Quieting the Inner Critic Or How I’m Teaching Myself Self-Compassion

“Come on, dumbass, what are you doing?”

“Pay attention! Stop being stupid!”

“Stop wasting time and get to work!”

“Well, you’ve screwed up again. Surprise, surprise!”

Good God, this person is an asshole. Who is saying this stuff? Who in the world would speak to someone that way? Is that your boss? Is it your parents? Is it your spouse or your best friend

Maybe, but a greater likelihood, especially if you’re reading this blog, is that it’s your own inner critic. Yikes! How does anybody live that way? Well, shoot. So many of us entrepreneurs do.

We want to play bigger. We want to work harder. We want to shoot for the stars. We want to hold ground and demand presence in the strongest kind of way. But then, in aiming for the stars, we blow out our rocket boosters before we’ve ever even gotten off the ground.

Now go back to the first questions here: who in the world would speak to someone in this fashion? We would never speak to others that way. We would never be so rude or harsh, especially as women to each other—no way, (wo)man—we would much prefer to be passive aggressive about everything and then go home and beat ourselves up. Ugh.

And then the inner voice starts again with its down-putting meanie-pants running commentary because it knows what it sees here is true. Okay, now, stop, drop, and roll…

Here’s the thing: when we spend time and resources beating ourselves up, rather than making an effort to shift and grow and change, we get really tired. And then we beat ourselves up more. And it’s pretty counterproductive, but it’s societally ingrained. It’s normal and we don’t openly talk about it this way. It’s not culturally expected to offer ourselves love, forgiveness, and compassion, or to bring softness to the everyday business mindset.

It sucks! But it can help to remember that EVERYBODY feels this way to some extent. Stop. Just STOP! Let’s make it trendy to take care of ourselves for crying out loud!

There are many many tools that are available for everyday use that we neglect. And sometimes we even go to business seminars where there is a keynote speaker, offering the “novel” concept that we are flawed humans who make mistakes, but the whole point is to learn from them and move on. We listen, we smile, we nod our heads, we agree in our heart of hearts, and then we go on to the next scheduled task and go back to beating ourselves up again.

So offering ourselves compassion and in so doing, quelling the inner critic, is a daily practice. It’s a focused mindset. Just like there’s no such thing as dieting to lose weight. It’s all about making lifestyle changes, which requires a new way of thinking. But it’s really hard to change the way we think. And it’s an inside job.

So first, we have to acknowledge that we are hearing the inner critic. I’m reading an amazing book called Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr and learning a ton!

For example: How do you know if you’re hearing the inner critic?

Here are some red flags that let you know your inner critic is taking the lead, that inner voice is:

  1. Harsh, rude, mean.
  2. Binary (a black-and-white thinker).
  3. Masquerading as the “voice of reason.”
  4. The voice of “You aren’t ready yet.”
  5. The voice of “You aren’t good at math/negotiating/technical stuff.”
  6. The voice of body-perfectionism.
  7. The tape (running automatically in your head).
  8. A broken record.
  9. Irrational, but persistent.
  10. The one-two punch (attacks with criticism, and then shames you for having those exact thoughts).
  11. Takes inspiration from critical/judgmental people in your life.

Okay, so don’t fret. If you recognize this inner voice, it’s great! It means you’re seeing things clearly and you’re ready to grow from this place! It’s not about seeing what you want to see. It’s about seeing what actually exists. This seeing what actually exists without being upset by it is the highest form of self compassion. It’s the only place from which we can grow.

So the first step in quieting this inner voice is, recognizing it, labeling it, and knowing that it’s there without freaking out about its own realization and reflection.

Next is committing to working with it in a way that offers encouragement and self-respect. If you wouldn’t speak to someone else this way, then you sure as hell don’t need to be speaking to #1 this way, right!?! This is a difficult task, as most humans have difficulty looking at their own self-sabotage. It’s okay. We all do it. Take a breath and keep on keeping on.

