Do you have an inner critic? A voice in your mind that points out your flaws, or belittles your goals?
In my experience in working with top performers of all stripes, it’s all too common. In fact, it can be especially common among talented, and driven people.
Being aware of your imperfections and constantly aiming to do better can be a good thing, but when this scale tips toward constant criticism, that’s when healthy self-reflection becomes paralyzing, toxic self-criticism.
But before you start criticizing your own inner critic, let’s look at why self-criticism is so common, and where it comes from.
Where self criticism comes from
In early hunter-gatherer times, being a pessimist or under-estimating your abilities wasn’t a bad thing. It was necessary for survival. Our ancestors who fearlessly explored foreign territory, or picked fights with sabertooth tigers likely didn’t last long.
For early humans living in a dangerous world, overconfidence was a liability, and doubt was a survival mechanism. In other words, we’re descended from humans who had doubts, anxieties, or a more negative cast of mind. But while this trait has served humanity in times where having natural self-confidence could be a death sentence, we’re now living in drastically safer times.
But yet, our bias toward negativity and self-doubt remains. The good news is that we can update our evolutionary programming. With the right techniques and awareness, we can learn to develop a healthier inner dialogue, and silence our inner critic when it oversteps our boundaries.
Here are 4 tips for taming your inner critic and developing a healthier relationship with your thoughts.
1. Recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy criticism
“If your mind is speaking out of turn, it’s lying”
– Naval Ravikant
If the critical chatter in your head happens automatically, and without your permission, it can be safely ignored. Every time.
If you want to engage in healthier forms of self-reflection, instead try asking yourself what you need to work on, or how you can do things better. This way you’ll get much more honest, accurate answers that will steer you in the right direction.
2. Thank your inner critic, and move on
Remember that your inner critic is a product of our evolutionary history. It’s a safety mechanism that’s in place for your survival. It may not seem like it, but in a sense, it means well! Getting angry at our inner critic and picking a fight with it can often just make things worse. It will fight back, and it will fight dirty. Instead, remember the role it played in our evolutionary history, thank your critic for its service, and go about your business- regardless of what it has to say.
3. Ask yourself these questions
Author and speaker Byron Katie created a framework for self-inquiry known as The Work. A key component of this process is a series of questions designed to create distance from negative thoughts, they are:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
These questions are designed to be contemplated in a time of quiet reflection, and to be asked about one specific thought at a time.
When we examine our thoughts in a state of reflection, we’ll find that the answers that come are very different from what our inner critic has to say, and we are better able to put the thoughts to rest.
4. Practice mindfulness
There’s a difference between knowing your inner critic’s tricks and being able to catch it, in the moment. If we’re gripped by what our inner critic is telling us, it’s easy to get sucked back in again.
This is where mindfulness comes in.
Learning to be present, and aware of our inner dialogue can help us spot the negative thought patterns and let them go before they grip us.
We can see negative thoughts for what they are, remember that they don’t control us, and continue to work towards our goals.