Do you have a little voice that pops up in your mind with criticisms or dire warnings such as ’If you try that, you will fail’, ‘Everyone will laugh’, ‘You’re not clever’ or even ‘Don’t be ridiculous’? You could call this voice the inner critic, or the voice of doubt. We are all particularly open to inner critic attacks when starting something new. Anything that is risky, involves subjective judgements, or is outside your current comfort zone is likely to arouse the curiosity of your critic. By definition, if you are thinking about crafting a new approach to your work and life, or planning a new life stage, the inner critic will want to offer an opinion.
If you don’t learn how to put the critic in its place, it can rule your life, keeping you very safe but also keeping you from learning and growing and trying something new, such as starting your own business, asking for more flexible work arrangements or mixing up your life arenas as you approach a post-work phase. You may never be able to silence the critic permanently, but you can most definitely stop it conducting your orchestra – and relegate it to an occasional crash of the cymbals from the back row.
Tips for dealing with the inner critic
Some of these tips may sound a little crazy, but as we have just agreed that you have inner voices trying to control you, please go with me this one step further and try some of these tips. They may change your life. I promise.
1. Study your critic’s habits.
Start to notice patterns – are you most open to your inner critic when tired, hungry or stressed, or when you are alone or lonely? When does it pop up, what does it say? Does it comment more in a particular area of your life such as relationships, work, social activities, or when you are trying something new? What does it want? What does it need? What is its contribution to your life? How does it limit you?
Think of it like studying the habits of a wild creature. If you were to make a Richard Attenborough style documentary on ‘The Habits of my Inner Critic’, what would it feature?
2. Deal firmly with the voice.
When you are aware of a voice of doubt, deal with it as you would a stranger offering advice. Thank it for giving you its opinion and politely ask it to leave. Point out that it is not in charge of you. Imagine it moving away, like a voice coming from a far off room.
3. Give your critic a hearing.
You can try journal writing – maybe writing down your thoughts, or writing a dialogue with the critic. You can write down an statement like ‘I am able to change my life’ and notice if an objection comes up – ‘No you aren’t’ or whatever. Write it out, all the comments, voices and feelings, however silly they sound. You can do this once a day for as long as you like – eventually the critic gets bored, all the objections are exhausted and you are free to live your new creative life.
4. Turn your mind off, and your body on.
Physical work (cleaning out cupboards, washing windows, gardening) or movement (walking, gym, swimming, dance) can be very effective. Just watch out if you find you are spending all day at these tasks – you may have swapped your inner critic for your inner procrastinator.
5. Put it in its place.
You can also dispute the correctness of its conclusions e.g. by pointing out the occasions when you did display creativity, or when your project did succeed…just avoid getting into a long point-by-point argument with it, as this will only re-invest it with power over you.
6. Bribe it with some quality time.
If the voice comes at an inconvenient time like the middle of the night or during an important meeting, you can make an appointment with yourself to hear it out at a later (specific) time. In the meantime, visualise yourself putting the voice in a bucket and closing the lid. This technique sounds a bit mad, but it is extremely effective.
7. Develop your own strategies.
After all, you know your critic better than anyone else – what would best put it in its place? Experiment and develop a personal toolkit.
However you handle it, make it clear that the inner critic no longer dominates your decision making process. It’s time to take charge and deal with it, so you can move forward into a more satisfying life.