Of all the people with whom we communicate with each day, the one we speak to the most is ourselves. And all too often we are not kind. We say to ourselves things we would never say to anyone else. And we certainly wouldn’t be saying it so often. Yet, each day the barrage continues, and it takes a toll.
A result of this negative self-talk is a decrease in our ability to believe in ourselves. When something new comes up, we step back, sure if we take on this challenge, we will mess it up. Our inner critic blocks our path to leadership, adds to our stress, and it leads to feelings of overwhelm and burnout.
But how can we turn off, or at least turn down, the critic that lives inside us? It’s not as if we seek it out. It speaks up almost without us being aware of it. And there is the core of the answer. Being aware of your self-critic is the first step.
In a recent article on Edutopia, Kailyn Fullerton presents the following 7 Ways to Identify and Overcome Self-Criticism:
- Understand the negativity bias -Fullerton explains it’s natural. All animals are hard-wired to identify threats, humans included. Unfortunately, we do this even when the situation isn’t dire and as such, look for – and find – all the things going wrong at any given moment. By being aware of this bias, we can notice when it’s not serving us, when it’s not true, and even when others are doing it by having their focus solely on what they think is wrong.
- Monitor your inner voice –What are those negative phrases that play in a loop in your head? Fullerton says these self-critical statements often repeat themselves and suggests identifying your “top ten.” The “shoulda,” “coulda,” “woulda”s” are always up there, along with “I always,” and “I never.” Absolutes in a statement are usually a warning. Putting this negative self talk to a “truth test” will help remind you see where the critic is lying.
- Set realistic expectations – Having high expectations isn’t a problem as long as you accept the learning and growing process that goes with it. Otherwise, you give your inner critic a space for those negative phrases (back to Monitor Your Inner Voice). Remember, too, that depending on the importance of the task, excellent and “good enough” can be sufficient. Learning takes time, and you can’t rush it.
- Create realistic goals – Don’t set yourself up for failure. Is what you want to do likely to happen given all the interruptions you face or do you need more time? Don’t forget the “A” in a SMART goal. If it’s not reasonably achievable, don’t make it goal however much you want to get it. Find a way to break it into something smaller. You can also try the W-O-O-P (Wish-Outcome-Obstacles-Plan) method for creating goals recommended by Fullerton which allows you to acknowledge the things that will get in your way and how to manage them..
- Find the helpers – Who can you turn to? Rather than beating yourself up or venting too often and sounding negative, look for supporters. Let those you have a good relationship with knew you are trying to find a solution to some challenges. If you don’t have a mentor, look for one or turn to library-related social media. Someone has already experienced this and will be glad to offer advice and support.
- Give yourself a break – If you criticize yourself, you can also be kind. Create a practice of self-compassion. Tell yourself supportive things. My favorite reminder is, “I have done tough stuff before and faced difficult challenges, I will do so again”. The advice is old but true, “Speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone else.” Acknowledge how difficult something is, recognize that this is part of the process, part of being human, and then say something kind to yourself. “I am taking on a big goal. I knew this would be hard but worth it. I am learning and getting closer to my goal every day.” It’s a worthwhile shift and you’ll feel your emotions and energy lift.
- Look for the good – Mute that inner critic by loading up with self-congratulatory thoughts. This counteracts the negativity bias. Do it just for yourself. Make note of your successes. Savor compliments you get. Keep track of them. Create a Success Journal (this is the action that works for me). It’s so easy to overlook what went well. Moments of joy and positivity can make a difference.
Your inner critic is not going to become silent. Note that the title of the article was “Quiet Your Inner Critic” not eliminate it. As Fullerton says, your inner critic is natural and, sadly, well developed. Notice it, release it, find supportive truths, and be kind to yourself and others.