation you are in.
Congratulations – you’ve just met your inner critic.
Guess what? Having these types of voices in your head doesn’t mean you’re crazy.
In fact, it probably means you’re normal.
Your version of the inner critic will have its own spin on things, but I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t rent some of their head space to these types of critters.
Having an inner critic (or two, or three, or a whole flipping family reunion) isn’t bad, per se.
And it’s unlikely that most of us, other than the most enlightened beings, will probably ever completely be rid of all negative thoughts about ourselves.
It’s just that planning your career or life from limiting beliefs about yourself isn’t usually the way to happiness or success.
Instead it tends to stop us, and keep us entrenched in the current way of doing things.
These voices are the champions of the status quo, and your safety zone, so actually we should anticipate hearing more from them when we are up to something big, new or challenging.
So how can we work with and learn from our inner critics, rather than be hijacked by them?
1) Catch them in the act: notice and get super curious about your inner critic. What are its common themes about you? When does it show up? What does it like to say to you about you?
This may seem contradictory. You’re probably saying, “If I don’t want to run my life from the inner critic, why listen to it? I’ve been doing that too long already!”
Because we can’t change what we can’t see or know, and even if you feel like you do nothing but listen to the inner critic, you probably have taken its message at face value (THE TRUTH, again) rather than actually diving underneath.
So, get curious, and look for some themes from your critic’s common complaints about you.
2) Look underneath: Imagine your inner critic was a beloved relative who loved you to pieces, but just couldn’t give you a complement to save their life.
Instead of saying they are concerned about your health, they say “Aren’t you getting too skinny?”
If your critic loved you (which it does: it wants to keep you safe), but just was unskillful in its feedback to you, what do you imagine it’s trying to say to you? What does it want you to know?
3) Turn down the volume: Another way to work with the critic is to imagine the value your critic it is trying to express. Most inner critics are a personal value way over expressed, like a favorite song just with its volume turned up way too high.
For example, if you have a critic that’s really concerned about failure, you may have a value around success, accomplishment or contribution.
If you have a critic that’s really agitated about being perfect, you may have a value around excellence.
Just as if the critic was simply a flagman on the side of a road under construction, you can take in the information that the critic is signaling about the values that are important to you, and keep moving on.
Then, aim your life or work to honor the value, without engaging the critical or negative aspects.
4) Thank it: No, that’s not a typo. Thank the critic for its concern, contributions and reminders, and then send it on its way. Acknowledge its desire to help you, take in the useful 2% of its message, and get going.
Below in the Comments section, I’d love to hear your experience with working with your own inner critic. Tell me:
– Which one of these tips work best for you in getting free from your own internal criticism?
– What else do you do to manage your inner critic?