All of us have a self-sabotaging inner critic that holds us back. The inner critic is that chattering voice of fear, worry and self-critique in your head. It’s the voice worried about what other people are thinking, that argues you are likely to embarrass yourself or make a big mistake. It’s the voice that proclaims you aren’t qualified to pursue your big dreams.
We can’t ever get rid of the inner critic, but we can get smart about recognizing and managing it. If you do this, you don’t have to walk through life believing what it says and leading your life according to its stories.
The Good News About the Inner Critic
Think of your inner critic as a guard or gatekeeper, attempting to keep you inside the small zone of the status quo. As long as you don’t try to venture out of that zone, the inner critic can leave you alone. But when you approach the gate, when you begin to leave the status quo, you wake the sleeping guard.
In one sense, then, there is always good news when the inner critic shows up: you are approaching real change and movement! The louder and meaner and more hysterical its voice, the closer you are to a breakthrough or important step in your life.
Recognizing the Inner Critic
Here is good news story number two: You don’t have to do all that much with your inner critic. Just recognizing the inner critic goes a long way to reducing its impact.
Why? Liberating yourself from the traps of the inner critic occurs with the recognition of a very simple insight. “You” are not this critical voice. You are the person aware of the critical voice. You are the person feeling perplexed by it or bummed out by it or believing it or otherwise feeling its effects. You are not the voice itself.
How to Listen for Your Inner Critic
Here are seven qualities of the Inner Critic voice. Listen for these:
1. It critiques you harshly and says things that you would never say to another person.
2. It is repetitive, attacking you with the same thoughts over and over.
3. It says things you know are untrue, yet those thoughts often stick with you.
4. It usually argues that it’s just trying to remind you of what’s realistic and what will protect you from harm.
5. After it criticizes you, it then attacks you for thinking the critical thought! It might say “Get a grip, get some perspective.” or “Don’t be so insecure, other people are confident and relaxed …”
6. The inner critic takes inspiration from other people in your life. Listen for echoes of a family member, or other influential person in your life. You might here the or the voice of institutions or cultural forces such as your religion or country.
7. The inner critic is not interested in solving problems or overcoming obstacles –just in pointing them out. Real thinking creates forward movement and action. Inner critic thinking does not.
3 Steps for Lessening the Power of Your Inner Critic
Here are three simple steps for recognizing your inner critic. If you use these steps, you’ll begin to separate your authentic voice from its voice. From there, you can question — or dismiss — what it is says.
1. Get to know your inner critic:
Journal or reflect on these questions
- What does your inner critic say? What are its most frequently voiced beliefs?
- Who in your life does the inner critic echo when it speaks?
- How would you describe your inner critic?
2. Name your critics:
Name your inner critic. You may find you have multiple inner critic personalities operating in your head, and you can name each one.
My inner critic has four major characters who I have named, “Perfectionista” (the voice of perfectionism), “Disastra” (the worst case scenario obsessive), “Preparissa” (the anxious over-preparer), and “People Pleaser.”
You can give your inner critic fictional names, take characters from a book, film, or from your own life experience. You can use animals, mythical figures, or celebrities for inspiration — Miss Manners, The Grinch, the Wicked Witch — you get the idea. This may sound a little silly, but trust me, its very powerful. As you do this, you are separating your authentic voice from your inner critic.
3. Recognize Your Critic When It Shows Up
- Now that you know what the inner critic is, and what it sounds like, you can identify it when you hear it. This is the next important step and it simply means saying, “Disastra has showed up” or “I’m hearing the voice of Perfectionista. Hello perfectionista!.”
- Consciously separate yourself from what it is saying. Instead of saying, “I get insecure” be more precise: “I hear The Grinch in my head telling me I can’t do x, I’m different, flawed, etc.”
- Tell a partner or supportive friend about your inner critic and its common refrains, so that they, too, can call it out when he or she shows up.
Have fun with this. See what’s absurd and hilarious about the repetitive, irrational lines your inner critic feeds you. Play around with how many times you can notice it in an hour or during a day.
Witness the power of calling out the inner critic for what it is, and return you focus to the real business of your life — your goals, your cherished relationships, your contribution to the world and to your dreams.
Tara Sophia Mohr is a writer and coach who works with women to help them live more fulfilling, authentic, on-purpose lives. She received her MBA from Stanford University, where her studies focused on leadership and entrepreneurship. Visit Tara’s site at www.sophiashouse.wordpress.com. Or click here to get Tara’s free guide to setting and achieving your most important goals.