You are probably familiar with the concept of your inner critic — it’s s way of identifying that voice inside your head which criticises your every move and often insults you outright. When something goes wrong, your inner critic is always there to say “I told you so” and “you were stupid to even try.” When you are considering taking a risk which could reap plenty of rewards, your inner critic tells you “it won’t work out” and “you’re too weak/timid/untalented to do that.” It’s much like having a bully as your constant companion.
Silencing the inner critic is probably impossible, but there are techniques you can use to push its whiny or thundering voice into the background:
• Look for the evidence. Take a cool, logical approach to the concerns your inner critic raises. If it says “you’ll never win that competition/game/promotion,” answer “maybe not, but I might — and the only way to win is to try, whereas not trying guarantees I lose.” Writing it all out helps you to assess the truth of the situation.
• Make your inner critic into a ridiculous character. What would he/she/it look like? Would they be human or an animal or a monster? How would they dress? How would they act? Exploring the character of your inner critic often reveals them to be a scared, weak creature who wants to hide in a corner and prevent you from reaching your potential. When you view your inner critic as a ridiculous character, their words lose their power.
• Distract yourself. When your inner critic starts harrassing you, do something else. Anything else — as long as it’s something which requires enough concentration to stop your thoughts taking over. The best form of distraction is to do something which the inner critic is trying to dissuade you from doing, like learning a new skill or applying for jobs, but other activities are also effective. Try running, drawing, reading, singing along to your favourite music, baking, etc.
The inner critic can be tricky, but these techniques will chip away at its influence on your life. However, the inner critic can resurface in different forms — when you least expect it. It’s difficult to be prepared for these occasions, because they are outside of your usual thought pattern, but identifying the inner critic’s presence is the first step to subduing its new manifestation.
How can the inner critic disguise itself?
The inner critic is most destructive when you don’t recognise it, so it may disguise itself as a friend or someone else who has your best interests at heart. Its tone and vocabulary might change. Instead of telling you not to bother doing something because you will fail, it says “try X instead, X is your priority” and the X it suggests is usually busywork or trivial tasks which might fool you into thinking you’re making progress, but actually steal time and energy away from your goals.
I have been experiencing this a lot over the past few weeks. It took me a while to realise that the voice telling me to focus on the smallest tasks on my to-do list is my inner critic. I thought I was being sensible, tackling the smaller things first — until I realised that more of the same type of tasks replaced them on my to-do list, before I could get started on the bigger, more important tasks. My inner critic was distracting me. I thought I was accomplishing a lot because I was getting a lot of tasks done, but I was neglecting the tasks which mattered the most.
Whenever you find yourself getting in the way of your goals — especially through procrastination — try to identify the role your inner critic is playing. Is it convincing you to achieve small goals at the expense of what you really want to do? Is it persuading you that you need to relax, so you end up watching TV instead of working towards your goals? Is it telling you to follow small possibilities rather than seizing opportunities with more potential?
Imagine the voice as a person: if you saw this person interacting in the same way with your best friend, would you accept its behaviour and recommendations?
This is often the most effective way of identifying an inner critic in disguise. If someone was telling your best friend to apply for unsuitable jobs instead of working towards her ideal career, would you think they were supportive? If they advised your friend to watch a rerun of Friends rather than go for a run, would you say that was helping her to achieve her fitness goals? If they told your friend who wants to save money that he might as well buy a takeaway because he deserves a treat, would you think that was a good idea? Again, you may find it useful to write down the “advice” you are being given.
When you take yourself out of the equation, it’s easier to discover whether the strategies recommended by that voice in your head are genuinely supportive or just your inner critic in disguise. If it’s the latter, you know what to do — use the techniques above to push their voice into the background.