How to silence your inner critic (and why you need to)

Whether we like to admit it or not, everyone has an inner critic. It is the part of us that is fearful; of change, failure, ridicule… the list goes on.

And while in some ways, our inner critic is just trying to protect us, what it really does is inhibit us.

And, if we cannot learn to silence our inner critic, it becomes difficult to achieve meaningful and lasting change. Ultimately, it prevents us from flourishing, which is why it is vital that we tackle critical thoughts head on.

Five ways our inner critic tries to sabotage us 

Here are five common ways our inner critics try to sabotage us:

  1. Polarised thinking – for example, “You never think before you speak,” or “You always screw things up.” In this type of thinking there is no middle ground, things are either good (rarely) or bad (usually).
  2. Catastrophising – for example, “You’ve ruined everything,” or “It’s a complete disaster.” With this type of thinking we hit the panic button from the first moment something goes wrong.
  3. Labelling – for example, “You’re a loser/failure/lazy/stupid.” This type of thinking is arguably the most damaging, since it feeds into our global self-evaluation and can elicit feelings of self-hatred and shame.
  4. Dwelling on the negative – for example, “Why did you say that stupid comment?” or “How could you forget your line in the play?” This type of thinking is essentially nit-picking, where we focus on one bad needle in a haystack of positive things.
  5. Bullying – for example, “You should lose weight,” or “You must do something about your hair.” Using pushy words like ‘should’ make us feel stressed and pressured, whereas if we replace them with softer words like ‘could,’ we demonstrate that we have a choice in whether we act or not. Using gentler words when we talk to ourselves can make a big difference in how we feel and see ourselves.

Three things we need to know to silence our inner critic

To silence your inner critic, it is first important to acknowledge three key things:

  1. Few things in life are black and white – indeed most are shades of grey. Thinking in extreme terms is therefore pointless and does not serve us.
  2. Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we want – we may not like it, but if we accept it, we may find it easier not only to learn from bad experiences but to grow from them.
  3. Bad thoughts prevent good performance – very few, if any, good things come from thinking negatively. That’s why it is so important to work on silencing our inner critics, to enable us to perform at our best.

Four strategies you can use to silence your inner critic

So, what strategies can you employ next time your inner critic pipes up? Try the following.

1) Imagine your critic as a cartoon character

It might sound silly, but it can help to visualise our inner critic as a cartoon character (to give you an example, mine is Penfold from the 1980s children’s TV show Danger Mouse – really showing my age there!)

If you do this, you might already find that when a critical thought pops up you are able to diffuse it slightly by conjuring up the character you have given to your critic (trust me, it’s harder to take Penfold seriously than it is your own internal monologue).

2) Listen and challenge the critical thought

Listen to the critical thought and then challenge it using these questions: 

  • Where is the evidence for this? 
  • What examples are there to the contrary?
  • How does this way of thinking serve me?
  • How can I create new thoughts that will support me better in achieving my goals?

Write down the original thought on a Post-It note and, once you have considered the questions, write beside it a more positively framed version. For example, “You never think before you speak” might become “Occasionally you don’t think before you speak.”

If you think the critical comment may warrant some action on your part, add an action point underneath what you’ve written, for example, “Be more mindful in future.” Stick the note up on your desk, bathroom mirror, kitchen cupboard…anywhere you’ll see it regularly so it will start sinking in.

3) The friend/younger self test

If you’re struggling to shake off a critical thought, ask yourself: “Would I say this to my friend/younger self?” In almost every case the answer will be no. So why would you say it to yourself now?!

4) Write yourself a positive letter

When you’re in a positive frame of mind, sit down and write a short letter to yourself, in which you detail all your positive qualities. It might just be a list, for example: “I am strong. I am capable. I am kind.”

Whichever way you like to do it, write the letter, fold it up and pop it into your wallet. Next time your inner critic starts to give you a hammering, pull out the letter and read it. Hopefully it will give you some perspective and help you shut the critic down.

Belinda Jane Batt is a mother, positive psychology coach and Founder of The Flourishing Mother, which supports mothers at all life stages to flourish in life and at work.

Photo by Beata Ratuszniak