Most of us would likely agree that we are not literally our beliefs or our experiences. For example, I may say “I am hungry”, or “I’m mad at the guy at the coffee shop for getting my order wrong”. If that were true, in that moment when I say “I AM” I become these things. I AM hunger. I AM anger.

States and Traits
But I am not actually these things, simply experiencing an emotion that comes and goes. This is what is called a “state” a temporary behavior or feeling. We do this all day, moving from one emotion to another as we go through our day. Some we take in more deeply than others, but in general, few of them stick.

When we start to identify with the things our critical self tells us though, we may start to believe it. “I am depressed, I am mean, I am no good at….

When we say these things repeatedly it can have lasting consequences. We can begin to really believe it and then this state, which was once a fleeting feeling, is now a semi-permanent state.

Journaling exercise

So what do we do? Here’s a short journaling exercise to help work through the lies your critical self tells you. With this kind of exercise, you’re not writing in order to be read by anyone; it’s solely for your benefit.

Find a quiet place where you will be undisturbed.

Grab a piece of paper and draw a line vertically down the center. (Here’s a worksheet you can print out if you prefer. 

On the left side, write down all of the things your inner critic says about you. Use a voice that is in second-person, as though someone is observing you.

Use the phrases below as examples for what you might say, but fit them to what YOUR inner critic has to say. Let it out!

  • You suck at playing guitar
  • You’re so aggressive
  • You can’t do anything right!

Now, take a couple of deep, slow, breaths and on the right side of your paper, write responses to your inner critic in first person.

  • I am learning to play guitar
  • I am assertive, not aggressive
  •  I do many things right, and I don’t have to beat myself up for the things I have to learn to do better.

How do you feel?
When you’ve finished, read over what you’ve written. How do you feel? Do you see a pattern in how your inner critic works? How could you be kinder to yourself in these situations?

This process can be a lot harder than you might imagine. It’s hard to stand up to our inner critic and have compassion for ourselves.

If we can be kind to ourselves we can guide ourselves away from self-judgement and negativity bias. We can reduce the negativity and self-limiting beliefs that are hindering our ability to grow and develop.

When we practice self-compassion we can find that we are stronger and more confident, maybe because we trust ourselves more — we’ve got our own backs