“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
—Walt Kelly, Pogo cartoon strip
Hello, Inner Critic!
Time to give your inner critic the spotlight it craves and address the “yes, buts…,” the “should’s,” and the “you’re not good enough…” messages that tend to appear whenever you consider changing something in your life.
Usually your inner critic lurks in the background, keeping its watchful eyes on your thoughts and behaviors, vigilant for changes to the status quo. But let’s be clear: your inner critic has only one job— to protect you from yourself by intervening when you venture beyond your current reality.
You may be saying, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense. Doesn’t my inner voice protect me from unsafe risks, keep me on the ‘straight and narrow," and help me know my limits?”
Interesting. Could that be your inner critic asking those questions?
What makes you think you have limits? Or that you must follow certain rules? Why do you keep judging yourself against other people’s standards or expectations?
Your inner critic is your self-sabotaging voice! It constrains you from living your most fulfilling, value-filled life. It shouts, “Danger! Danger!” to keep you in line. It allows you to live comfortably with self-limiting beliefs. It keeps you small.
And no you longer want to live small, do you? You want to honor your values, to make conscious choices, and to live outside of your self-imposed box. You want to reclaim your power!
So let’s meet your inner critic head-on. Let’s dig deeply and really define what it looks like, acts like and how it makes you feel. Let’s find a way to get out of your own way so you can expand the possibilities and get on with your life in a much bigger way.
How do you know when your inner critic is actively nearby? When does it appear?
What does it look like? What metaphor might capture its essence? What name might you give it?
What are your inner critic’s habits? Where does it go when it’s not pestering you?
Remember this list? These are some words that your inner critic may lob at you whenever you consider moving outside of your comfort zone, playing “outside of the box” or wanting to explore the unknown or “forbidden.” It’s the voice that says, “If you make this choice, you most certainly will be:
selfish, and on, and on, and on.”
What is your inner critic fond of saying to you?
How does it distract you from honoring your values?
As a final exercise, you may want to draw a picture of what your inner critic looks like or find some representation of it to keep its characteristics in mind. Perhaps one word or color or even a smell captures its essence. Where might you put this image/word/color as a reminder that your inner critic is not you and that you can consciously choose to control it?
Let’s face it: rocking the boat causes uncertainty and ambiguity. Your inner critic is nourished by one thing: fear. Plain and simple.
Interrupting: Hey, What Are You Doing Here?
So, while you are determined to move steadily onward, you know that your inner critic is lurking in the shadows. Or perhaps it has boldly stepped between you and your developing fire. Either way, it’s time to decide how to deal with this pest because this time you are determined to stoke and guard your newly emerging fire! You are going to be in the driver’s seat and your inner critic will be riding in the trunk on this journey.
This pest has appeared because it wants attention. It’s like a fussy, demanding two-year-old. “Me! Me! Pay attention to me!” Give it attention, if only briefly, and you placate it for a while. Ignore it, and it becomes more insistent, plays on your fears and nibbles away at your strength and resolve causing you to doubt yourself.
Take heart! You do have choices for dealing with this persistent inner critic. And, over time, as you learn to deal firmly with it, it actually becomes weaker and loses much of its ability to influence your decisions.
You know you’re tired of this dance you do with your inner critic. You’re ready to wrest the controls away from it. Time to take a stand! So, what are your options?
You can be firm, clear and direct with it. Thank it for having served you well in the past, and sternly tell it that you are now ready to take charge. You are eager to move beyond the same-old, same-old and take risks. You know that you may stumble or fall and accept that this is part of the journey. You are confident and primed to try new things! Your goal is so delicious that your inner critic is not going to thwart you.
Not yet feeling ready to confront your inner critic head-on? Divert it. Give it something else to do or another place to go while you are tending your fire. You might say to yourself, “Inner critic (or the name you have given this little guy), I’m going to drop you in my desk drawer for now. I have important things to do without your interference.” It is important to consciously remove it for the time being. Use your imagination.
An alternative is to recall the metaphor, word, image, etc. that you used to capture the essence of your inner critic. Now visualize your inner critic on your shoulder. Take extreme delight it forcefully flicking it away.
Be assured: when you stand up to your inner critic and confront it with your desire to create a most audacious and wildly fulfilling life, true to your core values, your inner critic will shrivel and melt just like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. Can’t you just hear it, “I’m melting! I’m melting!!”
What will you do, how will you be, or what will you remember to keep your inner critic at bay?
Revisiting and relishing what fulfills you in your life, envisioning your life as homage to your core values, feeling deep within your heart what you truly want in your life—all of these techniques will help you regain your power over your inner critic.
If you need to create a more enticing, can’t-live-without-it vision for your future, review your responses to the core values exercises. Have you truly described your most fulfilling life? One that fully honors your core values? Have you recognized the many gifts and possibilities awaiting you?
Your vision must be so compelling that you can no longer tolerate the status quo. You must be driven to create the necessary changes.
And, just a reminder: other people’s expectations can throw water on your burgeoning fire, too. These options work equally as well with them.