We have, on average, 50,000-60,000 thoughts per day. That’s enough to write a book every single day if you were to jot them all down – I mean it would be a pretty rubbish book, but still you get the gist. Each of these thoughts fall into three different categories: experiential thought (those focused on the task at hand), insightful thought (those used to problem solve, and incessant (the chatter, the inner dialogues we have with ourselves, the awkward silence filler if you like). All three of them have their uses, however one of them in particular has a tendency to spiral out of control at times, creating a kind of self sabotage super villain a.k.a the Inner Critic (cue evil laughter).
What Is An Inner Critic?
We speak to ourselves with two very distinct voices:
- One voice is very nurturing, complimentary, empowering and encouraging. It 100% believes in us. Our very own personal cheerleader.
- The other voice is the complete polar opposite. It belittles us, criticizes us, and tells us we are incapable. It bullies us, dragging us down into the negative depths, making us feel inferior. It discourages us from reaching our true potential, makes us question our worth and tells us we should give up because we are not good enough. This is our mind gremlin, our chimp, our mean girl. This is our inner critic.
Learning to muffle your inner critic isn’t always easy. It likes to pipe up at moments when we’re already feeling low and at our most vulnerable. You might have heard it taunting you sometimes after you’ve put the kids to bed and you’re going over the day’s events in your head – “you didn’t play with them today”, “you didn’t do enough home schooling with them”, “you gave them fishfingers for dinner again!”, “you’re a bad mum”. Or maybe before an important presentation at work – “you don’t know what you’re doing”, “everyone’s going to laugh at you”, “they could have done a much better job than you”. And don’t even get me started on how loud it gets when you’re feeling pre-menstrual – “you’re so fat, how can anybody love you looking like that”, “eurgh you disgust me, pinch an inch, more like grab the flab”, “you’re too old for that dress.” It is incessant and won’t give up until it has succeeded in making you feel like the biggest pile of poop on the planet.
Fortunately, there are things you can learn to help muffle and eventually silence your inner critic so that you can instead focus on the much nicer voice you’ve got in that head of yours and regain control of YOU!
1. Listen To Your Inner Critic
OK so I know this sounds counter intuitive after what I’ve just told you. But the thing is, I’m not entirely sure we can ever fully silence our inner critic, I mean have you ever tried to stop yourself from thinking something? It’s virtually impossible. What you can do however, is have a strong word with yourself and change your feelings and attitude towards it. And in order to be able to take control of this nasty niggling negative voice, you’re firstly going to have to listen to what it’s saying to you.
Next time you hear those negative thoughts creeping in, write them down. This will help you remember them, not so that you can berate yourself further, but so that you can learn the appropriate coping mechanisms to shoot them down in future. We all have our own insecurities and therefore the likelihood is your inner critic will have its own vocab and stock phrases. If you learn what these stock phrases are you can then recognise that it is your inner critic speaking and not you. And that is a HUGE step.
Meditation will help you tune into your thoughts and help to distinguish between your voice and that of your inner critic. I appreciate that meditation isn’t for everyone, I’ve tried it myself and struggle with it, so instead grab yourself 5 minutes of quiet time here and there throughout your day to process your thoughts. It could be first thing in the morning with a cuppa before anyone else is up, or in the shower even, anywhere or anywhen that allows you time with your own thoughts.
After not very long you will start to recognise that you as a human being are not your thoughts. You are an observer of your thoughts – a bit like someone looking in on a TV programme – and that gives you the power to change channel to a different programme if you so wish or even to turn off entirely if it’s really not your thing. Listening to your inner critic gives you the power to take control of the remote.
2. Show Yourself Some Compassion
Once you’ve distinguished the difference in voices it then becomes much easier to respond to them. Ask yourself this. Would you allow someone to talk to one of your friends in the same mean and hurtful way that your inner voice talks to you? You wouldn’t would you, you would stick up for them, defend them. Likewise would you ever talk to a friend in such a cruel and insulting manner? Of course you wouldn’t. So why then, do you allow it to happen to you? Why do you talk to yourself in that way?
The rule is this – if you wouldn’t say it to a friend then don’t say it to yourself. It is time to stick up for yourself and show yourself some compassion. Remember, perfection is an unachievable goal. Life is imperfect and so too are we. And we should celebrate that fact rather than letting it hold us back. The moment you accept this, then you can move on.
Taking the examples I gave above about the moments your inner critic may choose to pipe up, let’s put a positive spin on them instead:
- Yes your kids may have had a lot of fishfingers lately, but do you know what, that means you’re feeding them. You’re doing great.
- And sure so you might not have done as much homeschooling as you’d originally planned, but you’re doing your best. You are one person trying to juggle a million different balls, of course they’re going to fall every so often. You are doing your best and that is enough, cut yourself some slack and go hug them kids of yours.
- That work presentation? No one’s laughing at you. They’re sat their worrying about their own presentation, thinking about how good yours is and listening to their own inner critic telling them they won’t be as good as you.
As your mindset begins to become more positive, you can then move past self-judgement and brush it off. You can still hear it, but you no longer listen or pay attention to it.
3. Write Down Some Positives
One good way to put your inner critic back in it’s box is to focus on the positives instead of dwelling on the negatives. And the best way to do this is to write your accomplishments down and celebrate them. And I’m not talking huge, momentous achievements, I mean if you have them great, but even the little things count as wins.
Life is harder than usual at the moment and you may have days where it literally feels like you have achieved nothing. But I’ll bet if you really strip it back, there’ll be something you can jot down. Got dressed? Winning. Emptied the bins? Winning. Managed to drink a cup of tea without it going cold. Abso-blinkin-lutely WINNING! There are wins in every day, you’ve just got to know where to look for them.
When you start to notice and then to highlight your accomplishments, you are far less likely to look for failures. And as the negatives start switching over to the positives, your inner critic literally has nothing left to moan about, leaving it with no choice but to retreat back into its box and for you to ride high on your awesomeness.
Taming your inner critic is far from easy. Some days you’ll manage it, others you perhaps won’t. And boy is it clever, it knows exactly when to strike, when your guard is down and you are at your most vulnerable. Hopefully, however, by taking on these three pieces of advice you now feel better equipped to deal with it when it does next resurface.
Now, from one friend to another, repeat after me:
- I am doing my best.
- I am enough.
- I am worthy.
- I am Queen of the fucking world!
(I chucked that last one in for good measure – it doesn’t half feel good shouting that one out on particularly rough days, let me tell you!)
Becky Stafferton is a full time blogger over on her website The Art of Healthy Living, mum of 2 and certified Queen of the hashtags. She continually strives to promote a realistic, sustainable and positive image of how to lead a healthy life. When she’s not writing or reading her teenage diary she can be found swigging Prosecco from the bottle, running through muddy puddles, making lists of lists, having a good old moan, scoffing flapjacks and squatting like her life depends on it.