In the last post we explored the concept of an inner critic and the impact that self-critical thinking can have upon our on lives. If you didn’t catch the post, before you dive in here, flip back and have a read. Whilst it’s important to understand what an inner critic is the question most of us want an answer to is what can we do to reduce self-critical thinking? That is what we are going to begin to explore in this post, some coaching techniques to help you start to reduce self-critical thinking.
Listening out for self-critical thinking.
Before we can reduce self-critical thinking we first of all need to recognise it. It’s amazing how, for some of us, it can become so ingrained that we hardly notice it. We just accept what it as fact. Therefore it’s important to begin to tune in more carefully and to start to listen actively for when it occurs.
Exercise 1. What are the triggers?
We all have triggers which send us into inner-critic thinking and it’s helpful to get to know the kinds of situations in which your inner critic talks loudest. Over the coming days make a conscious effort to recognise when your inner critic is showing up and the kinds of negative self-talk that goes on in these situations. Flip back to the previous post if you need a reminder of the kinds of things to listen out for.
Get a journal or notebook and keep a record of the situations. What stands out. Are there any specific triggers or similarities in what your inner critic is saying?
A word of caution, don’t get bogged down in trying to work out why it’s saying what it says or where, in your past, this voice has come from, simply listen and increase your awareness and understanding.
Exercise 2. Give your inner critic an identity.
This may an ‘off the wall’ question but, have you ever wondered what your inner critic looks like? Maybe it’s time to find out.
Think of a situation where your inner critic crops up on a regular basis. Really connect with it. Sit quietly for a few minutes, close your eyes and imagine yourself in that situation.
- Where are you?
- What are you doing?
- Is anyone with you or are you on your own?
- How are you feeling.
In this situation, what is your inner critic saying to you? Write down what comes up for you. What self-critical thoughts are you telling yourself?
Giving your inner critic an identity
We are now going to use these comments as a basis for visualising your inner-critic. This exercise is designed to give you a quick way of recognising it when it shows up and of becoming more playful with it, robbing its voice of its power. Read back over the self-critical thoughts you’ve just written down. When you read those comments have a think about the following:
If you pictured someone saying those things what would they look like? It might be a person, a cartoon character, an animal, a shape
- What colour is it?
- How big is it?
- Is it wearing anything, if so what?
- Does it have gestures or movement?
- What words would you use to describe it e.g. bossy, mean, overpowering, people-pleasing?
- What kind of voice does it speak with – squeaking, moaning, harsh?
Grab a piece of paper and draw it, describe it, give it a name. Be curious if you have automatically gone to, ‘but I can’t draw’. If this is the case you might check in with who is speaking? You’re not creating a masterpiece to go on public display. This is something for your eyes only.
A second word of warning here – resist the temptation to visualise your inner critic as someone you know. If a person close to you comes to mind think about the traits they personify and create a characterisation of those.
You have now created a quick way to recognise your inner critic and, more importantly, to shift the emphasis of the self-critical thoughts you may have got used to hearing.
You have an opportunity to change the ‘I’ statements which are so easy to believe, ‘I am not…..’, ‘I am too……’, ‘I should…..’ into ‘you’ statements and visualise them being said by someone (or thing) else. ‘You are not…….’, ‘You are too…….’, ‘You should……’.
How does that subtle shift feel? When you imagine those statements being said by your inner-critic are they infused with less certainty and power? Perhaps a little easier to challenge and question? Maybe you can even laugh at them but hopefully you feel more able to challenge them.
Like anything this is going to take time and practice. Think of it like building a muscle. It’s highly likely that you inner-critic muscle is strong and healthy and now you need to develop an alternative. You are bringing more balance into the relationship. Turning down the strong shouting voice of your inner critic which is used to taking centre stage and shifting the spotlight into more realistic thinking.
In the next post we are going to explore some more strategies, especially the difference between realistic and self-critical thinking. If you want to do that now you can download a free copy of an ebook I’ve written with all of the exercises on the home page of the website here.