This is an excerpt taken from a recent recording I did on how to Tame Your Inner Critic as part of my Empower Yourself series. This blog is an introduction to the theme (for more info on my programmes, please scroll down). I do hope you find it useful.
Hi, it’s Jess Baker here, I’m a Women’s Leadership Coach and Chartered Psychologist. I want to explain why I’m talking about, and running programmes on, How to Tame Your Inner Critic. It’s probably the most important step you’ll ever take to authentically feel more confident with who you are.
Why do we feel under-confident?
There are a variety of reasons why we feel under confident at any one moment, with specific people, or in certain situations.
For example, you might feel slightly intimidated by someone at work for some reason: perhaps they are more senior than you, or perhaps they physically take up more space than you do.
Or there might be certain situations that fill you with dread just by thinking about them. This may be based on previous unpleasant experience, or it may be simply irrational.
Over the years I’ve come to realise that, most of the time, our under-confidence stems from the limiting beliefs that we hold about ourselves.
These limiting beliefs express themselves as an audible “voice” in our head. They are actually just thoughts. But these are very self-critical and damaging thoughts. Sometimes it’s a gentle whisper. At other times it’s an internal Munch-esque scream accompanied by a quickened heartbeat.
I’ve experienced these self-critical thoughts all of my life, sometimes louder and more forceful than at other times. It’s a perfectly natural occurrance, and as a fellow human being, I’ve no doubt that you have your own self-critical thoughts.
What is the Inner Critic?
I call this audible “voice” in your head, the Inner Critic. It’s different to other types of thoughts you have that are helpful and useful (e.g. reflective thoughts that help you learn; or thinking and planning ahead etc.).
These self-critical thoughts are particularly unhelpful, often lead to further critical thoughts, and they are, unfortunately, unstoppable.
What kind of self-critical thoughts do you have? Usually, it’s about things you feel you should or ought to do or say. Do you recognise any of these…?
“I should get to the gym more often.”
“I ought to lose five pounds.”
“I really should raise my profile at work.”
“I ought to spend more time with the kids.”
“I ought to be earning more money by now.”
“An endless stream of oughts and shoulds that lead you to believe that you are not good enough”
Do you sense the frustration in these sentences? Do you feel the self-loathing in its voice? It’s a sign of dissatisfaction with how you are in this moment.
But – and it’s important to stress this ‘but’ – the thoughts are never helpful: the voice of the Inner Critic does not lead to action.
On the contrary, the Inner Critic only ever leads to feeling worse about ourselves. It might be a fleeting moment of dissatisfaction, or might be a lifetime of never feeling good enough or worthy enough.
How does the Inner Critic make you feel?
In a word: Pants.
The Inner Critic has enormous power. It’s been rehearsing its message since you were a child. It’s well-practiced and has honed its succinct monologue.
You know as well as I do that your thoughts affect how you feel and how you behave. Unfortunately, your reactions to your Inner Critic are just as well-established as your Inner Critic itself.
For example, you may experience a shift in your mood that you can’t attribute to tiredness, or hormonal changes. You might suddenly feel uncertain, feel frustrated, or begin to worry or panic.
Your body may physically react to the Inner Critic. You might experience a faster heart rate, your breath quickens, you may even begin to sweat or shake with anxiety.
Whilst I encourage clients to initially become aware of their thoughts, some of my clients actually find it easier to notice when their Inner Critic has been activated, by becoming aware of changes to their mood or their body.
In addition, your Inner Critic can also change your behaviour.
Do you procrastinate (worried that you won’t do a good enough job?), defer making decisions (convinced you’ll make the wrong one?), avoid specific people (they make you feel worse about yourself?), or say ‘yes’ because it’s easier than saying ‘no’ (you don’t feel assertive enough to establish your boundaries?).
Underlying each of these examples is your Inner Critic and its harmful messages: you’re not good enough, you’re an imposter, you don’t deserve success, you’re not worthy of being loved.
What triggers the Inner Critic?
Each one of us has a variety of triggers; some more powerful and well-established than others. I’ve compiled them into 4 categories below.
Comparing yourself to others – this never works in our favour. Research tells us that we naturally judge others so that we can determine how to best fit into society. However, with judgement comes comparison – and we rarely compare ourselves favourably to others.
