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There you are on your mat, attempting that tricky arm balance, and with a thump you face plant on the floor. In your head a nasty narrative plays: “I’m not strong, I’m not graceful, I’m less than everyone else here.” You are about to give a presentation and all you can hear is that same sneering soundtrack: “I’m not prepared; I will never be prepared enough because I am a fraud.” Or, something familiar to this author, you sit down to write and as you stare at the blinking blank page that inner critic grabs the microphone again: “No one cares what you have to say, you will never be a writer.”
Sound familiar? Many of us have inner critics so relentless, redundant, and ruthless that our confidence and creativity constantly suffer. Here are seven ways to tend and tame the inner critic.
1.Externalize the voice: Personify the inner critic in any creative outlet that resonanates with you. Paint it. Draw it. Embody it with a dance. Give it a name. By making the inner critic a personified “other” you cultivate a witness consciousness that’s able to observe the voice without being consumed by it.
2.Would you say it to someone else? Speak the entire script of the inner critic out loud. You can also try writing it down. Chances are you would never say such hurtful, abusive things to someone you love. Why then is it permissible to say it to yourself? This would be an important question to explore with a skilled therapist.
3.Whose voice is it? If we were told by teachers, parents or peers, even on a subtle level, that what we did, or worse, who we were, was never good enough, at some point we begin to internalize and pre-empt the criticism by saying it to ourselves. Tracing the roots of where your negative self-talk originated can offer important insights into liberating yourself from false, outdated beliefs.
4.How does it serve you? Even our most destructive patterns began as adaptations to stress. The logic of an inner critic’s preemptive strike strategy is “I’ll hurt myself so no one else can, or if someone else does, it won’t surprise me.” Maybe at one point having a harsh inner voice motivated you to work harder and achieve more. Personal growth involves realizing when old ways of protecting ourselves actually bring us more harm.
5.Are you a self-fulfilling prophet? Inner critics are the primary architects of self-fulfilling prophecies and self sabotage. If you tell yourself you are going to fail, you set yourself up to realize that outcome, thereby validating the inner critic’s prediction. Become aware of the active role your inner critic plays in shaping your reality. By making this vicious cycle conscious you empower yourself with a choice to commit to a new pattern of thinking which can bring a new pattern of results.
6.Find an Inner Cheerleader: Talk back! On paper or out loud, have a spirited debate with your inner critic. Speak as the inner critic and respond as a more confident version of your Self. If you find you can’t talk back, try working with a qualified therapist who will model ways to challenge negative self talk. Your inner critic needs an inner cheerleader.
7.Meditation, Meditation, Meditation: A vocal inner critic is like a record that gets stuck in a groove playing the same phrase of music over and over again. Meditation is a way to change songs. In Vipassana meditation you place your attention on your breath, gently observe the mind’s tendency towards critique, and then again come back to your breath. With mantra meditation you find a positive affirmation to replace the inner critic’s mantras of self doubt. Find a sitting practice that quiets the mind, and grounds you in your deepest truth, which is, on the most fundamental level, that you are enough.
If you are looking for a way to start or deepen your daily meditation - take a
look at this program by MindValley: bit.ly/YOGIMeditation and the Mindfulness Based Stressed Reduction online course by Sounds True: - The YOGI TIMES team