Stressed woman

Many of us have a very loud and active inner critic. We speak to ourselves in ways that we would not speak to others.  We don’t just point out what we could improve or work on. For many people, the inner critic goes way overboard, continually pointing out our faults and failings, and comparing us unfavourably to others.  If left unchecked, it can drag us into a downward spiral of criticism, embarrassment, and shame; and we can stop stretching ourselves, trying new things or valuing our skills and experience.

But here’s the thing – just because our little (or not so little!) inner critical voice tells us something, doesn’t mean it is true.  Tackling our inner critic is challenging, but with a little bit of motivation and practice, it can be done.  

Here are some practical ideas to use over the next few weeks to help reduce self-criticism and cultivate a more compassionate relationship with yourself. 

Step 1: Increase awareness of your inner critic and self-criticism

In the upcoming week, try to become more aware of your inner critic. Sometimes we are so used to it that we don’t even notice.  Start to become more familiar with your own inner critical voice:

  • Notice what you say to yourself when you fail or have made a mistake.
  • Are there key phrases that you say to yourself?
  • What is the tone of your voice when you are criticising yourself?

At this stage, we are building our self-awareness.  So, don’t try to argue with it.  Remember, our inner critic isn’t rational, it’s not based on evidence and facts, so arguing with it won’t help, and will probably only make you feel worse.

Step 2: Now we are getting familiar with recognising our inner critic we can start to take action in the moment to turn down it’s volume a little and minimise the impact. Choose what works best for you.

  • Pause and take three deep breaths.  Just focusing on your breath can take the attention away from the voice of the inner critic and can help break the spiral of negative self-talk.
  • Give it a name!  That might sound a bit crazy, but it’s amazing how quickly and powerfully it can work.  It’s a really easy and effective way of distancing yourself from the voice.  You might want to give it a funny name, to help deflate the impact of what it is saying.  Or, if it reminds you of someone who has been critical to you in the past, you might want to acknowledge that and name it after them.
  • Turn it into something ridiculous.  Imagine saying it to yourself as a cartoon character, maybe in the voice of Daffy Duck!  Or sing it to yourself using the tune of a short snappy song; jingle bells is always a good one, even if it isn’t Christmas!
  • Disrupt it.  Do something quick that makes you happy, brings you joy or makes you feel more confident and better about yourself.  Listen to music.  Look at a photo.  Read a positive message or email.  Do jumping jacks.  Pet your dog.  You want to do something that will change and lift your emotional state.

Step 3: Now when you feel a bit calmer and better about yourself, we are ready to do some deeper work, adjusting how our inner critic presents itself so that it is measured and helpful.

  • When you inner critic is speaking, think about what you would say to a loved one in the same situation. Now use these words to reframe and rephrase what you say to yourself.
  • Think about the tone of voice that you used. Practice the tone that you want to use with yourself in the times when you are feeling good about yourself.
  • Use your imagination again and think of a friend or relative and what they might say to you instead.  Instead of criticising you, they are much more likely to focus on what has went well and to encourage you to recognise and appreciate your strengths and experience. Practise giving yourself feedback from their point of view.
  • Identify what you are criticising yourself for. Sometimes our inner critic can provide us with useful feedback.  But it’s usually not presented in a useful or helpful way. Try to ask yourself: What can I learn from this feedback?

This all takes a bit of practice but it’s amazing what you can achieve when you start to use some of these techniques. 

In no time at all you will be able see that inner critic for what it is: an unhelpful, over the top, and too loud, irrational inner voice.  And even better, you will be able to turn down the volume of criticism, and allow yourself the space and capacity to try new things, develop and grow.