I used to have a debilitating inner critic. Many of us don’t realise how much our inner critics sabotage us and hold us back. I didn’t for the longest time. It sapped my energy and kept me in a job I didn’t love (and that’s not the half of it!). It also held me back from taking the risks I needed to grow.
Our inner critics are our own worst enemies. They are like our own personal auto-immune disease, attacking us from the inside.
Now I’ve learned to tame my inner critic, I help others manage theirs. I’ve figured out one question and, even more importantly, one answer that will help you tame your inner critic.
First, let’s take a quick look at how the inner critic manifests.
There is the most obvious layer of the inner critic: the one that we sometimes hear telling us that we’re useless, ugly, lazy, not enough. But breaking through that layer is just the start of the journey! It is amazing the range and variety of ways that the inner critic can manifest. It is devious and takes many shapes and forms: a sense of despair that ‘there’s no way I could ever do that’, thinking ‘I could do better’ all the time, comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves wanting. I ‘should exercise more’, ‘I should be better at this by now’.
Then there’s the critique of our previous actions and choices: thinking ‘why did I not see this coming?’, ‘how could I have been so stupid?’, ‘why did I ever think I could […fill in the blank]’.
That perfectionism that so many people are proud of? That’s the inner critic too.
If you are not familiar with any of these, then you are either very lucky or in denial! Most of us have a wicked inner critic!
So, what is the one question that can help you tame your inner critic?
Ultimately, the inner critic can be boiled down to one question: ‘What could I have done better?’ with the underlying belief that there is something I could have done differently. (Even thinking we are not good enough can be boiled down to that question – what could I have done to be better?).
And here is the killer answer: NOTHING.
I said it was all in the answer. There is absolutely nothing you could have done at that time with the information and abilities you had then, to make a different choice than you did. The answer is always the same. This is important to remember. Accept that and you will have a lot more peace.
Notice that this is a completely different question from: what could I do differently in similar circumstances in the future? (i.e. what could I learn from this?) That is the question that turns the inner critic around. If you can ask that question without beating yourself up, you will harness the powers of the inner critic without its debilitating effects.
Experiment with it and let me know how it goes!