‘Talk to yourself like you would to some you love’
Talking to a group of young female students last week I was dismayed by the epidemic of negative self-talk.
Why is that we feel justified in berating ourselves for how hopeless/incapable/disorganized we are – when we would be appalled to speak to a friend or acquaintance in that way? And let’s not even mention the millions of possible self-critical thoughts around body shape/weight/appearance.
Dealing with the inner critic is not just an issue for women – many men will admit to some harsh self criticisms too. And it’s not just youngsters who suffer – although they tend to be under more constant pressure with the social media insistence on ‘compare and despair’.
So it’s pretty universal then, this tendency to give ourselves a hard time, to beat ourselves up. For some people the negative messages can be matched up to real-life critical voices from the past – maybe carers, siblings or teachers. But for others it comes from comparing ourselves to unrealistic perfectionist standards that we couldn’t possibly meet.
And the results of all this self-doubt? Most obviously it causes us stress and damages our confidence – resulting in lost promotions, avoidance of new experiences and effecting our appreciation of what we have achieved.
Not good. So what can you do to reduce the power of the inner critic and replace it with positive self belief?
1. Name and shame. The first step to conquering anything is to be aware of it – notice when you are talking negatively to yourself. Call it out with ‘here we go again – I see what you’re up to’.
2. Create a character that personifies your inner critic – moaning Minnie Mouse or a howling banshee. This allows you to separateand to take a vital step away from that critic. Add humour, make it a funny voice.
3. Give your critic the benefit of the doubt. Weirdly the inner critic may think it’s doing you a favour. Perhaps it wants to keep you safe from over-stretching/making a fool of yourself. In contrast maybe it’s a way to force you to raise your standards or achieve more. As a strategy it’s probably ineffective but acknowledge there is a good intention ‘ok, you’re trying to get me to prepare more/to stretch myself/to be careful….’. And then tell it to push off and let you handle the situation
4. Manipulate the inner critic – move it physically further away from you, turn down the volume on the voice, fade it away
5. Finally, and most importantly, nurture your inner mentor. That’s the constructive mentoring voice that tells you all will be well, that you can take the necessary bold step, that you can do it, that you have the necessary experience, that you look fantastic. In fact, practice saying to yourself all those things that you would naturally say to encourage and support your best friend.
Dealing with the inner critic is ongoing but with practice, experience and a healthy dose of self-compassion it does get easier
Chris Cross Licensed trainer of Springboard, Sprint, Spring Forward, Fresh Steps and Boost.