Daily Practices to Quiet the Inner Critic

Here are some practices (to be practiced daily!) for the increase of compassion and the decrease of the harsh tones of your inner critic. And know, this is a lifelong practice for many. Let’s support each other rather than sweeping it under the rug!

1. Label and notice: As soon as it happens—there it is, my inner critic speaking to me in a way that I would not speak to someone I respect or love.

2. Separate the “I” from the inner critic: Step back from the inner critic. If you are observing this, then it must not be you, it must be separate from you. Perceive the voice as if it was a stranger criticizing you without knowing a thing about you. Disengage from it and move on.

3. Create a character that personifies your inner critic: Give him/her a name and visual image. This way, you can truly see the critic as someone separate from you…there she/he is, Oscar the Grouch, that stranger who thinks she can just bust on in with advice and criticism without knowing a thing about what’s actually going on here.

4. Compassionately see your inner critic’s motives: Ask your critic about its intentions. What exactly is the goal behind all this? Are you trying to help me? Appreciate the help, truly, and then respond sincerely, “Thanks so much for your input, but I’ve got this!” Then, watch it, visualize it, see it actually move out of the way. Just like anyone or anything, when you bring love and compassion to any table, it will respond accordingly.

5. Look for the humor. How hilarious is it that I give rise to a grumpy character named Oscar that is on TV to illustrate how silly it is to be a jerk! Oscar the Grouch is really goofy. Laughing at that scene is a great way to chill.

6. Remove your critic from the scene: Sometimes when it’s really necessary, you’ve actually got to escort the jerk out of the room. You can do this with someone you trust or love and you can do it by yourself. Watch you and your support person get up, walk over to Oscar the Grouch, take him by the hand, thank him for his help and graciously send him out of the room. And lock the door. If he throws a tantrum, refer to #5.   :)

7. Journal/Contemplate. Here are some great ways to get to know your inner critic:

  • Write down some of the things your inner critic says. What are his/her commonly voiced beliefs?
  • Sometimes our inner critics take “inspiration” from people in our lives. Does your inner critic echo any of your external critics?
  • Sometimes our inner critics have cultural sources, e.g., “the perfect Southern wife.” What cultural archetypes does your inner critic embody or ask you to live up to?
  • Looking over your inner critic’s common narratives, brainstorm 5 adjectives that describe your inner critic’s personality, e.g., hyper or anxious or people-pleasing or stubborn.
  • Envision a character. Bring your inner critic’s voice to mind. From there start to imagine: if your inner critic were a person, what kind of person would he/she be?
  • Notice how personifying the critic lightens his/her influence and help you take him/her less seriously? How does it help you see the critic as one voice within and not the whole of you or the real you?
  • If you’re motivated in part by your inner critic, look back: When in your life did you experience a lot motivation that didn’t come from fear and self-doubt? What motivated you then? How did acting from that place feel, and what were the results?

Ultimately, one of the most hostile and violent things people do is offer unsolicited advice. Perspectives are all different. Ideas and motives are different. And offering unsolicited advice to another person is essentially telling someone that they’re not good enough. It’s asking someone to accept your ideas, based upon your own perspective, as better than anyone else’s.

It’s like telling mud that it should instead be sunshine. Mud is great. So is sunshine. Their uniquenesses are what make them important in the world.

So, what’s the lesson here? Don’t give yourself unsolicited criticism that is irrelevant to what is actually happening. There’s a great quote that is attributed to someone, somewhere, and it goes something like this: “Eventually, you need to look at what is actually happening, rather than what you thought should happen.”

And this is the absolute best way to quiet the inner critic. The inner critic is always on about what “should” be, but if we’re always operating in “should” mode, then we can never actually see in “reality” or “is” mode. And reality is where life happens.

Need a hand escorting your inner critic to the door? Give me a call! I’m a lifelong pro, and I’m happy to offer Oscar a hand or a swift kick in the ass. I always hated that damn trash can anyway!

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