Podcast 030 - Inner Critic 2
Today I want to share more ideas on how you can quiet your inner critic because this is an ongoing and challenging task, so most of us benefit by having lots of different tools to use.
Quieting this voice – or at least changing what she is saying – is really important to helping a person move out of their shadow and into their power, so if you want to be a vibrant, powerful person, you'll need to have this under control. Another reason this is a good thing to do, is your inner critic was formed when you were young. It came about as a result of things people said to you, how they treated you and the overall sense of self-worth you developed as a result. This means if you are a parent, teacher, coach, grandparent, etc, what you are saying to the young people in your life right now can be helping them form their self-talk for later! Depending on how strong your influence is in their life, you are affecting how critical they will be of themselves AND even how much they nag others!
Yikes! Tough to accept I know, but definitely worth being aware of and giving some thought to how you will let this information guide you… If you are critical a lot, this has a good chance of sticking with them and perhaps it even being your voice they hear when they later put themselves down. How would you like to be remembered?
So, while this voice will always be with you – I truly believe it is impossible to tune her out completely – you can set limits and provide guidance around what is okay to say.
Who is she?
In case you are totally new to the idea of an inner critic or if you just need a refresher about it, your inner critic is the voice inside of your head which reminds you of any past failings (real or imagined) in life and suggests you are crazy to take risks or try new things. Your inner critic is tightly tied to your ego and as a result often comes from a place of fear – fear of rejection, of getting hurt, of embarrassment, of losing, etc. In other words, she thinks she is protecting you!
Your inner critic is not speaking the truth, but spouting a story with just enough memory connection to make you believe her. Most of us are aware that when it comes to sharing data, it is very easy for a person to manipulate the facts to fit what they want to say. This is basically what the inner critic is a pro at….what she is saying might sound like the truth because of the memories it is linking to, but there is definitely some embellishment and massaging of facts going on there.
This critic loves to jump in when self-doubt, uncertainty, worry, guilt or fear are around as well as when you are feeling embarrassed, disappointed, hurt or angry. It is like a ring leader to those feelings working to rile them up, making it even harder for you to come through that moment in life in a healthy way.
If this isn't bad enough, it can also pipe up when you are feeling good (i.e. happy, proud, purposeful, in the zone). In this case it might pull up memories tied to a similar time where things didn't work out, or it might make it up totally from scratch.
For example, let's say you curl competitively. A few years ago your team was in the finals to win your provincial title. You were up by 5 coming home – the game was virtually in the bag, when everything just sort of fell apart. Your second missed an easy take-out, allowing the other team a chance to put another rock in play. Your 3rd's weight was off and fell short of the house and one of your rocks was burned (touched by your player and taken off without allowing it to hit any other rocks. To make a long, sad, story short the other team ended up scoring 6 and beating you.
Now, years later with way more experience under your belt you're back in the finals. Although you are much more self-assured at this point in your life, you can hear that nagging little voice piping up in your head, "Hope this doesn't end like the last one…you better play it super safe…you can't do a take-out what if she misses? How embarrassing it would be to lose again…"
Instead of feeling confident and ready to finish the game like the pro that you are, you feel shaky and filled with doubt.
Even if it doesn't have a past failure to pull up, it can still create insecurities by attaching to other situations in life. For example, it might start with a simple cliché such as; "Careful not to count your chickens before they hatch. It all comes down to your shot…What if you miss the broom completely? Look at all those people watching, did you see what happened to [insert another curling champs name here]. I sure wish you'd had a better night's sleep last night…being up all night with the baby isn't going to help your game…"
You get the picture… the inner critic can be quite relentless in taking you down a notch if you allow her to speak freely.
Sometimes this voice will sound like someone you know (a parent, a teacher, yourself…) and other times it’s just a voice. Becoming aware of your Inner Critic is the first step to taking back your power from this invisible force.
Putting the critic in her place…
1) Name it: Once you recognize that this voice is there and not helping you, your next step is to figure out ways to quiet it down. I like to call mine by name. Not a real name of someone I know – even though their voice might sound awfully familiar – because that gives that person undue power even when they are not around. It can also cause unnecessary damage to the relationship – even though you might feel like the damage has been done. To show you what I mean, let's imagine that you think of your inner critic as your mother…maybe you even call her that. Using the curling example above, what if you end up losing as a result of that pesky critic. Where do you think you might focus your anger? I'm guessing at good old mom – who, while she might be in the stands – didn't actually have anything to do with that moment.
Your critic is not your mother, but a voice that you feed and control!
So, if you decide you like the idea of choosing a name, try to make it something that is fitting, but not connected to someone you know in real life. I call mine Naggy, which is also what I used to call my GPS in my car. The character in my Standing in Your Power book, Jane, calls her critic Snarky, and I've had other client's use names like Minion, Lucy (short for Lucifer!), Parrot, and so on. To make our conversation easier I'm going to use the nickname Wannabe for the inner critic examples in this podcast.
