Taming Your Inner Critic

We all have that little voice inside that never shuts up. From its ability to worry and criticize to its ability to obsess and ruminate, that voice is a powerful force in our lives—one that tends to consume us with negativity. That, my friends, is your inner critic, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: Everybody has one. Whether yours is mildly active or hyperactive, the critic is always there. As we enter the winter season, here are six healthy ways to manage your critic.

1. Breathe to calm yourself. When the critic fires up, we tend to restrict our breath, which often incites panic. Ground yourself and slow your thoughts with mindful breathing: slow, deep inhales through the nose followed by long, slow exhales through the mouth.

2. Acknowledge your critic’s presence. Simply saying, “Okay critic, I acknowledge you’re here and you are welcome, but you are not allowed to run my life” will suffice. Notice if a mental image of your critic appears. Is it your image? If so, what age are you? Is it another’s image? If so, who is it? Notice where in your body you feel it when your critic chimes in. Seeking a visual representation of your critic helps you begin to understand why it’s even there, and in noting where it manifests, you’re cultivating deeper self-awareness.

3. Engage with your critic in healthy ways by not giving into its negativity and by using its chatter as a means of exploration. When your critic pops up, what is its tone? Is it negative or critical? Towards whom or what? Is it panicked or worried, scolding or self-defeating? This is your chance to ask your critic why it is here and doing what it’s doing. Pay attention to any answers that arise and note them. The revelations might shock you.

4. Counteract your critic’snegative self-talk before it gets on its bandwagon by asking the following questions and answering them: Is the thought I’m having true? Can I absolutely know it’s true? What would I rather believe? Who would I be without that negative thought? Questioning cuts off the critic’s need to be incessant because you are tending to it, and thus yourself—body, mind, and spirit. Your thoughts and feelings are valid—even the negative ones, so let them be tools for you to discover another path on your roadmap of life.

5. Affirm known truths. Reinforce your control by repeating positive affirmations out loud: I am loved and worthy, I am more than I fear I might not be, etc. You can also affirm by listening to a guided meditation or your favorite music, or by doing something visceral to redirect your focus (i.e., walking/running outdoors, gardening, yoga/exercise). Physical activity breaks the cycle of sitting and ruminating on what your critic is blabbing about, and it gets your feel-good chemicals flowing, helping to clear out the negativity.

6. Journal your thoughts. Whether you write or type them, getting those innermost thoughts, fears, cravings, rantings, hopes, desires, etc. out of your physical being so they can’t get lodged is crucial. It’s also less ammo for your critic. I know most of us are extremely busy with work, families, and other responsibilities, but taking a few minutes during your day—maybe over your lunch break or before bed—to jot down thoughts and expunge information allows for better sleep and deeper focus, which, in turn, allows for more presence in and control over your own life.

Remember to be gentle with yourself!