Comparing your real self to your Ideal Self – you hold a perfected, idealised version of yourself in your mind’s eye that you could never live up to. So, all the time you are yearning to be that version of yourself, you feel dissatisfied with how you are now.
Someone else’s negative judgement about you (or something that was said in front of you) – your Inner Critic isn’t your original thought, but something your brain latched on to as truth. What comes up for you as you read this? A criticism from your mother, father, teacher, ex-lover etc…?
Someone else’s Inner Critic – “Other People’s Inner Critic” is just as dangerous as our own if we don’t recognise it as such. They project their own fears and insecurities on to us (often totally unaware that they are doing so, and without meaning to) but it can still be harmful.
Can you see how endemic the Inner Critic is? Some people, like me, are more susceptible to its power than others, and those of you still reading this know exactly what I’m talking about.
Befriend Your Inner Critic
It is never going to just turn off. You cannot stop your Inner Critic, but you can manage how you respond to it.
Noticing it – becoming aware of your Inner Critic is the most important step to empowering yourself. Once you notice what it says and why, you can understand and befriend it.
Sharing it – telling someone you can trust what your Inner Critic says about you is a powerful step towards disempowering it. You see, your Inner Critic needs secrecy and shame to stay alive, and the most effective way of reducing this is to tell someone about it.
Rationalise it – engaging your rational brain is the next step to taming your Inner Critic. Using methods from cognitive-behavioural psychology, such as disputation, makes it really difficult for you to continue to believe the rubbish that your Inner Critic promotes.
What else can I do?
You have three options:
Find a coach to help you to identify your Inner Critic. It’s possible, but not easy, to do on your own. Because your Inner Critic is embedded in how you see yourself, and extremely good at arguing, you’ll probably end up going around in circles. If you’d like to contact me about coaching, I host free 30-minute calls so we can find out if and how we can work together.
Join 100+ other women in the next live round of my FREE 5-Day Challenge: Tame Your Inner Critic. If you’re ready to get out of your own way, stop procrastinating, and have more confidence to go after the life you deserve to have, then this is for you.
And if you’re really serious about disempowering your Inner Critic, then come and join the smaller group of women on my in-depth 6-week members-only online course. The next Live Round starts in June Master Your Inner Critic.
Don't you just love Marie Kondo?
I’m catching up with the Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo when I go to the gym (it helps me do longer sessions on the cross-trainer) and I'm loving the happy declutter-induced transformation. It's just as heart-warming as Marie’s gentle, joyful smile.
“Discard everything that does not spark joy”
What a great motto. If you have ever decluttered a drawer, a room, or your entire home, you’ll know that sense of release you get from having let go of the old and making way for the new.
I cried all the way to the dump
Having decluttered three times in the last four years, I’ve always found it emotionally challenging. The last time, I stuffed my Land Rover full of unused MIMI packaging and cried my heart out all the way to the dump, sobbing as I tipped empty cardboard boxes into the giant recycling crates. God knows what the guys around me must have thought, but it had to be done.
Maybe you’ve got a kitchen drawer you can’t quite open because it's stuffed with take-away menus and pens that don’t work…ask Marie to help you declutter your home.
I’m here to help you declutter your headspace, baby.
Why decluttering our headspace is a good thing
Which of these common self-critical thoughts have you had?
In all the years I’ve been working as a psychologist, dating back to 2001, the one most remarkable thing I’ve come to understand is how uncreative our Inner Critic is.
Regardless of our cultural heritage, socio-economic background, education level, or indeed the fact that we’re all unique, our Inner Critic says the same negative things about us. Do you recognise any of these?
I don’t deserve a promotion / success/ be wealthy / love
I’m not the kind of person who gets what they want / finds love
I’m a rubbish manager / mum / dad / writer / artist / neighbour
I’ll never be good enough / clever enough / slim enough / fit enough
Add your own here…
These are such horrible things to think aren’t they? I bet you wouldn’t dream of saying these to someone else. Yet we carry these beliefs around with us all of the time.
A few more question for you...
How long have these thoughts been holding you back for?
In what ways has your Inner Critic prevented you from doing or having the things you want in life?
