The other day a friend said to me, “How do I silence my inner critic? I know I’m the only one holding myself back.”
I talk a lot about getting in touch with your inner voice and listening to your intuition but what if all you hear is criticism?
Sometimes all we can think about is the mistakes we’ve made, how we’re not measuring up, and all the things on our to-do list that we haven’t started. This negative voice, our inner critic, leaves us feeling unworthy and sad. It saps our motivation and stops us before we start.
When we listen to our inner critic we limit our potential.
In today’s blog post I am going to walk you through a step-by-step process to help you develop a healthy relationship with your inner critic so that you can step out, speak up, and express yourself with confidence.
Learning how to silence your inner critic is an important part of developing self-trust. It allows us to step out of our comfort zone, care less about what others think, and reach more people with our message and our work.
Ultimately, this important inner work helps us to be of better service to the world.
Whether your goal is to be a community leader, be an agent of change in your workplace, start your own mission-focused business, or become a more effective activist, quieting your inner critic will allow you to become a more empowered version of yourself and multiply your impact!
So, how do we develop a healthy relationship with our inner critic?
Below is a powerful seven-step process to help you do just that.
Let’s get into it.
Step One: What you need to know about your inner critic
In order to know what needs to shift, we must first learn who we’re dealing with.
There are three important things you need to know about your inner critic.
- It’s not a villain.
- It’s not you.
- It’s a liar!
Let’s expand on those.
First, your inner critic is not a villain.
That “negative” voice inside your head has developed over the course of your lifetime in order to keep you safe and shelter you from pain. Its job is to protest anytime you think about stepping out of your comfort zone!
Your inner critic wants to stop you from speaking up for yourself in case others don’t agree. It wants to stop you from being a true expression of yourself in case those around you don’t accept the “real” you. It wants to stop you from speaking in front of an audience so that you don’t make a mistake and embarrass yourself.
Your inner critic wants to protect you, but sometimes its methods are outdated and incorrect.
From an evolutionary perspective, this role of protector is incredibly important.
Let’s take a quick trip back in time.
It’s the year 11,000 BC. Six-year-old Alexis (our super-great-great-grandmother) and her nomadic tribe have recently migrated to a new area in search of food. A couple of weeks ago she tried a tasty-looking fruit that she had never seen before. Alexis had diarrhea for weeks after, and the dehydration almost killed her. After much debate, her tribe decided to stop while she recovered, but some tribe members had wanted to carry on without her. The tribe is now weeks behind the animals they had been tracking and everyone is hungry.
A new thought has been programmed into Alexis’s mind, “It’s not safe to eat new things!”
Doing so may lead to her death, being abandoned by her tribe (also probably death), or the suffering of her entire community. This is a really useful lesson that she needs to remember.
In the same way, your inner critic does not want you to try new things or get out of your comfort zone! It wants you to belong. It wants you to survive.
But, unlike Alexis’s poison fruit, most of our modern challenges are not life or death.
Back in middle school one of my “friends” told my crush that I liked him. I literally thought my life was over and still remember it to this day!
Our inner critic likes to over exaggerate. As we’ll see in a moment, it’s a liar.
Second, your inner critic is not you.
As can be seen with Alexis in the example above, the dialogue of her inner critic is developed by external experiences. She was not born with the thought, “It’s not safe to eat new things.”
Alexis is a wounded child, and it may be helpful to think of your inner critic in the same way. It’s been burned before and it will do everything in its power to stop you from experiencing uncomfortable emotions in the future.
Think back to your past. What thoughts and beliefs have you been programmed to think based on your experiences?
I’ll give you some examples of this in the next step, but for now, it’s important to realize that the voice of your inner critic is not actually yours.
See this part of yourself for what it is – a misguided, wounded child whose beliefs are outdated and no longer serving you.
Third, your inner critic is a liar!
The moment I called your inner critic a liar it probably filled your mind with a million and one memories to justify that it is, in fact, correct.
“You absolutely should doubt yourself because remember what happened the last time you tried ___ (fill in the blank)? Remember when you failed? Remember when they rejected you?”
By digging up the past and worrying about the future your inner critic never lives in the present moment. Therefore, its thoughts and beliefs are never a reflection of your current reality. It doesn’t know the truth.
You are a different person than who you were when your inner critic’s belief system was programmed. In fact, there is a large body of research showing that most of our internal programming (aka neural pathways) is established during our childhood.
Our brain is evolutionarily programmed to focus on the negative.
In order to help her survive Alexis, our hunter-gatherer, super-great-great-grandmother must remember the foods that made her sick. This is much more important than remembering all the other foods that she has eaten without a problem.
One of my favorite podcast hosts and author, Pete Holmes, puts it this way: “Negative comments are like velcro, and positive comments are like Teflon.”
The dialogue of your inner critic, like velcro, is keeping you stuck. It holds on to the thoughts and beliefs that undesirable past experiences have stirred in you and replays these thoughts any time a similar situation pops up. In this way, it stunts your growth.
Next, let’s talk about how to get unstuck. It’s time to free yourself from the velcro!
