One of the biggest barriers to moving forward in our lives is our inner critic.
It’s the voice that says:
you’re not good enough
you’re not smart enough
you could never do that
you’re so stupid/incompetent/arrogant
It’s the voice of doubt and fear, determined to keep you down. It’s also every external voice that ever said or implied, you are inadequate and you need to be better than you are, all now internalised in you.
Why would we give such mean voices so much air time though? The first reason is because they’ve become so embedded we barely hear them; we just ‘feel’ ill at ease, powerless or even guilty.
The second reason is because we’ve come to accept them. But if we stopped long enough to question them, we’d realise how irrational and untrue they can be.
Learning to notice the critical messages is an incredibly powerful first step, as once you face your enemy, you can get the size of them and work out how to disarm them.
When you consider the criticism in the cold light of day, you can see all the ways in which you are good enough, smart enough, capable enough, and deserving enough to do what it is you want to do.
For every criticism, try writing a counter-argument in your journal. Or make a list or collage that represents your strengths and successes and keep it on the wall. If you reach an impasse with your inner critic, walk away and instead do something you enjoy. You’ll generate positive emotions, and the inner critic will quieten down.
These are proven techniques to help overcome our negative self-talk, but it’s not always a cure. That’s because there’s a third reason we talk s*^t to ourselves…
Dr Kristin Neff’s research into self-criticism has found that we don’t want to stop because we believe it keeps us motivated. We believe that if we didn’t ride our own backs, we’d never get anywhere in the world.
What she’s also found is that this is entirely untrue.
Imagine a child gets a bad test mark and he comes home and tells his dad. How would the child feel if dad raged against him, calling him an idiot and telling him he’ll never get anywhere in life?
Pretty bloody awful.
You might be thinking, yeah, horrible dad, but I bet it gets the kid to knuckle down and up his grades.
Well the research shows it doesn’t. When he’s feeling so horrific about himself, he goes on to perform badly. Simple.
What if the boy comes home and his dad says, I’m so sorry, you must be feeling pretty disappointed about it. Don’t worry! This is just one test! Maybe I can help you get your head around the algebra. You’ll be fine.
I imagine you feel it too: relieved, supported, safe, loved, capable.
You might wholeheartedly believe that you must be hard on yourself to achieve anything, but the fact is you get better results – and feel so much better in the process – when you’re kind to yourself, when you practise self-compassion.
Kristin Neff offers eight self-compassion activities and seven self-compassion meditations you can try at home on her website.
To hear more about the science of self-compassion, check out Neff’s TEDx talk here: