Is Your Inner Critic Ever a Good Thing? 

Do you have an inner critic? You know, the voice in your mind who tells you you’re not good enough, reminds you of times you’ve messed up, compares you to others who might be doing better, and generally makes you feel smaller than you actually are? 

In the Ascend program, we talk a lot about the “committee in your mind.” This is the set of voices that we all deal with on a constant basis, every single day. They chatter at us constantly, and some of them are incredibly unhelpful.

For many of us, our critical inner voice is an extremely loud committee member. But, have you ever considered whether our inner critic is a good thing?

Stayin’ Alive

If the Bee Gee’s are currently playing in your head right now, you’re welcome!

As we explore this ridiculous-sounding question, it’s important to remember a basic principle of our mind: it’s job is to keep us alive, while expending the least amount of energy possible.

To accomplish this, our mind relies on a very small toolkit of tactics that attempt to keep us from doing anything that is:

  • New
  • Uncertain
  • Risky
  • Ambiguous
  • Bigger than we’ve done in the past

It does this by sending us a slew of anxiety-producing, self-doubt-producing, unhelpful chatter….many times, in the form of our inner critic.

So, from that standpoint, your inner critic actually has your best interest at heart. It’s trying to keep you safe. It’s trying to direct your thoughts and feelings in a way to positively shape your life experiences. 

Build Your Relationship

Trying to keep us safe or not, for many of us, our inner critic isn’t all that helpful. We set a big goal, speak up in a meeting, talk to someone new, pursue a new project, and our inner critic steps in to deter us. 

And here’s the thing, you can’t stop it from happening. Contrary to what internet gurus will try to tell you, hard science shows that we can’t control our thoughts. (Bee Gees, Bee Gees, Bee Gees….see!)

But, even though we can’t completely silence our inner critic, we CAN decide the relationship we want to have with them.

In the case of your inner critic, think about what kind of relationship would be most HELPFUL for you to have with this roommate in your mind who isn’t going anywhere.

Many of us naturally gravitate toward a relationship where we’re somewhat of an employee and our inner critic is a boss figure. This is why our inner critic controls our behavior so easily.

But, what if you took a different approach? What if you cultivated a parent-child relationship?

What if you are the parent and your inner critic is a 2-year-old child? What if you responded to your inner critic’s chatter in the same way you’d respond to a 2-year-old’s tantrum. You’re aware of it, but you’ve simply decided not to engage with it or give it any more fuel.  

Or, yet another example, what if you decide that your inner critic is your paranoid friend? They love you and have your best interest at heart, but you just don’t put a lot of stock in their cautious warnings.

Choose Your Relationship

You can see how each of these examples shifts the power balance from your inner critic holding all the power to you being in a position of power over your inner critic.

They still squawk at you constantly, but your relationship with them is different. You don’t give as much credibility to what they’re saying. And as a result, they have less real influence over you and your behavior.

You get to choose the relationship you have with this inner voice who is just trying to save you from yourself. 

Maybe you don’t need saving.

Try It Out

As with any psych strength building exercises, this one won’t work unless you do it. So, try it out!

Decide now the relationship you want to have with your inner critic. Then, the next time it gets loud, respond compassionately from the position of this new relationship. 

Tell it, “Thank you. I know you mean well, but I’ve got this. I really can handle myself.”

Try this out and see how you feel. And check out the Ascend program if you want to know more about the “committee in your mind” and how to lessen their impact on you.

“It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life. It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power.”
― Robert Kiyosaki

Quieting Your Inner Critic

You know that little voice? The inner critic inside that’s constantly comparing you to others, noting all the ways you’re falling short, and oh-so-helpfully pointing out every little thing you do wrong?

Or perhaps that critical inner voice is more of a bully, calling you names and harshly criticizing you at nearly every turn. Paying attention to this voice can lead to feeling ashamed.

We all have an Inner Critic, but some are lucky enough to have a really loud, insistent one. If you know what I’m talking about, keep reading. 

Understanding the Critic

While you may know deep down that the Inner Critic isn’t really a good thing – after all, you tend to feel pretty crummy when it shows up, right? – on some level, you might believe that it’s there for a reason. Essentially, it wouldn’t have much to harp on if you would just do better or BE BETTER…or would it?

I challenge you to think of a time when your Inner Critic was satisfied. Find just ONE time the Critic said “Good job!”

*Crickets chirping*

Know this: the Critic showing up has nothing to do with how well you’re doing. Read that again.

No matter what you do or how well you do it, the Inner Critic will find something to criticize. That’s what it does.

Its job is to find the negative and to beat you up with it, and it’s good at its job. It’s just a mental habit, though. And it’s one that can be broken.

Silencing the Critic

Here’s a surprisingly effective way to start to quiet your Inner Critic: record your daily victories.

Each day, write down your victories. These may be the things you did well, the things that took courage or persistence, or maybe things that others appreciated about you. Think of this practice as intentionally giving yourself some (well-deserved, even if it doesn’t feel that way initially) credit. Record your daily victories for three weeks and see what happens.

Spoiler alert: you may find that, by the end of that period, it feels easier and more natural to give yourself that credit when it’s due. Moreover, the harshness of the Inner Critic will start to quiet down a bit. Your life experiences may become brighter once you learn to do this. 

This simple exercise uses your mind’s natural confirmation bias to your advantage. Your mind loves a target. When it has one, it’s really good at spotting and holding onto evidence of that target. In the case of your Inner Critic, your mind is looking for all the ways in which you are not good enough. The more evidence it finds, the more locked on to the target it gets, and the cycle continue.

Noting your daily victories will give your mind a new target. It definitely takes some time for it to shift, but your mind will eventually get it. “Oh, we look for successes now! There’s one…and there’s another.”

Think about how much different your day-to-day might feel if you weren’t being bombarded by all of those negative thoughts, like: “You’re not good enough. You suck!” messages and, instead, we’re getting the “Kudos to you!” ones.

 Think about how much better your day will feel when that voice in your head is filled with positive affirmations instead of negative self-talk and overly critical thoughts. By sneakily silencing your inner critic you are doing away with limiting beliefs and vastly improving your mental health. 

A Note of Caution

A word of caution, though, when you do start noting your victories, your mind – with its loud Inner Critic – is going to have a hard time with it at first. Whenever you try to find a victory your Critic will have a retort, a reason why that one doesn’t count.

     “You don’t deserve credit for that. Everyone does that.” 

     “That wasn’t a big deal.”

     “That’s not big enough to count as a victory.”

Write it down anyways! You’re building a new habit, and it’s going to take some practice to get past the awkward “this feels wrong” phase. Know that the internal resistance will fade as your mind learns that the Critic is no longer the one in charge. These cognitive-behavioral changes are the key to growth.

Sharing your victories can be helpful, too. We’d love to hear them!

P.S. If you’re interested in doing more work on your Inner Critic, you may like our new Ascend program.

“We all have the tendency to believe self-doubt and self-criticism, but listening to this voice never gets us closer to our goals. Instead, try on the point of view of a mentor or good friend who believes in you, wants the best for your, and will encourage you when you feel discouraged.”

– Kelly McGonigal