Step Two: Get to know your unique inner critic
Understanding why the voice of doubt exists and accepting it is a huge first step, but in order to silence your inner critic, you must be acutely aware of the lies it’s telling you.
What does your negative talk sound like? Here are some common examples:
- I’m not good enough.
- I’ll probably fail.
- I shouldn’t have to try so hard.
- It’s not my fault.
- I shouldn’t risk it.
- Even if I try it won’t change anything.
- This is too uncomfortable. I should probably quit.
- This doesn’t come naturally to me so I’ll probably never be good at it.
What negative thoughts or beliefs are on repeat in your head?
When was the first time you remember thinking this thought? Think back to your childhood. Where did it come from?
If you want to dig deeper and get to the root of your inner critic’s dialog I suggest that you seek the support of a therapist or qualified life coach. I do this important inner work with each of my clients at the beginning of our life coaching program so that they are free to move forward with their lives.
Step Three: Give the voice a name
The inner critic goes by many names: self-doubt, negative self-talk, inner hater, the ego.
I want to invite you to intentionally name this part of your mind.
Giving your inner critic a name reminds you that it’s not actually you.
In their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski refer to their inner critic as, “the crazy woman in the attic.” That makes me chuckle every time!
I call mine Tammy (long story).
What will you call your inner critic?
Step Four: Identity what sparks your inner critic
What situations get your inner critic talking? What does it tell you in each situation?
Sparks may include something that a friend or family member says, certain tasks that you find difficult, social media comments, or a particular physical environment.
One of my clients noticed that her negative self-talk was sparked each time she was asked to take charge of a project at work. Her inner critic told her that she didn’t know enough to lead a project, that she was too young, and that she’d make a mistake and be embarrassed. She felt paralyzed by these thoughts and felt that her professional growth had been stunted.
Another client realized that her inner critic was sparked every time she had a conversation with her brother. His words and her inner dialog made her feel small and stupid. She would question herself. Her self-trust and her ability to make decisions for her family eroded with every phone call.
Each time I sit down to write a newsletter or blog post Tammy perks up. In the past, she has said things like: “Who do you think you are to teach others? Don’t be arrogant. You still have so much to learn. Your spelling sucks. People are going to think you’re stupid.”
These days, Tammy’s voice is quieter, but she’s still in the background and she’s gotten much more sneaky. “Is anyone even going to read this? This is a waste of time. What if you accidentally say something hurtful or offensive and get canceled? What if people misunderstand you?”
Tammy’s still here and yet I am publishing this incredibly valuable blog post anyway.
As I continue to do the work of healing my relationship with my inner critic its voice gets softer and softer. I am able to discern between Tammy’s voice and the voice of my intuition.
Most importantly, I am able to show up, publish my work, and step out of my comfort zone anyway!
Now it’s your turn. In order to silence your inner critic, you must first identify what situations tend to get it talking. What does it tell you in each situation?
Step Five: The effect of your inner critic
- How am I beating myself up? In what ways am I blaming others?
- How do these thoughts make me feel? What happens physically in my body when I think them?
- What actions do I take or not take because of my inner voice?
Write down your responses to these questions and then read back through them. It’s time to make a decision. Do you want to continue listening to the same old programming being broadcast by your inner critic, or are you ready to change the channel?
Step Six: Turn it around
We don’t always have control over what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we respond. Even more importantly, we get to choose how we view the situation.
Earlier we discussed how your inner critic is a liar. So, let’s flip those lies on their head.
The next time you catch your inner critic running its mouth, ask yourself:
- Is this thought true? Can I be absolutely sure that it’s true?
- What’s a more realistic and optimistic way of looking at this situation?
- How can I look at this differently?
- What good aspects of this situation can I identify?
Earlier I mentioned my insecurities around writing. I can easily list past experiences that back up my inner critic’s claim, “I’m not a good writer.” But, if I allow myself to sit with the opposite thought, “I am a good writer,” I can also come up with a mountain of evidence to support that statement.
Last week I sent my monthly newsletter to our community of eco + socially conscious souls. Within 24 hours of pressing send, I had received six replies. These readers told me how much they resonated with what I’d written and how helpful the newsletter was for them. One email was so touching that it brought me to tears.
This is why our inner work is so incredibly important. We do it so that we can get to know our true selves, express our unique voice, and be of service to others.
Step Seven: Practice, practice, practice
Remember, you’ve been listening to the voice of your inner critic on repeat for your entire life.
The process of developing a healthier relationship with your inner voice will revolutionize your life and free you to grow to new heights. You will be able to stand up for what you believe in with more confidence, express yourself more effectively, and become more visible.
But, the healing required to silence your inner critic takes time and patience.
Imagine you’ve been lifting weights with your left arm for 30 years. That left arm is jacked! When you try to do a bicep curl with your right arm using the same amount of weight it feels impossible. But if you stop lifting so much weight with your strong arm, start lifting a small amount of weight with your weak arm, and practice regularly your strength will even out.
In the same way, reprogramming your thoughts and beliefs so that you no longer believe the voice of your inner critic is a muscle that you must work out.
It takes regular practice. And it’s worth it. The world needs your voice.