Inner critics: What they are, what’s their impact and 4 steps to manage them
What are inner critics?
You may recognise inner critics by a variety of names: saboteurs, gremlins, the annoying voice in your head, the devil on your shoulder, the chimp etc. These are different terms for the voice that feeds you with negative thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts can be useful and may try to protect you from harm, for example advising you not to touch a snake, but the majority of the time they hold us back.
Have you ever told yourself the following?
‘You’re not good enough’
‘You don’t deserve that’
‘You should be doing more/better’
‘They won’t agree with you’
‘They’re more experienced/qualified than I am’
You’re not alone. I believe that everyone experiences these inner critics at some point to varying degrees. They can range from the subtle to the extreme. These voices can be a faint whisper and easy to ignore or they can be so loud we start to believe them.
I once worked with a client who felt like she never did enough. This persistent internal dialogue made her feel like she never achieved anything. From our previous sessions and the information she had shared with me I knew this was far from true. However, her expectations were high and her inner critics were loud. These thoughts led to her truly believing she was a low achiever, even a failure at times. She was completely unaware this was the result of negative self-talk. Immediately, we set about changing this by acknowledging and challenging those voices and building back her confidence, motivation and self-belief.
The impact of inner critics
I’m sure you’ve heard of imposter syndrome. Perhaps, like 85% of UK adults surveyed by Hub events, you’ve suffered from it.
In Steve Taylor’s The Chimp Paradox, he notes how the chimp talks to you. It jumps to conclusions, it’s paranoid, it thinks irrationally, it catastrophises and it judges first and questions second. These noises can aggravate imposter syndrome leading to limiting beliefs, psychological distress, increased self-doubt and persistent fears of failure or being ‘found out’.
Ultimately, inner critics can hold you back and get in the way of you reaching your full potential, both in your professional and personal life. That is why it’s important to know how to manage them.
4 steps you can take to manage your inner critic
1. Notice them and articulate them
Ask yourself: What do these critics sound like? Do they have a face/image? What do they represent? When and how do they show up? You might see them as a dark cloud, a tiny version of yourself on your shoulder or even your parent’s voice speaking to you through a megaphone!
The better we can articulate and visualise these voices, the easier we can put them into perspective and manage them.
2. Make a choice
Like with everything in life you have a choice. Once you start to notice these voices you can choose whether to listen to them or not. Is what the voice is saying a fact? Is there any evidence that shows it to be true?
Exaggerated or extreme criticisms of yourself are key traits of these voices and are wrong. So banish them! Send them on holiday, lock them in a box, send them off to ballet class - anything that gives you control over them. Allow yourself to laugh at that voice and realise it is only unhelpful.
3. Find and build value in their place
Once you’re able to acknowledge and hear the inner critic, question what values it’s stepping on or pushing away. For example, if you find yourself thinking ‘they’re all more experienced than I am’, what value is that diminishing? Your sense of worth? Your self-belief?
Think about what that value means to you:
What is self-belief to you?
How would you recognise it in yourself?
What would strong self-belief feel like?
Bring that value to life and seek to attain it further rather than giving time to the inner critics. This can take time to implement but is an effective way of replacing the unhelpful with the helpful.
4. Set some actions to move forward
Taking the example of my client we spoke about at the start, we can silence the voices by creating actions that provide us with accountability.
Asking her ‘what would satisfaction look and feel like by the end of the day?’ resulted in a clear action for her to set realistic daily goals and write them down. As she then reached them she has no reason to believe she’s underachieving.
To do the same, try to set actions and goals that are attainable. You can use the SMARTER goals framework to help you set these.
To learn more about understanding your inner critics, I thoroughly recommend reading Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. This book was recommended to me by my coach to help me manage my own inner critics whilst setting up my business.
Alternatively, if you think you may be suffering from imposter syndrome or would like support in managing your inner critics, get in touch and we can work through it together.