2) Set Boundaries: Once you've got your inner critic pegged – i.e. you are aware of her and perhaps given her a name – it's time to set boundaries. Basically this is exactly like it is with kids, except I'm going to give you fun ways to respond if she doesn't listen, which are definitely not meant for you to use on your kids.
We set boundaries by having clear expectations and communicating those thoughts to others. In this case, you are setting this up with your inner critic – the voice in your head. You do not have to share these expectations with anyone else, although you might do so should a teachable moment arise that it would be perfect for.
3) Enforce Boundaries: The actual details of this are up to you, but basically this means you are going to correct Wannabe when she speaks harshly, puts you down, or tries to make you doubt yourself. The conversation can happen in your head (you could wind up with a diagnosis if you have this conversation aloud) and can be anything from an explanation to a command to stop.
"Wannabe, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all." "Enough," "Stop," "Quiet."
You're going to want to practice this in your regular, everyday life, so that when you're in a high stress situation, it's familiar and Wannabe already knows the rules. If you try to introduce this only in those intense moments, Wannabe won't listen and even if you got her to quiet down, you're still distracted and in danger of bringing down your performance as a result.
4) Get Creative: If that feels too difficult (typically because she isn't listening) and your imagination is strong, then you might want to put your creativity to work in order to bring her under control. For example, you could draw a picture of her (in your mind or on paper) and add a clown nose or Dumbo ears that she has to wear when she's misbehaving.
You might also create a pretend volume button and turn it way down or even mute it when needed. You could give her a Goofy or Mickey Mouse voice or even (in extreme circumstances) see her sitting on your shoulder and flick her off when she won't be quiet.
This exercise is actually about taking back your power and is similar to a tool I would use with kids who are being teased, name-called, etc and are making it worse by reacting. It's not about creating a battle with Wannabe – that tends to escalate things in a bad way – but about taking back some of your power.
5) Release it: Another great tool to have is one you can use when Wannabe is bringing up strong feelings that are tied to an actual memory. Rather than try to ignore them, or stuff them away, you can use this information to let you know this memory is carrying an emotional charge. If that's the case, you might want to use some of the tools you've already learned in these podcasts to release the hold this memory has on you.
One way you can do this is to close your eyes and notice where those feelings are sitting in your body. Go there (i.e. if you feel embarrassment deep in your belly, send your awareness deep into your belly or simply set your hand there to help the process). Notice any thoughts, memories, pictures or anything else that comes up - acknowledge them - and let them go.
You might do this by visualizing a cord (or several) attached to it and cut them. You can watch them drift off like a balloon, disintegrate into nothing or burn up in a fire. You might see yourself at that younger age and visualize pulling her onto your knee, soothing her and letting her know she is safe and it is over. The bigger, stronger and fully capable you will handle it from here.
If a different person appears from that memory, you can ask them if there is anything else they want to share with you (or anything they want to give you), then thank them and watch them disappear.
In every case you'll want to fill the area that memory used to fill with light, love, or compassion... whatever feels right to you.
If you feel like a piece of you has been stuck in this memory, it might take a bit of time and lots of loving energy, but keep at it until the memory loses its power and you feel "whole" once again.
6) Debate it: When there is no memory or maybe you hate visualizing, another option is to go into debate mode. Stand your ground and point out every single thing you can think of that pokes holes in the story Wannabe is trying so hard to sell. In debate mode you don't take things personally (or attack the other) and even if you have a nagging feeling your opponent may be right, you don't give in. Once reasonable doubt has been created the inner critic will naturally quiet down. Win that debate - it can literally change your life!
7) Assign a Task: Finally, your inner critic is a part of your team. She's there and will be at her best when her boundaries are clearly outlined and enforced. Now I don’t know about you, because I've never been in anyone else's head, but I know that Naggy gets bored if she doesn't have anything to do and a bored inner critic is a nuisance. So I give her a task.
Her job is to be my number one cheerleader and coach. She's allowed to encourage, pat me on the back, remind me to stay objective, point out when I'm escalating, etc. It took me a while to train her in this, but after a few months of practice, she really embraced it. Of course, I had to help her learn to let go of anything and everything critical (not an easy task for either of us) and teach her some ways to build me up.
She's not perfect and neither am I, but for the most part, I know she's on my team and when she has a bad day, I'm reminded that it's me who needs to slow down, be compassionate and investigate rather than just blunder on through leaving damaged relationships in my wake.
In conclusion…believe in yourself! Know that you are perfect at being you and that you are on a unique and special journey. Nobody else will ever be able to walk a mile in your exact shoes and nobody else will ever fully understand what you must do to reach your full potential… except maybe Wannabe, who has a front row seat to who you are becoming and a natural ability to help you get there.
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