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“There is no way you can do that.”
“You totally screwed that up.”
“What if something bad happens?!”
That inner voice is your inner critic, and we all have one. As a psychologist who works with CEOs, celebrities, and sports figures, as well as “regular” people, I can tell you that if you have a pulse — and a conscience — you have an inner critic. Sure, it may be louder at times than others, but we all have one.
Your inner critic is that little voice inside of you that loves to point out all the places you messed up, or could mess up. It tells you that you can’t, you shouldn’t, you better not. It alerts you of what bad things could happen, as if they are inevitable.
And it is our inner critic that is contributing to the skyrocketing rates of anxiety. Over 40 million Americans have a diagnosable anxiety disorder with almost 40 percent of people reporting feeling more anxious than they did last year. And such psychological upheaval is particularly impacting teens, with 70 percent reporting that anxiety and depression are “a major problem” among their peers.
These staggering numbers are extremely concerning. The good news, though, is that anxiety is treatable.
How the inner critic affects anxiety
Anxiety is a result, not of external events, so much as our interpretation of those events.
Our inner critic often thinks in erroneous or distorted ways. In psychology, we call these “cognitive distortions,” or skewed ways of viewing the world. Here are a few examples:
- Negative filtering: You focus on what is wrong, as opposed to what’s going well. As a result, you see only the negative, which makes you feel more anxious. And ironically, that causes you to see more negative, creating a vicious cycle.
- Mind reading: You assume you know what others are thinking about you without any real evidence (and it’s not positive).
- Fortune telling: You predict the future negatively, and then act as though your fears are imminent.
- All-or-nothing: You view people and events in terms of all-or-nothing. One mistake by you, for example, is viewed as a demonstration that you are an epic failure.
Any of those sound familiar? I thought so.
Try a new success formula
After working with clients for over two decades and speaking on stages around the globe, helping people crush their inner critic, I have discovered an antidote to this mean voice inside your head: The True SuccessTM Formula.
The True SuccessTM Formula goes deeper than how society may define success (such as looking a certain way or having more money). Instead, it is comprised of three main pillars:
- Passion: Positive energy, where you focus on what is going well, and feel excited and empowered to make things even better.
- Purpose: Creating meaning and fulfillment in your life.
- People: Optimizing your relationships with others.
What to do: Don’t believe everything you hear
Here’s how to apply The True SuccessTM Formula in your life.
Stress can rob us of our positive energy. It also causes us to use more of those cognitive distortions we talked about above.
Consider your stress to be on a continuum, from zero (no stress at all) to 10 (the most stressed out you have ever been). The higher level of stress you experience, the louder your inner critic becomes.
I call anything seven to 10 or higher “The Red Zone.” When you are in the Red Zone, anxiety and your inner critic can take over. To stay out of there, whenever you notice your stress level getting to a six or higher, do something healthy and helpful to reduce your stress. Go for a walk, jump on a bed, listen to a song you love, take some deep breaths, hug a loved one, or pet a (friendly) dog.
If you are worried about making a mistake during a presentation or that someone doesn’t like you, then maybe your problem isn’t big enough. By this I mean, if your purpose in life is to solve world hunger, then a little flub up while speaking or the existence of someone who doesn’t adore you is, really, no huge deal.
Having a greater purpose helps you put things in perspective. So rather than listen to your inner critic, focus on what you want to serve to the world. When your attention is on how to contribute to a cause greater than yourself, such as volunteering, or even just holding the door open for a stranger, your inner critic lessens, and you feel happier.
Spend time with people who build you up. Toxic people can increase your inner critic and anxiety. Proactively seek out spending time with people who leave you feeling even better — about yourself and your life — than when you started.
Apply the True SuccessTM Formula to help you crush your inner critic to create a life that you love — without anxiety.
This content is informational and educational, and it does not replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a health professional. We encourage you to speak with your health-care provider about your individual needs, or visit NAMI for more information.
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