Many people consider criticism to be a good thing and it stands to reason that knowing and understanding your flaws should be a good way to ensure that you can improve and avoid making the same mistakes in future. To some degree this is true, and indeed it is certainly important to be able to objectively criticize your performance when necessary and look for areas for improvement.
However for many of us that critic which Freud would describe as the superego actually does more harm than good and criticizes in a non-constructive way while we are in the middle of giving speeches, going on dates or trying to start a new project. When our inner critic goes into overdrive it becomes not a ‘voice of reason’ but rather the ‘voice of doubt’ and a manifestation of our insecurities. This then is a serious distraction and a serious obstacle when we are trying to achieve something we can be proud of and it’s this that stops many of us from ever trying in the first place. In severe cases the ‘inner critic’ can even lead to anxiety disorders and performance anxiety to a crippling degree.
Why the Inner Critic Does More Harm Than Good
There are many reasons that the inner critic can be a destructive force rather than a positive guide. For instance if you are hearing a voice in your head telling you you can’t do something this is of course going to be damaging for your self esteem and will in many cases mean that you can’t do that thing. In other words if you believe the voice it will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where your lack of self belief causes you to underperform. In some cases you might even not try at all to succeed because you know you can’t do it anyway. Other people will also see your lack of confidence and you will find that you come across as a less imposing and impressive figure because of it which of course will affect how successful you are in life.
At the same time the minute you start to think about what could go wrong it will tend to make that thing go wrong. They always tell parents for instance never to shout to their children not to fall over – what they should say is be careful. The reason for this is that the words ‘fall over’ put the idea in the back of the children’s minds and this makes them more likely to trip like hypnotist planting a suggestion – and this is of course even more powerful if it comes from your own mind (apart from anything else our unconscious mind does not like us to be proven wrong). If all you’re thinking while you’re talking is ‘I’m going to choke, I always choke’ then of course it’s inevitable you will choke – and apart from anything else you’ll simply find that voice to be a distraction. Saying ‘be careful’ however affects their unconscious mind in a much more positive way.
So how can you cease that inner critic and just relax? How can you get out of your own head and concentrating on hitting the ball out of the park at your next presentation or interview? Here we will look at how to forget that little voice and to become more positive and confident.
How to Silence the Critic
Face Your Fears
One way to make that voice in your head go away is to face your fears head on and deal with the consequences. This way you will have lived through the worst case scenario and lived to tell the tale and that way you will know that you have nothing to be afraid of when you try again. Let’s take an example: many people will find that while learning to drive they find that they stall at the lights simply by thinking too much about stalling and about what the consequences of this would be (i.e. lots of angry drivers behind you). A good way to avoid this feeling then is to simply see what happens if you did just sit there and let the lights change. In other words when the lights go green make no effort to start the car and see what happens. Cars behind you might honk their horns but other than this you will find that there are no implications of your actions. That then means that next time there will be nothing for you to be afraid of and nothing for the little voice in your head to draw attention to. ‘What if I stall? Yeah precisely what if? Who cares… ‘.
Likewise then try using this in other settings where nerves can get the better of you – for instance try giving a speech and purposefully not saying anything for a bit. Do this at the beginning and you’ll realize it’s not the end of the world if you run out of witty patter. If you have an inner critic during social interactions meanwhile – as so many of us do – then try purposefully being awkward in a situation where there are no real repercussions. The perfect scenario is to try going into a non-local shop where you don’t often need to go and then to purposefully stammer or say something unusual. You’ll note right away that the worst case scenario is you getting a few confused looks.
Use Positive Affirmations
The little critic in your voice is often likely a result of habit. In other words you will be so used to thinking of all the potential negative outcomes that that’s all that pops into your head. For some of us this develops over time, but for others it can come from our parents. Perhaps for instance your parents were the anxious types and they used to warn you of all the dangers every time you went for a run or every time you went out to play. That then got your used to thinking of all the potential dangers in every situation and though it may have been well meant it would mean that when you came to do things as an adult all you would hear is your Mother’s voice pointing out all the potential pitfalls.
