We all have that voice in our heads: the one that pushes us to work harder, do better, achieve more. Unfortunately, for many of us that inner voice can go into overdrive. It’s like a part of you that is just never satisfied with your accomplishments. Maybe you constantly feel your work is not good enough, you cannot take compliments, or you overthink every single mistake you ever make.
Why am I so hard on myself?
It might feel like those self-critical thoughts are on autopilot. It might seem like you have no control over them, but your Inner Critic is not something you were born with. When you were a child, you learned to think this way. You may have had a strict parent who seldom praised you, and rather criticised you for what you did wrong – (even if they meant well!) Or, maybe you had teachers, siblings, or other kids who put you down, bullied, or berated you.
For some of us, it may have been trauma that got it started, but for many of us it may have been something very subtle; like a way your mom looked at you every time you made a mistake. Whatever the reason, your Inner Critic was formed in your childhood years. And here are the important take-aways:
- it was not your fault
- you can change it.
What can I do about my Inner Critic?
We all have patterns of thinking that run on autopilot. Some of us overthink easily. Others of us worry easily, while others of us start up a fight without even thinking about it. The inner critic is a similar pattern to this: it’s a way your mind talks to you, running automatically, almost like a tape-recording. The first step then, is to notice this pattern.
- Become aware of the Inner Critic
Do you know how many times a day you’re hard on yourself, criticise yourself, or put yourself down? An easy way to cultivate some awareness of these patterns is to write down your thoughts. This is called journaling. Simply grab a piece of paper, a notepad, or even your phone, and answer these two questions:
What do I think of my achievements this week?
What do I think of myself this week?
Allow yourself to write all the thoughts that come into your head and try to fill the whole paper. No filter. No censor. Now read it back to yourself. What do you notice?
If you don’t want to write it down, maybe set an alarm on your phone for every hour. When the alarm goes, pay attention to your thoughts. Were you busy thinking how badly you were doing something? Were you overthinking something you did wrong? Did you criticise yourself and try to push yourself to do better? Were you calling yourself names in your mind? This is your Inner Critic running wild.
- Record all your achievements
When it runs unconsciously in the background, the Inner Critic tends to wipe out all our wins. If I ask you what went wrong this week, you’ll probably have a list as long as your arm. But if I ask you what you’re proud of, you’ll probably get stuck after just a few things. The reason this happens is that right after you do that really great presentation, reach your sales-target, or even receive Employee of the Month Award, your Inner Critic pipes up “Yes, BUT…” and cancels all your wins.
When our Inner Critics are fully active, we may not even remember any of our achievements from the last few days, never mind weeks or months. To combat this, start a “Proud Of” list at the end of each day. It’s simple: just list at 5 things you can be proud of at the end of each day. Your Inner Critic may still interrupt with a “Yes, BUT…”, but just ignore that, and allow yourself to record, look at, and even announce your achievements.
At the end of each week, you will have a long list of small and large achievements: You can even share these with your loved ones, colleagues and friends, to get them to support you in this process.
- Do a brain-dump
Sometimes the Inner Critic runs in the background, and you don’t even realise how hard you are on yourself. Other times, it can feel like there’s a mean, angry bully inside your head, kicking you while you’re down. On these relentless days, it may actually be a good idea to give the Inner Critic some airtime.
Grab that piece of paper, and write down all those harsh, horrible, self-critical thoughts. Don’t hold back: Just lay it all out: even if you use swear-words. Keep writing until you feel it’s all out of your system. Then, tear the piece of paper up, and go for a walk.
This exercise can help decompress and let off some steam. It’s almost like you’re taking your Inner Critic to a boxing ring, and just let it blow off all its pent-up anger and frustration.
Replace criticism with praise and care
For all the work we do to improve ourselves, and get rid of negative thinking, we often forget the flip-side: cultivating positive self-talk. A few simple habits that can support this, include:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Start your day with a list of a few things that you feel grateful for.
- Start a self-care routine. What do you enjoy doing? Taking a long bath? Going for a massage? Having a lovely dinner? Schedule time for yourself where you give yourself something enjoyable and commit during this time not to allow yourself to be interrupted by negative thoughts or people.
- Include supportive friends & family. Develop a culture of mutual praise and appreciation. Why not make Friday appreciation day, and go around the dinner-table? Every person gets to share one thing they appreciate about the others from the past week. Not only will this allow you to feel better about yourself, but you will also cultivate stronger bonds in your family.