Managing Your Inner Critic

8 June, 2014

You may not be aware of it yet, but did you know that you have a little voice in your head that largely runs your life?  And what if this voice wasn't that positive, how would you feel?

The answer is not very good about yourself and not very good about life.

Now, having a voice inside of your head does not mean you're crazy.   Any human being who has learned to speak a language and communicate with others, has also evolved a part of the brain responsible for what we call Internal Dialogue (ID).  This is the ability to talk to oneself inside one's own head, without anyone else being able to hear it. 

The unfortunate thing that we know about ID is that - almost universally - it's got a negative bias.  There are a number of reasons and/or theories for this.  Our whole brains are wired with a tendancy towards the negative because of our inbuilt survival mechanism:  we learned to look out for, respond to, and recall dangerous triggers. 

It's also often negative because of the way we learn how to do it as kids.  Think about it - if you're a healthy baby you're born with all of five your senses, namely the ability to perceive and process the world through: sight and pictures, hearing and sounds, physical touch and emotion, taste and smell.  These are called the 'languages of the brain' - the way you take in information from the world, and the way you represent and 'think' about the world and yourself inside your head.  You don't learn language until much later on, making ID the sixth and final 'language of the brain'.  And think about it, how does language acquisition actually work?   We come pre-wired to learn it of course, and, we pick it up by modelling those around us: parents, caregivers, teachers, big brothers, kids in the playground.  And for some reason, our ID picks up the negatives, not the positives.  We are likely to tell ourselves "Jonny doesn't like me" rather than "Jonny is busy and pre-occupied and doesn't know who I am yet". 

The self-critical tape we play in our heads way into adulthood starts at a young, impressionable age.   The unfortuante thing, for me as coach, is that most people don't even know there's a tape in there, let alone how critical and negative it often is, and let alone the fact that it runs much of their lives for them, telling them - quite inaccurately - what they can and can't do, what they are and aren't capable of.  People, until they start becoming aware of it, think it's just 'me'.  Well, I'm  here to tell you that it is NOT you - not who you are.  Just an old dodgily-programmed tape playing in your head, usually in a harsh or worried tone, and usually commenting on things that aren't real or true.

It's time to get savvy about your Inner Critic!  How, you might ask?  I'm glad you did, here are some suggestions:
  1. Notice what your saying to yourself deliberately at least once a day.  Good times to notice it are when you're not feeling so good: depressed, not very confident, anxious, worried, uneasy, unwell.  When you notice the feeling, close your eyes and turn your attention inward, and really listen to that inner voice.  You might even write it down: what its tone - happy?  Worried?  Harsh?  Is it loud or quiet?  Is it male or female?  Who does it remind me of?  What are some of the key words it uses - good enough?  I can't?  I never will?  They're better than me?  What if?
  2. Once you start to get more familiar, even after 7 days of doing this, you will begin to notice patterns of thought.  What are they?  Could you name them - worrying I'm not capable/not good enough; imagining bad stuff happening in the future; commenting on how bad my body feels; telling myself I'm fat.  See if you can name them, and it helps to write stuff down.  Be aware though, some critical dialogue is very loud and obvious, and some is very quiet and is almost under the radar.  You need to pay close attention - but keep the self-judgement at bay.
  3. Then start to say: would I talk to a friend this way, in the same situation?  If they were getting ready for a presentation, would I be telling them they're going to screw it up and fail?  Would I talk to another human being, or an animal like this?!  If this ID was a radio station, would I chose to tune in, or would I turn it off?
  4. Then start to say:  what would I prefer to say to myself right now, if I were being a supportive person to myself?  [Note, this is not Pollyanna positive stuff, just realistic supportive stuff].  What tone of voice would I use?  What would I say and how would I say it?  Once again, really helps to write it down.
You might be surprised by how much space you can create inside your own head, once you start to challenge your Inner Critic.  You might also be surprised and how much happier you feel, and how much more capable you feel. 

Please do report back, I love to hear from you.  Charlotte.

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