All you have to do then is to change this habit by thinking positive things and that’s where positive affirmations come into play – in other words repeating positive phrases such as ‘I know I can do it’ or ‘Who cares if it goes wrong, it’s still a good experience’. This can work in many ways. For instance if you use positive affirmations just before you head into the stressful situation then it means that you are busy thinking positive things – as you can only think one thing at a time that means that you can’t be thinking negative things. At the same time if you make a habit of repeating these positive phrases before bed and first thing in the morning this will then cause you to develop that as a habit. In other words, rather than automatically defaulting to negative concerns, you will instead find yourself naturally thinking positive things without even thinking about it due to practice.
Cognitive behavioral therapists recommend using ‘mindfulness’ where you sit and listen to your own thoughts without trying to direct them so that you can see what negative things you are thinking and develop positive affirmations to counter these specifically. If you are the kind of person who may not remember to think these positive things, then you should try using post-it notes around your room – by the sink for instance and on your bed stand and this way you’ll see them as you go about your daily routine.
If you are generally feeling nervous then this will cause many of the nervous thought patterns we associate with the inner critic. This is largely a result of our brain chemistry however – the fact that we are nervous about a stressful event causes our brain to produce adrenaline and that triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response while causing our heart rate to increase.
To avoid this being detrimental though there are ways you can alter and try to harness that nervous energy. For instance if you use meditation it is possible to calm your heart rate and to clear your mind of negative thoughts – this way you can find a stillness in the build up to an event rather than having a negative monologue.
Alternatively what you eat can also affect this interplay of biology and chemistry. Avoid stimulants for starters such as caffeine as these will increase your heart rate further. At the same time eating something such as a banana can have a very positive effect as it releases ‘dopamine’ into our body which is the ‘happiness’ hormone our body associates with reward and success. Exposure to sunlight meanwhile can cause us to produce more serotonin which is another happiness hormone associated with love. Exercising too can also help produce a range of different endorphins all of which create a positive and confident mood – though this will increase the heart rate further.
However in the case of exercise this may be no bad thing and it can represent another strategy which is simply to go with the nerves. If you can’t suppress your heart rate then trying to will likely only make you more nervous. Instead then try using this opportunity to get yourself up and to psych yourself up ready for a challenge. It’s called the ‘fight or flight’ response, so just make sure that you are in a fighting zone rather than a flying zone by exercising or listening to motivational music. Ride the wave of anxiety and you can harness this energy and turn it into something positive.
Finally though one of the best ways to silence the inner critic is, like many things, simply practice. Here practice makes perfect and if you can expose yourself to the stressful situation often enough you will find it eventually becomes no longer stressful. Don’t let the inner critic rule you then, but rather just ignore it and prove it wrong. See your anxiety not as a negative thing but as a positive thing as you train through it. The worst thing you can do is to not try at all as all this will do is reinforce your beliefs of inadequacy. Over time it will all become easier.
Pure speculation and fantasy, failing to formulated in constructive style
– objectively criticize your performance [How can PERFORMANCE be criticized?]
– criticizes in a non-constructive way [What's that?] [DESTROYS?]
– “trying” to start [What is trying? Trying is doing nothing]
– inner critic goes into overdrive it becomes not a 'voice of reason' [What means, “It becomes not”]
– This then is a serious distraction and a serious obstacle when we are trying [we are achieving] to achieve something we can be proud of and it's this that stops many of us from ever trying [TAKING ACTION may be?] in the first place.
– …and try to harness that nervous energy [What for good sake is NERVOUS ENERGY?]
Please, be affirming and provide information instead of vague "telling what to do" without telling How to do it.
I suggest "Neutralization stimuli", switching limiting thoughts into the question, "Little voice! Thank you for helping me to Neutralize the cause of this self-talk, leading to hesitation!"
Chair holder Mental and Epigenetic Neutralization in Cognitive Neuroscience