Is something holding you back?
We’ve all had dreams in our life – some big, some little – the things that we wanted to become or do with our lives that never came to be. On a smaller scale than dreams and aspirations, there are the little things in daily life that we want to do or say but don’t because something is holding us back.
It’s not the circumstances, the timing or the cost of what we want to do. It’s something else that is more powerful than any external condition or force. It’s something so prevalent and pervasive but ever so subtle.
[FYI, this article is an extension of an article about overcoming self doubt and is an introduction into learning how to manage your inner critic.]
It’s the Inner Critic, and the majority of people in the world experience it on a regular basis and the scary thing is they’re barely aware of it. True, there are some people who are literally paralyzed by fear, self doubt and self criticism but the difference is those people know it and you know it as soon as you spend any length of time with them. Their struggle is so extreme that it’s impossible not to be aware of it. However, these people are a relative minority and my heart goes out to them.
The Inner Critic, common to many, is a messenger of negative, self-critical thoughts that runs in the background of your mind. Most of the time it’s deceptively quiet and you can hardly notice it’s there. It’s like an itchy wool sweater you put on in the morning and only feel for a few minutes until you get used to it and forget you have it on. That is, until you take it off and feel the relief.
The Inner Critic is so insidious it can control your every move and your every word.
If you take some time to really think about something you desire, on a big scale:
- the job you wish to quit,
- the business or career you want to start,
- the relationship you want to have (or get out of),
- the change you want to make in your life so you can finally feel alive,
- the big trip you want to take,
- the book you want to write,
- the dream that you never fulfilled,
and on a smaller scale;
- the presentation or speech you want to give,
- the person you wish to approach and talk to,
- the compliment you want to give,
- the good deed you wish to do,
- the conflict you want to address,
- the truth you wish to admit about what you really think or feel,
- the desire to just be yourself,
…. you will start to notice there is a voice – a voice within your own mind that sounds reasonable and logical enough, but it is nothing of the sort.
It might tell you, “That’s too risky, don’t even go there!” or “Don’t even consider doing that, you’ll get embarrassed!” Most of the time, just a couple of ‘messages’ from this voice is enough to stop you from thinking about what you want to do or say. Then it’s back to ‘reality’.
Playing it Safe
By the time most people reach their mid twenties or early thirties, they’ve become quite successful at pushing their life dreams aside and finding a more ‘realistic’, practical and safe approach to life. A common scenario is that people start their adult life with one job and move up the ranks year after year, or change companies for a better job. Then they become entrenched in what seems like something that all ‘realists’ value, which is security, and what they like to avoid is ‘risk’. However, when you start to feel like you really want something outside your comfort zone and you entertain the idea some more, the voice gets louder and more critical.
It might sound something like this:
- “You can’t do that, you’re not good enough”;
- “No one will hire you, you have no experience”;
- “They don’t care what you really think or feel”;
- “Most businesses fail in a couple of years then you’ll have lost everything”;
- “They’ll just tell you you’re too sensitive or you’re being silly”;
- “They’ll think you’ve completely lost your mind”;
- “It’s too late, you’re too old”.
It’s not all about the big changes and challenges, it’s about the seemingly little things too, where people tend to play it safe or small. I’m not even going to describe the scenarios behind these messages but see if any resonate with you:
- “Don’t say that, you’ll sound like an idiot.”
- “You aren’t wearing any makeup, pretend you don’t see them, just avoid them.”
- “You’re too shy to go to that party, make up some excuse.”
- “They’ll think you’re poor if you don’t buy that.”
- “You can’t wear that, you look fat.”
- “Tell them you only watch the Discovery Channel and the News.”
- “Never admit you made a mistake.”
- “Call in sick today, you embarrassed yourself yesterday.”
- “Don’t eat too much, they’ll think you’re a pig!”
And on and on it goes. Do you think that’s really you coming up with those messages?
Meet Your Inner Critic
The Inner Critic, aka ‘Voice of Judgment’, aka ‘The Gremlin’, aka ‘The Saboteur’, aka ‘Egoic Mind’ is the biggest threat to your self-esteem and confidence and is the source of all irrational self criticism and judgment.
It takes the form of negative and chastising chatter that questions your abilities, intentions and desires. It is more severe than self doubt because the inner critic also punishes you for every little mistake you think you made and downplays every accomplishment you’ve ever achieved.
I’ve coached several people who were very conscious of their inner critic before they met me. Quite self-aware in general, as they had already done a lot of personal development work over the years. They noticed that the inner critic was holding them back from creating the changes they wanted in their lives. I’ve worked with others who had no idea there was such a thing and looked at me a little cockeyed when I brought it up.
One of my clients told me when we started working together that he had no problems on that front. That was until he started realizing what he really wanted to do with his life and that he had to make some choices. Choices that involved risk and pushing himself up against his comfort zone – risks that could challenge the security of his self-confessed, unfulfilling life. That is when he started to become more aware of his inner critic. The client later admitted, “I guess I hadn’t noticed it before because I wasn’t pushing myself enough – I wasn’t even thinking about what I really wanted”.
