One Trick to Tame your Inner Critic

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All this month, I’ve been writing about goal-setting, focus, and creativity. When we set out into new territory in a bold way, however, there’s often some resistance in our system that slows us down, so I wanted to address that phenomenon as a kind of complement to this series of posts. There are many types of resistance, but in this article I’d like to focus on one very typical one: the inner critic.

Many of us have an inner critic, that voice of doubt, judgement, or skepticism that appears when we speak or act out of our comfort zone, or even within our comfort zone. Sometimes new situations or people trigger the inner critic to pipe up and remind us that we’re not clever enough, not prepared enough, will surely fail, or maybe don’t deserve an opportunity we’ve been given. 

I struggled for many years as my inner critic argued convincingly that I wasn’t a real artist and didn’t have enough training or ability or social skills for this or that project I felt inspired to take on. I tried many, many strategies to escape this ingrained pattern, and ultimately the key was, ironically, to stop trying to escape.

The tactic I’m suggesting to you in this blog post will not completely shift a negative thought pattern, but I do believe it is an indispensable and foundational step to begin a process of doing exactly that. Together with other techniques, the simple and regular act of WITNESSING the critic begins the process of its release. WITNESSING is a kind of calm, non-judgmental observing, as though from the back row of the theater of your mind. Many “mindfulness” practices are very similar.

Consider this brief internal sequence:

1. Mentally step back and observe the critic. Give it your full attention.

2. Ask yourself, what is the critic really saying? Or what would it say, if it could speak?

3. Ask yourself, what physical sensations are present in my body when I hear that message?

4. If sensations are present, gently suggest to the body to let them go with a few long exhales.

Again, this kind of awareness-building will not completely shift a negative thought pattern by itself, but it is a powerful first step. When you observe a negative thought or sensation, you put some metaphorical distance between you and the critic. With that distance, you can begin to question its function in your life, its origin, its validity. It may seem less intense, or less absolute.

You can, of course, observe anything in this neutral, nonjudgmental way, but I offer it specifically for the purpose of taming the inner critic because inner critics tend to be so persistent! Like cats, they really want our attention! And also like cats, often once we give it to them, they just wander off.

If you’d like deeper, practical support with your inner critic or with changing any sort of negative thought pattern, I invite you to learn more about my empowerment coaching work. I am continually amazed and inspired by this work and honored to be able to offer it professionally from my home office, both in person and via video conference.

If you have an inner critic, how do you manage your relationship with it? Leave your thoughts in the comments.