How to Tell Your Inner Critic to Shut Up

What was I thinking?  I could have done that so much better. What’s wrong with me? I’m just going to fail again. I am not good enough.

I can’t imagine many things I would like to say SHUT UP to, but the inner critic falls on that short list. This all-too-familiar voice pops up inside our heads to put us down for not living up to certain standards. It’s like some uninvited inner cop who is there just to tell us we are doing something wrong. But are we really?  I don’t think so. Nonetheless, these voices are powerful and only do more harm than good.

By listening to our inner critic, we are restricted to limited possibilities for ourselves. So why do we do it?  In short, it’s an unconscious mechanism we’ve developed (and dare I say reinforced) over the course of our lives that keep us stuck in old habit patterns. But the good news is we are in charge of what we think about and say to ourselves. So, here are some ways to tell your inner critic to shut up.

1. Recognize and become aware.

First things first: if you are not conscious of your inner critic, it will unconsciously run your life. By merely bringing attention to this negative voice, your awareness will allow you separate your true self from the false voice. Don’t argue with your inner critic, just listen and be aware.

2. Breathe.

 As soon as you notice your inner critic, just take a moment to breathe.  Your breath reconnects your mind and body to provide space for the present moment. And when we are present, we hear the inner critic’s voice but don’t give it any energy.  Then, the “all-powerful” voice then just becomes another aspect of the moment.

3. Replace the negative thought with a healing attitude.  

When we are present, we are able to consciously plant new thoughts and new neural pathways into our minds that over time will free ourselves from our inner critic. For example, Maybe I don’t have to be the best. Maybe people will accept me for exactly as I am. Maybe there is nothing wrong with me. Maybe I can trust people. Maybe this will work out fine. Maybe what I have is already enough. Maybe I can make a difference.

4. Remember and practice.

 The more we are present, the more we will recognize the irrelevance of these voices and successfully resist giving them energy.  Eventually, they will lose their power and we can regain the space and quiet we need to be receptive to other, more life-enhancing guidance within us.

So, view your life with kindsight. Stop beating yourself up with things from the past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking “What was I thinking?” breathe and ask yourself the kinder question “What am I learning?”

Source and Credit: Riso-Hudson Inner Critic Workshop, Enneagram Advanced Training Program, October 2011.