We all have a pain in the ass inner-critic. There is no question that this inner-critic in our head keep us all from fully speaking our truth, owning our power, and keeping us from reclaiming our lives.  This inner-critic tells us we are not good enough. It tells us we cannot do what we want.

First, let’s categorize the thoughts this inner-critic can tell us.

  • We are either perfect or a complete failure.  For example, that was a terrible meeting at work, I must be a failure at my job.
  • Our inner-critic loves take one example of negativity and then project out into the future. For example,  I did not get a job I wanted, therefore I will never find a job.
  • It loves to magnify situations way out of proportion.   For example, I failed the test, therefore I am going to fail out of college.

Here is an example of one of my inner-critic stories and how it prevented me from claiming my voice for many years.  I was mid-career, working as a product management lead at a software company. I also had 2 young children. THere was a position available for a senior manager.  My boss asked me if I was interested. My inner-critic decided to get right in the middle of it. Here is what it told me would happen if I took this job….all of which are completely false.

  • My children would get into drugs since I would not be there for them.
  • My husband would leave me because I would be on the road all of the time.
  • My extended family would hate me since I would have to miss the holidays.
  • I would fail at the job since I am terrible with politics at work.
  • I would fail at being a Mom.

I said ‘no’ to the position because of my inner-critic. My inner-critic literally stopped my career from moving forward.  I ended up bored in my job, overqualified for the work….and it took me many years for my career to move forward.

What was I afraid of when I said no?  Was it failure? Was it self-doubt? Was it fear of success? The primary message was..…”Who do you think you are trying to be? You cannot be successful in being a mom and a leader. If you even try, you will  fail.”

I am at the point where I have the upper hand. I have learned how to quiet my inner-critic.  I now do what I love, wake up with joy each day, and live with purpose.

It is important to realize this inner-critic does not just appear when there are big decisions.  It can appear when you going about your daily life at work and at home. It can appear at a meeting when you are worried about speaking up. It can appear when your manager is giving you feedback.  It can appear when you miss a baseball game since you have an important meeting to attend.

What to do

Taming this inner-critic can take some time.  But if you start to acknowledge the thoughts and use a few of the tools below, you can start the process.  Here are some of the tools I have used over the years.

Triggers:  Certain people, situations, and circumstances may set into motion a seemingly endless stream of negative thoughts from the inner-critic. Be aware of what triggers your critic. For me, my trigger used to be when I had to choose between work and something the kids needed.  I became vulnerable and even felt shame that I was not perfect. And when this happened, I hid. I became quiet. I end up going inwards. I ended up choosing what was easiest versus what was right.

Name It: Make the inner-critic separate from you.  For my inner-critic, I have given it a name…my inner-critic is my ‘gremlin’. This is not me.  This is something separate from me. My gremlin is ugly, green, and it looks like a short monster.

Know Its Happening:  For many, we have been used to living in fear and being frozen by this inner-critic that we did not realize how much control it had.  This was me for so many years. I am now at the point where I can recognize when my gremlin is acting up. I know when I stop talking at a meeting. I know when my heart starts racing.  I know when I have to make difficult choices. Start to recognize when this inner-critic starts to have the upper hand. Recognize what your mind starts to say as well as how your body reacts.

Reach Out.  Brene Brown tells us to share our story, at the right time, to the right person.  Do not suffer in silence. Talk to those who you are close too. Even if its ‘this is what happened and I am freaked out by it”.  Talk to people who will not judge you or try to fix you. Talk to those who will just listen and be empathetic. Those will hear you and understand you in all of your vulnerability and human-ness.  When we talk about our stories, according to Brene Brown, shame can’t survive.

Challenge It:  I challenge the lies my gremlin tries to feed to me. I ask myself:  Is that really true? What are the facts? I will tend to write down the facts and then read to facts to back to myself.  This immediately quiets the gremlin down.

Have a Mantra: A mantra is just a brief positive affirmation.  Saying your mantra a few times in our head is a way to quiet the gremlin and pull you into the positivity of the current moment.  It literally changes your focus from negativity to positivity.

Some of my matra’s include:  

  • I am strong
  • I am fearless

You can choose any word or phrase that will help bring you into the present and remind you to focus on the goodness of the moment.

Do What Makes You Uncomfortable Anyway:  Even if your gremlin is shouting at the top of its lungs, if you tell your story, understand your triggers, have a mantra, you can quiet the inner-critic.  Shame cannot survive this. What is uncomfortable becomes less scary. The gremlin loses its power. We can now make room in our head and heart to take the action we need to.

How do you tame your inner-critic? What tools do you use?