Meet My Inner Critic
I have done a lot of work in this area for almost 10 years and am still aware of that doubtful, self critical voice from time to time. In fact, there are a variety of different voices and styles of ‘judgment’, each for a different situation. Wouldn’t you know, I’m doubting myself right now, and a particular someone wants to be heard.
|His Voice||The Message I Receive|
|“Vy are you doing zis Guy?”||I shouldn’t be writing this|
|“Vill anyone read zis article?”||Stop working so hard, only a handful of people are ever going to read this.|
|“Do you really zink it’s ready to publish yet? Vy don’t you work on it some more and take it to a real writer or editor?”||My work isn’t good enough. I’m not good enough.|
|“Guy, tell me, vill zis coaching sing really pay off?”||I’m never going to be as successful as I want to be.|
|“Come on, it’s a nice dream but vill you really help a lot of people?”||I’ll never make a difference.|
|“Vy don’t you qvit vile your ahead?”||I should quit now and come up with some excuse like my other business got really busy all of a sudden.|
|“You might as vell start looking for a job now Mister! Maybe go vork for a psychiatrist cleaning his office if you vant to help someone.”||There are so many amazing coaches out there, self help gurus, people with doctorates, millionaires, people with huge networks and audiences of at least 100,000 people, better writers, better speakers, people who have done greater things….I should just quit before I make a fool of myself. And I definitely shouldn’t post this article.|
Hello Shmidlick (that’s the name I gave to this voice of judgment – and he doesn’t like it when I don’t address him as Dr. Shmidlick) – I know you’re here – I know you don’t want me to finish this article and you definitely don’t want me to press the Publish button to make it available for everyone to read, especially since I just admitted those doubts and self critical, judgmental thoughts I have. But you know what? I’m going to anyway. You know why? Because deep down I know it’s going to help someone – even if it helps just one person, I’m going to do it. They have to know they’re not alone. I have a reason why and it’s bigger than you, it’s bigger than me and it’s pure of heart and intention. So back off for a while Shmidlick and let me finish, we can spend some time together later.
Why did I just do that?
Why did I just make myself ‘vulnerable’? Why didn’t I edit that list or leave out the self talk part? Because the fact that you’re reading this right now shows you that people can overcome their self doubts and learn to manage their inner critic. Also, if I eased up by editing or censoring my thoughts and didn’t share my truth with you, then I’d be giving my inner critic a lot more power than it deserves. You deserve more than that and you deserve to become what you’re capable of becoming by learning to manage your inner critic and believe in yourself.
Managing Your Inner Critic – Dissolving Self Criticism
I must be honest with you, the inner critic never really goes away completely. As long as you’re pushing the limits of your comfort zone and you’re growing, it’s most likely going to come along for the ride, just to keep you on your toes. The inner critic is a part of the egoic mind, it wants to protect you from being hurt or embarrassed but there are ways to manage and silence it quite effectively.
Get to Know It
The first step in learning to manage your inner critic is to become aware of it and to get to know it well. Learn to become aware of its different voices and messages. When you notice your inner critic, the saboteur, the gremlin, your own Shmidlick, and turn your attention to it, you decrease its power and hold on you.
It’s not a once-and-for-all battle and you’re not going to go to war with it – that would increase the power of its grip. You’re not going to try to ignore it either, which would just increase the intensity, frequency and severity of its judgments and criticisms. You’re just going to notice it’s there. That’s the first step.
Take some time to answer these questions in a journal:
- What are its typical criticisms?
- What voice does it use? What tone? What volume?
- In what situations do you hear it the most?
- What does it have to say to shut you down completely?
- What are the 5 things it could say that have the most power over you? Which one of those hurts the most?
Knowing your inner critic intimately gives you incredible power to manage it. When you learn to notice it – and acknowledge that it is not really you – you are now at choice. You can choose to listen to it and heed its judgments or you can boldly step in the direction of your dreams, goals and desires.
Dissolving the Inner Critic’s Power
Your inner critic is as unique as you are and there isn’t a single approach that works for everybody. Once you learn to notice its voice/s & typical criticisms, it’s time to experiment with a variety of approaches to learn how to dissolve its power. Try one or all of these to see what works for you.
- Give it a name – a funny name – a name that describes him/her or the persona he/she wants you to keep alive
- Give it a picture/face or faces – draw it out – when it’s big and when it’s small and deceptively quiet.
- Give it a funny accent or voice.
- Come up with funny retorts you can say back to its common messages.
- Reassure it with logic and reason, calling on all your experience you need; that you know what you’re doing; that it is possible; and that you can do it.
- If you need help here, read these articles: Harnessing Your Unique Strengths and
The Value of Personal Values.
Reassure it with love. I know it may sound corny to some, the L-word isn’t one that I’ve used much on this site (could it be Shmidlick, my inner critic, holding me back?). Love – it’s the most powerful force in the universe. It’s the most basic human need and the desire we are all longing for – to love and feel loved. Reassure your inner critic by giving yourself love and letting it know that you will not lose anyone’s love by taking risks but gain greater self-love, and more than likely, the love of others.
Powerful Commitments – Your Reason Why
- Think about what it is you want to do and ask yourself, “What is my big reason why?”
- What will it bring you?
- How will you, and the inner critic, benefit in the long run?
- How will others benefit when you stop playing small and play it big in the game of life?
- What powerful commitment can you make, to something bigger than you, that will reassure it?
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Remember that all you have to do is notice its presence, acknowledge that it’s not really you but a pattern in your mind trying to keep you safe. Remember your unique strengths and you’re reason why. Then take that step you’ve been wanting to take. After you’ve done it, have a little chat with your inner critic and tell him or her, “that wasn’t so bad now was it?”
If you want to diminish the power of your inner critic right now – share your biggest fears, doubts or the messages of your inner critic below (feel free to use a fake name or the name of your inner critic, your email will not be posted). Or – share some strategies or tactics you use to silence your inner critic and break through self-critical thoughts.