You’ll never speak to anyone more than you talk to yourself in your own mind. So what would someone hear if they were to listen in? We all hear negative mental chatter throughout the day, from the “shoulds” and “could haves” that keep us awake at night to the doubts we face after leaving a meeting at the office. Evaluation is a healthy part of keeping us on track and improving performance. But more often than not, insistent internal criticism is neither productive nor helpful. For this, you can thank your Inner Critic: a powerful, pessimistic filter through which we excessively judge our circumstances and ourselves. If it goes unchecked, this internal voice can cultivate fear and faultfinding, holding us back and causing us to question our self-worth. Ignoring or fighting against this invisible censor will have little effect on countering negative thought patterns. Instead, I’ve found mindfulness and self-love offer a better roadmap to successfully navigate the mental minefield. Next time your Inner Critic rears its noisy head, try practicing the following “Three C’s” to deal with negative thoughts and gain more peace of mind.
Catch Your Critic in Action
If you’re like me and have a strong inner critic, it’s likely you’re unaware of the quantity of judgments that cross your mind each day – and how quickly you can get swept away into a negative narrative. As an exercise, try keeping a tally of each time you notice unhelpful criticism arise. Don’t work on changing or resisting your thinking; instead, focus on noticing judgments with nonreactive awareness, observing and allowing each thought to pass by. I find it helpful to visualize holding onto a thought balloon and letting it float far away into the sky, breathing out the accompanying negative feeling. With practice, you’ll be able to more readily “catch” your critic in action and recognize when your thinking gets derailed.
Counter with Self-Compassion
Why is it so much easier to notice our flaws than to call out our strengths? We face so much daily negativity in our world, with continual societal expectations to be better and do more. It’s no wonder that our inner critic has internalized this pressure. Injecting some self-love into this equation has the power to truly cut off your critic at its knees. If you take a moment to pause and accept your weaknesses, telling the critic that you love yourself as you are, that fire-breathing dragon is reduced to white noise in your head. Calling out the good within yourself when your critic is on the attack will reframe your narrative, placing mental and emotional authority back in your hands. Self-acceptance is truly the best self-defense.
Challenge that Inner Voice
Inevitably, we will get sucked into mental quicksand and start to focus on an unmerited personal censure. In this stage, it’s important to detangle ourselves from that inner voice by realizing what’s fact and what’s fiction. Giving a name to our inner critic can help you recognize that the inner critic is an unreliable narrator – a product of lifelong conditioning and deeply held beliefs. Then, when that voice begins to pipe up, you can challenge the validity of your thinking. For example, I named my critic the Dragon Lady because she’s always up to the same tricks – causing fiery self-doubt, fear and feelings of inadequacy. Naming my fiendish frenemy has made it easier to recognize when unnecessarily harsh criticism is burning me out. If you were to name your critic, would it be Judge Judy, Lord Voldemort or Cruella de Vil? Choose something that will resonate and help you fact-check your own thinking.
With a background in communications, Carolyn is a passionate storyteller focused on inspiring others through their wellness journeys. She is also an ambassador for The TIREDGIRL Society (@thetiredgirlsociety), an online community for women with chronic illnesses.