How does your Inner Critic make you feel?
Which specific beliefs would you like to declutter right now?
Why we hold onto unhelpful negative beliefs
We all have an Inner Critic. It’s normal. I want to remind you: your brain is wired to protect you. It is preventing you from situations where you might humiliate yourself, make mistakes, or fail (e.g. going for the promotion, starting the business, dating again etc.).
And of course, you don’t want to humiliate yourself, make mistakes, and you definitely don’t want to fail at something. It’s totally normal to feel the fear and avoid it as much as possible. So you stay put. You stay safe. And your Inner Critic has won. Again.
Or you might be the kind of person who pushes on through despite the Inner Critic. You’re determined to achieve your goals so you put your head down and focus. BUT your Inner Critic is so loud you’ve not really been able to enjoy your journey or celebrate your success.
While you often question what other people do and say, you rarely question what’s in your own head. Most of your thoughts are unconscious, they become your beliefs, that determine your behaviour and so ‘hey presto!’ you learn to live by them.
Some of your beliefs are helpful, these guide your moral judgement. Other beliefs are not and can actually hold you back from getting on with stuff and living your ‘dream’ life (refer to your own list of self-critical thoughts).
3 steps to Declutter your headspace
1. Own it
When I ask my clients to voice-record or write their Inner Critical thoughts, I get a brief questioning look. They’d prefer me to tell them how to ignore, silence, conquer, banish it all together, in an instant!
But, I’ve learned through personal experience, that the harder you fight to get away from your Inner Critic, the stronger it becomes.
So, the first step is to get to know it better. There’s power in acknowledging it, so tune in to it with an open and curious mind. For one week, write down absolutely everything it says. Once you can see it on paper the rational part of your brain, the neocortex, will help you to analyse it.
2. Befriend it
I want you to get to a place where you know your Inner Critic so well that you know where it comes from (e.g. is it something your mother once said, or friend said as a joke that you took to heart?). The better you get at unpicking it and understanding why you say these things to yourself, the easiest it will be for you to thank it for trying to protect you.
3. Redefine it
Review the specific thoughts you have. Examine the language – I don’t, I can’t, I’ll never, etc. Now try this reframing exercise where you replace the negative words for positive ones, starting with the first phrase…
Inner Critic: I’m not, I can’t, I’ll never etc.
Positive Reframing: I choose, I can, I will, I want to, I deserve, I’m looking forward to, I’d love to at least try...
I don’t deserve a promotion = I do deserve a promotion
I’m not the kind of person who gets promoted = I am the kind of person this company needs
I’ll never be fitter = I choose to go to the gym
Then build on the whole sentence turning self-criticism into self-belief
The better you become at noticing your Inner Critic, the louder it will seem. I have to remind my coaching clients, and the people on my free 5-day challenge that teaches you how to Tame Your Inner Critic, that being more consciously aware of your Inner Critic takes you a massive step closer to being able to manage your reaction to it. Remember, it’s just a sign that you’re becoming excellent at noticing!
Huge benefits & long-term rewards
Getting down 'n' dirty with your Inner Critic may feel uncomfortable and icky or downright emotionally draining. That's totally normal.
It's taken me a few years to undo all the negative beliefs I was holding about myself. But it brings with it huge benefits and long term rewards, to me, my partner, my friends and clients.
I can proudly say that I'm more confident in my ability, more grounded in who I am and what I stand for, and I no longer wake up at 4am fretting about something that will never happen.
A smooth transition to confidence
My own transition means that I'm better equipped to help others declutter their headspace and reclaim their confidence. It's a deep process, and an arduous journey to take on your own. It can be made smoother with a lot of support and encouragement form someone who's on your side (let me know if I can help).
Jess Baker is a Chartered Psychologist, Women’s Leadership Coach, and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society.
She works across a range of industries designing and delivering leadership development programmes for large corporate clients, and wants to help empower a much wider audience of women ready to step into their light.
Jess is a passionate coach, and an engaging facilitator. She is often quoted in women's magazines, has trained in stand-up comedy, and enjoys speaking at wellbeing events across the UK.
She is also a Trustee of BelEve UK, helping to empower girls aged 8-18 through leadership programmes in schools and communities.