Do you have an inside voice telling you that you’re a terrible person, that you’re sure to fail, or that you’ll never amount to anything? Many of us are plagued with that nagging, negative inner critic – it often becomes our own worst enemy.
Is there anything we can do to quiet that voice?
Let me offer three ways you can tackle your inner critic. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few of my favorites. As you review these suggestions, give them all a try to find which fit best. Be kind to yourself as you explore these options because change is never easy. Your negative voice has probably been with you for a long time, so it may take time and a lot of patience to develop a new relationship with your inner critic.
Mindfulness Meditation: This practice goes a long way toward quieting that judgmental voice in our heads. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, widely viewed as the father of mindfulness, describes it as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.
The practice of mindfulness meditation teaches us a different way to deal with our judgmental voice and self-criticism. Once judgmental thoughts grab our attention, we often end up stuck in a cycle of ruminating and spiraling into a whirlwind of negativity and self-doubt. Mindfulness meditation is all about recognizing the negative thoughts as merely thoughts – not facts – and instead of believing them, simply acknowledge them and then gently guide your attention back to the breath.
A regular practice of mindfulness meditation is one way to build skills to help you respond to the judgmental thoughts in a different, kinder way. If you’re new to mindfulness, I would recommend two apps that will introduce you to the practice of mindfulness – Stop, Breathe, Think or Headspace.
Self-Compassion: This practice is all about opening your mind and your heart to being more compassionate - not only to others, but to yourself as well. So, imagine you’re trapped in an internal dialogue with your inner critic, which is telling you that your life is terrible, nothing good ever happens and never will. When stuck is this trap, imagine what you would tell your best friend if they told you that their internal critic just “yelled” those very same things at them – “your life is terrible, nothing good ever happens and never will”. You would probably respond to your friend with love and support, offering kindness and compassion. Could you extend that same loving and compassionate response to yourself – the same way that you would respond to your friend?
You can find many self-compassion classes and guided meditations online with a quick google search – Dr. Kristin Neff has a mindful self-compassion workbook that I particularly like.
Gratitude Journaling: The practice of gratitude journaling is an effective way to build resilience and optimism, which act as antidotes to that negative voice. Gratitude journaling is a practice of focusing on things in your life that are positive.
You can begin this practice by writing down three things that bring you a sense of gratitude. You’re encouraged to do this practice daily. These things don’t have to be major life-changing events. They can be something as simple as being grateful that you slept well the night before or being grateful that you had time for coffee with a friend. Remember, anything that brings you joy and a sense of gratitude and happiness counts.
There are many gratitude journaling forms available online or you can do it the old-fashioned way by getting a notebook and a pen and each day writing down three things that brought you joy, happiness, gratitude, enthusiasm, etc.
Learning how to interact differently with your inner critic takes practice and determination, so don’t expect perfection or immediate relief. Just stick to these practices and be kind to yourself along the way.