How to silence your inner critic

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Written by Sarah Davies

Registered Psychologist

Negative self talk

We all have a stream of thoughts that play in our mind throughout the day. Everything from “Did I turn the air con off?”, to “I’ll get onto that after I’ve done this” and even “I’ll never amount to anything”. It’s this last type of self-talk - unhelpful or negative thoughts - which can lower your self-esteem and confidence.

“Negative self-talk, which some people even refer to as their ‘Inner Critic’, is a pattern of thinking about things in a less than favourable way,” Sarah Davies, Registered Psychologist says. “The inner critic can be a helpful guide to motivate us to achieve our goals, but it’s when that inner critic is constantly berating us and overlooking the good, that it starts to become a problem.”

What is the problem with negative thoughts?

Sarah says that focusing on negative thoughts can lead to decreased motivation, feelings of helplessness, stress and depression.

“Our thoughts are connected to our emotions and how we feel about ourselves, and in-turn the actions/behaviour we engage in. You can see how the ‘limiting/faulty’ belief of “I am not good enough” can start to make you feel inferior to others, minimise your self-confidence and in turn impact your behaviour. It usually manifests in insecure body-language, limited eye contact and avoidance of activities where there is perceived potential for being judged less than favourably.”

Some common unhelpful thought patterns are:

  • Filtering – you magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out the positive ones. You may have had a great day at work, yet you focus on the small spelling error in a report you submitted.
  • Personalising – when something bad happens you automatically blame yourself. For example, you receive news that an evening out has been cancelled and you convince yourself that plans have changed because no-one wants to hang out with you.
  • Catastrophising – you automatically anticipate the worst in any situation. Your local coffee shop mixes up your order and you automatically think the rest of your day is going to be a disaster.
  • Polarising – you only see things in black and white, as either good or bad, with no middle ground. You put pressure on yourself to be absolutely perfect, and if you are not deemed perfect in your mind, you label yourself as a failure.

How to silence your Inner Critic?

Control the volume

Sarah says the goal is to learn how to turn the volume down on the unhelpful, negative self-talk, and turn the volume up on the more helpful, optimistic self-talk. She also says that naming, or calling out your inner critic when it appears, can be helpful.

“Start noticing what the voice in your mind says to you during the day,” Sarah says. “Write these thoughts down in a journal so that you can start identifying any patterns. If you give your negative thoughts a nickname such as the ‘Mean Girl/Boy of the Mind’, ‘Negative Nelly Voice’ or ‘Debbie Downer’ this can make these thoughts less threatening and easier to identify when they are overly critical and limiting,” Sarah says.

Challenge your negative self-talk

  • Would I speak to a friend or loved one like that?
  • What is the evidence for and against my thinking?
  • Will this matter to me in 6 months’ time?
  • What is the worst that could happen? How likely is that?
  • Am I currently highlighting my weaknesses but forgetting my strengths?
  • Am I taking this too personally?

Start noting the positives

If you feel that negative thoughts are too common in your internal monologue, Sarah encourages you to make a commitment to yourself to start noticing the things that you are good at.

“Make a list and add to it every day with at least three things you are proud of yourself for doing,” Sarah says. “This can help to train your brain to notice the positive. The more you do this, the more your brain will start to scan your daily experiences and identify where you are going well. Decide not to get caught up in the Negative Nelly style of thoughts, simply name them, then release them like letting go of a helium balloon up into the sky. Instead, choose to connect with the ‘Cheerleader’ style of thinking in your mind as this will help you to feel good and reach your goals.”

For further reading Sarah suggests:

Mastering Your Mean Girl
by Melissa Ambrosini

The Happiness Trap
by Russ Harris

Margaret Check Your Cover

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Posted: Jan 10 2022


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