Whenever you try to do something challenging, it tells you precisely why you can’t. Whenever you’re tired, it tells you that you’re lazy. Whenever you don’t complete everything on your list, it tells you that you’re a loser. When you can’t figure something out, it tells you that you’re stupid (and always have been). Whenever you receive negative feedback on a project, it tells you that you better just quit. You’re not very smart or capable anyway.
Or maybe your inner critic starts chirping first thing in the morning. As soon as you open your eyes, it starts listing everything that will go wrong and everything that is wrong with you.
And often you listen to its cruel words, assuming it’s a truth teller. You let it dictate your actions, twisting yourself into a productive pretzel, quitting difficult projects, and not pursuing certain dreams.
But here’s the thing about inner critics: They’re so loud, stubborn, and cruel because they desperately want to protect us from the pain of rejection, loneliness, sadness, and grief.
In her new book Overcoming Creative Anxiety, author and coach Karen C.L. Anderson features a variety of powerful and empowering prompts for exploring and disarming the inner critic. Here are some of my favorites from Anderson’s book to help you do just that:
- Where does your inner critic come from? What influential people in your life make up your inner critic?
- Draw a picture of your inner critic, getting really specific about what it looks like and acts like.
- Name your inner critic.
- Describe your inner critic’s voice, including its volume and tone.
- Imagine you just met your inner critic at a networking event. Let your inner critic introduce itself to you and tell you what it believes its job is in your life.
- Write about what your inner critic is trying to teach you.
- Write about what your inner critic is trying to fix.
- Finish this sentence: “I know the inner critic has taken over when I ….”
- Write about what you’d do if your inner critic hadn’t told you what to do (or what it believes is best).
- Jot down everything your inner critic says to you and about you.
- What does your inner critic believe about you, others, and the world? For example, your inner critic’s beliefs might be revealed through these phrases: “I fear…” “I am ashamed when …” or “The worst thing that could happen is …”
- Write about what you might accept about yourself so your inner critic no longer uses it to diminish or manipulate you.
We don’t get rid of our inner critics. And I don’t think we should argue with them either (because that just leads to a shouting match). But we can acknowledge them, even thank them (for their concern and attempt to protect), and we can stop letting them determine how we should behave.
When the inner critic speaks, before believing its words and doing as it says, pause. Then reflect on what you want to do. Ask yourself: If my inner critic weren’t saying this, what would I do? What would taking good care of myself really look like? What would help me to have a fulfilling day? What do I need in this moment?
Remember your inner critic is trying to shield you from heartache, but thankfully, you’re resilient, too. And, thankfully, you know what’s best for you.
Keep taking that supportive action, and over time, even if your inner critic doesn’t quiet down, you’ll know that you didn’t let it stop you. You’ll know that you still cared for yourself well. You’ll know that you listened to your heart.