TAME YOUR INNER CRITIC IN EIGHT STEPS
If your negative self-talk is literally doing your head in, here’s how to silence it.
One of the reasons I help people learn to tame their Inner Critic is because I know how much damage it can do. If only we knew about this from a younger age; we could have breezed through our teens and twenties feeling so much better about ourselves. But most of us, regardless of our socio-economic status, frequently tell ourselves that we are somehow not enough and this can seriously hold us back. Here’s how to nip this in the bud.
Step 1 Share the thoughts to reduce the shame
The one thing that maintains and supports your Inner Critic is that you never tell anyone about it. You never voice your self-critical thoughts. And why would you? You don’t need other people to jump in and start judging you and criticising the way you look, your parenting skills, the way you do your job etc. But EVERYONE has self-critical thoughts. It’s true. Regardless of where we live in the world or how much we earn, we all have the same rubbish going round and round our heads.
When we have these thoughts the one thing we do have in common is that we trying to step outside of our comfort zone. We are striving to improve ourselves or our life in some way. Examples include applying for a new job, starting a new business, or being a busy mum balancing lots of responsibilities. By sharing your Inner Critical thoughts, you are getting those insidious beliefs out of your head, realising that you are not alone, and releasing the shame that has made you feel worse about yourself for years, totally unnecessarily.
Step 2 Interrupt your Inner Critic
Learning to interrupt your IC is essential – it is the only way you are going to be able to regain any control over it and reclaim your headspace. Our brain goes through an automatic process: thoughts that affect your emotions which affect your behaviour. Often our Inner Critic is unconscious, so we have to become consciously aware of it.
You have to first begin to tune into your Inner Critic: listen to what it is saying and write it down. Getting those thoughts out of your head and onto paper is useful because it helps you to see it for what it really is – irrational, cruel nonsense. Once you become excellent at consciously observing your thoughts it becomes easier to ‘find the gap’ and choose how you react to them.
Step 3 Be your own parent
I had a very critical mother. She never asked me how I was or what I needed. I had to do things for her to prove my love for her, and in the hope of winning her approval. At the deepest level she taught me that I didn’t deserve to be loved for just who I was, I had to be useful.
It won’t surprise you that I grew up desperately trying to win other people’s approval by doing things for them, and putting their needs before my own. Many of us do this to some degree. Now I recognise that I was parenting myself in the way that I had been parented. How do you parent yourself at the moment? How could you be a better parent to yourself? More nurturing, forgiving, accepting and loving of yourself?
Step 4 Build your self-worth
We need to stop relying on other people’s opinion about us to form our own. Research shows that when we compare ourselves with others, we do so unfavourably. So, instead of looking around the room and thinking how successful everyone else seems and that you should be more like them, take a moment to build your self-worth. Remind yourself how brilliant and capable you are. Yes! You! Try re-writing your CV (you have so much experience that you take for granted, or discount). You could write a letter as if it’s from one woman to another, raving about you and your work: “I must introduce you to my friend [insert your name], she’s an incredible woman who is… who has done…”. This is a really uplifting exercise.
Step 5 Self-compassion
Choose to increase your level of self-acceptance and be kinder to yourself. You are a phenomenal human being yet you continue to be bitchy and cutting about yourself… well instead, why not try being as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend? Soothing, caring, loving and nurturing yourself. Life’s really tough, so take the pressure off and give yourself a break. Instead of trying to change to fit the mould, why not acknowledge and embrace all your quirks and foibles and celebrate them as part of your unique authentic personality?
Step 6 Expect to fail sometimes
You’re only human. You have a natural desire to change and improve things, but not everything you do will work out. Your rational brain knows this. But your emotional brain feels the fear and tries to prevent you from making mistakes (it doesn’t want you to humiliate yourself when you fail). Failing to achieve one task, or even failing at running a business, does not mean that you are a failure. People who forgive themselves for making mistakes are more likely to be successful, because they will try and try and try again. Whereas people who are afraid of making mistakes will never try. So ask yourself, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
Step 7 Choose the language you use
Because our thoughts determine how we feel, which in turn impact how we behave, it’s easy to get caught up in our limiting self-beliefs. So, to turn your Inner Critic on its head, try changing the negative words into self-confident affirmations: Turn ‘I don’t feel successful’ to ‘I deserve to feel successful’ or even ‘I am successful’. It might feel icky to say this at first, but try it anyway. Get used to saying it out loud, or in front of the mirror. If you don’t feel it yet, try acting it out as if you’re auditioning for a play. There’s magic (and science) in hearing yourself say positive feedback out loud in this way. As the brain begins to believe it, you will begin to feel it.
Step 8 Redefine your Ideal Self
The further away you believe you are from your ideal self, the more dissatisfied you will feel with how you are, in this moment. While it’s great to have big goals and delicious dreams to pursue, if these scare you or if you feel overwhelmed with worry, then you are not likely to make them happen. Being a little more realistic with what you can achieve will help you remain focused and motivated enough to continue to act in your own best interests. What small steps can you take right now, today, that will help you move towards your goals?
By Jess Baker, business psychologist and women’s leadership coach, jessbaker.co.uk.
Jess’s next Tame Your Inner Critic free Five Day Challenge starts on 21 Sept.