Inner critics can be very chatty. Here are some ideas to help you turn down the volume on nagging negativity so that you can chase after your dreams.
1. Try giving your inner critic a silly voice
Experiment by giving your inner critic a silly voice and see what happens. Perhaps imagine them speaking in a really high pitched tone or make them talk r e a l l y s l o w l y. It is much harder to take the inner critic seriously when it sounds comical.
2. Do some Heuristic Research
This is about giving yourself permission to try something different simply to see what happens. The important thing to remember is that you’re not aiming for a particular outcome. If you discover something doesn’t work then congratulate yourself. This isn’t failing. It’s a valid result and furthers your knowledge. The inner critic will find it hard to argue in this research environment of permissiveness and gentle curiosity.
Importantly, the fault (if there is one) isn’t in you. Even if 99.9% of the population think what you’re doing is the answer to all of life’s problems then that doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong if it doesn’t work for you. It means you’ve discovered something quite exciting about the thing you’re researching. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it.
What’s more, even if you’re in the 0.1% of people for whom it doesn’t work then you won’t be alone. Someone else out there will be wondering why it doesn’t work for them too and, more importantly, what might help. So brush yourself off and move onto the next thing.
I wonder if an example might help here. Take, for example, meditation. It helps lots of people manage mental health symptoms. But if you’re unable to maintain a regular meditation practice (or it makes you more anxious) then you won’t be alone. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to write off meditation completely, although you might choose to do that and look for an alternative way to improve your mental health instead. But perhaps you still really want to get the hang of meditation, in which case you need to find out what helps you feel better about meditating each day. It is, essentially, a research question about the meditation process and what helps people stick to it: there’s nothing wrong with you. And imagine how amazing it would be if you could find something that helps you feel more at ease with maintaining a regular meditation practice? There’d be people lining up to hear your secret! So don’t despair and keep on researching.
If you wanted to learn more about heuristic research then Moustakas’ book is a good starting point. You can probably borrow it from your local library if you enquire. It outlines the different stages of the heuristic research process. My favourite is incubation, whereby a planted seed undergoes “silent nourishment, support, and care” towards a creative outcome. Delightful.
3. Tell your inner critic to stop it
If you give Inner critic airtime then it will probably make the most of it. What’s more, before you know it, Inner Critic will probably start to demand a daily radio show and a pay rise. Meanwhile, the brain will get used to the sound of Inner Critic. It might even begin to miss it if it’s not there! So, start getting strict with Inner Critic and tell it that its contract has come to an end.
Stop it. These are the only two words you need for this one.
“But …”, Inner Critic will start
“I really do …”
You may find this approach doesn’t have much impact at the start but keep at it. It will take Inner Critic and the brain time to adjust to this new soundscape. The more you reinforce your Stop It message though then the more chance you have of regaining control.
4. Find out what your inner critic is worried about
Often our inner critics begin life wanting to help. They think they can protect us from being hurt or disappointed. If your inner critic won’t be quiet then it may be worth spending a little bit of time listening to its concerns and seeing if there’s a way of reassuring it.
It’s best to listen to Inner Critic when you have some time and you are feeling calm. If Inner Critic is talking when you’re not feeling that way then use the Stop It approach or try telling it that you can’t listen now but will give it half an hour as soon as you can.
Then listen to Inner Critic as you would a child. The things it’s saying may not be true but Inner Critic probably feels they’re true. It’s probably feeling quite scared and upset. Acknowledge its concerns, offer it reassurance and let it know that it’s safe. If it doesn’t feel under threat then you may find it quietens down of its own accord. You may even begin to discover its playful, kinder side.
Remember, Inner Critic may have started out life with your best interests at heart. It may even be trying to help you now. But if you’re finding that it’s holding you back or its helping mechanisms have become positively unhelpful then it’s okay to explain gently what would be more helpful to you now.
5. Write your failure CV
One of the ways our inner critic manages to hold such power over us is because it assumes that we’re afraid of failing or being seen in a bad light. Often it’s right. But by changing our relationship with the idea of failure then the inner critic’s threats will begin to be less scary.
Many of us grow up thinking that failure is a bad thing but failure is an integral part of success. Imagine trying to break a world record. How many times will you fail before you succeed? If you stopped at the first “failure”, you would never get there. It’s a little like the quote says: “You only fail when you stop trying”. I’d like to amend that a bit. If you stop trying because you decide something’s really not working for you then that’s not failure. It’s reevaluating something. But you get the idea. If you want to succeed then there are going to be bumps in the road.
Something that I think really helps to put a positive spin on failure is the failure CV. If your failure CV is pretty short then the likelihood is that your “success CV” isn’t where it would be in your dreams. Often the people we see as “successful” have a long trail of failures behind them. Not convinced? Check out these failure CVs.
There is also a TED playlist on the benefits of failure, which you can check out below.
I would love to know what helps you take a curious, rather than critical, approach to the world. Chat to me below!