Let me introduce you to someone who’s been pretty central in my life: my inner critic.
My critic’s been with me for about as long as I can remember, following me around with a lot of Very Important Things to inform me about: its opinion about what I’m doing, what I should be doing, and what I’m not doing.
It comments on things such as: what my hair looks like today, whether I’ve exercised enough, whether the work I’m doing is good or not.
Actually, often it’s not just one critic with a specific opinion – sometimes it’s practically a whole family reunion of critics! At times, it can get pretty loud up there in my head.
But in my work with coaching clients, and in my own life, I’ve discovered a couple of sneaky ways of working with the inner critic that, while perhaps not eliminating it entirely, certainly turn down the volume.
How To Work With Your Inner Critic
Since you’re a human being, you probably have a critic (or two) as well. (Be careful to not get an inner critic about having an inner critic!)
Here’s the thing about the inner critic: just because you have one doesn’t mean that you have to believe what it has to say.
Here are two strategies to work with your critic when it shows up in your head:
While our critics try to keep us on the straight and narrow path, and mostly really want the best for us, sometimes they can speak to us in an especially harsh tone, such as: “Who do you think you are?” “Are you kidding me?” “You are a joke/fake/fraud.”
Just as you wouldn’t put up with a horribly mean and demeaning person in your life, there are also some critics who should not be granted any type of audience with you. They aren’t invited to this party, and they need to get the boot: set a boundary, and don’t take their calls or texts.
While some of our critics are are shaming and debilitating, others are like nudges, unskillful flag carriers for things that are actually important to us. These critics say things such as: “You can do better.” “That wasn’t your best effort.”
Think about it this way: these types of inner critics are a bit like an elderly aunt who criticizes your every move and can’t give you a compliment to save her life. For example, instead of telling you she’s concerned about your health, she makes a comment on your pants size. She loves you, but isn’t very skillful in how she expresses that love. That’s your critic, too: it loves you, but doesn’t say it very skillfully.
Instead of trying to get rid of these types of critics (internal or external), you’re better off to acknowledge them, give them a small amount of attention by finding the critical nugget of information they want to share, but not take in all of what they’re saying to you.
With your elderly aunt, you might be able to say to yourself, “Well, that’s just Aunt Mabel; but yeah, I probably should back away from the dessert table.”
Similarly, with your inner critic, listen for the nugget of information, or the personal value that’s underneath.
For example, if you have a critic that’s particularly concerned about your being perfect, never making a mistake, you probably hold a value about being of service, quality, or excellence.
When we can find the nugget that’s useful for us hiding underneath the criticism, we can see that what we really want isn’t perfection. Instead we can ask ourselves, “How can I be of more service, quality, or excellence?”
Your critic is like a favorite song of yours that’s gotten the volume turned up too high, and is no longer pleasant to listen to. Turn down the volume on the critic’s criticism, and see what deep desire of yours is hidden underneath.
Why It Matters To Manage Your Inner Critic
Ironically, when we are wrapped up in the story of our critic, we are less able to do exactly what the critic is wanting us to do or be: be excellent, be successful, get things done. That’s why getting detangled from it is so important.
If we can have some compassion for the less skillful parts of ourselves and not believe everything those parts say, the critic’s voice will diminish.
The critic may never go away entirely – which is perhaps just as well, as our critic is usually part of our conscience – but if we find and honor the nugget – the important piece, the personal value – that’s underneath the critic’s crummy delivery of its message, its vice grip on us lessens.
And then you can get back to the job of being awesome.