There is a popular quote by John Maxwell that states "Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." People who are engaged in building greater well-being know that personal growth and development are integral parts of that process. But even if they value that growth, it isn't always easy!
Many of the people that I work with confront similar barriers as they develop self-care mastery. As they grow towards their best version of themselves, they must confront limiting beliefs that keep undesirable habits in place. This phenomenon is so common, that coaches give it a name — the inner critic.
To put it simply, the inner critic is that familiar internal chatter which tells us we are not enough. Although it is a mindset that is based in fear, it can serve a useful purpose. Like an overanxious parent, it is designed to protect us and urges us to limit our risks. As we all know, however, growth is inherently risky. So, even if this inner voice is well-intentioned, it hinders us by discouraging us from playing big and becoming our best selves.
As people become increasingly aware of their inner critic, they often react to it in anger. They resist it and want to get rid of it. I've never met anyone, however, who has successfully evicted their inner critic. Fear is a part of being human. Instead of using their creative energy to resist the influence of the inner critic, I encourage people to learn to manage it. Here are seven strategies for effectively dealing with your inner critic:
1. Name it. By naming your inner critic, you acknowledge that it is only one possible perspective to consider. Consider that there may be many voices that make up your internal dialogue and the inner critic doesn't have all the facts. I recommend that you name your critic something slightly silly, so that the name can remind you that your inner critic does not represent the voice of your wisest self. You could also find or draw a picture that represents your inner critic. This can help you visualize this internal persona as you consider his or her voice.
2. Listen to it. Rather than resisting the voice of your inner critic, engage your curiosity. Make a list of all the familiar things that your critic says to you. Notice the voice of your critic with compassion. Is it angry? Critical? Anxious? Patronizing? Often our critics speak to us in ways that we would never speak to others (or allow others to speak to us.)
3. Question it. Remember that you don't have to believe everything you think! If your critic pipes up with a familiar "not enough" story (e.g. "Not good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, etc.") look for evidence to the contrary. Consider that your inner critic may be seriously misinformed.
4. Separate it. As you notice the stories of your inner critic, acknowledge that these stories are just thoughts and they may also be associated with feelings. They come and go like the weather and are not "you". Learning to distinguish our thoughts and feelings from our essential selves gives us greater power in choosing where to focus our attention.
5. Distract it. Some people find it helpful to interact with their inner critic in their imagination, and identify strategies that minimize it's impact. Brainstorm a list of options for your inner critic when its voice gets too loud. For example, you could send it on an imaginary trip to Hawaii, put it in time-out, or invite it to join you for a cup of tea. There is no wrong strategy so use your creativity!
6. Challenge it. As you learn to distinguish the voice of your inner critic, cultivate other possible perspectives that empower you. Ask yourself what your best friend or wisest self would say. Then share that perspective with your inner critic.
7. Enlighten it. Sometimes the voice of our inner critic can seem circular and confusing. If you feel trapped in a negative internal conversation, it's time to get out of your head. Having a conversation with someone you trust or writing your thoughts down in a journal can bring clarity and a shift in perspective.
Managing your inner critic can be a real challenge, but it is also a tremendous opportunity to deepen your awareness and grow towards your best self.
What about you? What strategies have you used to manage your inner critic? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!