We receive messages all the time. The music we listen to, the street signs we read, and the conversations we have with other people mean that there’s always something being communicated to us.
But what can be even more powerful than what we hear from the outside world is what’s going on inside our minds. Sometimes that inner dialogue can be encouraging and inspirational, but all too often it’s pretty brutal (think of that annoying voice inside your head that may be telling you you’re not good enough or worthy of success or love).
Fortunately, you don’t have to let that voice win or completely hijack your self-worth. Here are some ways to tame your inner critic and calm down negative self-talk.
The first thing to do is be aware that you have an inner voice. We don’t always think about the things we tell ourselves from day to day. Pay attention to what sorts of messages are swirling around in your brain. Maybe even take notes or write out your thoughts to determine how many negative vs. positive things you tell yourself. Then try to identify the source of that voice.
If you find that you’re berating yourself in your head, figure out who’s really talking. It might be one or both of your parents. It might be someone else who’s criticized you or even bullied you when you were young. It could even be a painful experience you once had that caused you to question your own ability or worth. It’s helpful to realize that the voice is not you, instead it’s most likely a voice from your past. Identifying the voice as someone or something else means that you can choose to accept or reject it.
Once you’ve recognized your inner critic and determined where it came from, ask yourself if you can know for sure that what it’s saying is true.
For example, if that voice is telling you that you’re not intelligent, how do you know that that’s true? You’re not intelligent compared to what? With whom? By what standard? It’s a baseless assumption, so challenge that voice that’s bringing you down. Counter it with possible other ideas. Let’s say you feel stupid for doing a bad job on a work project. I encourage you to challenge that critical voice that says you won’t be successful with a thought like, “I’m disappointed in myself for not doing as well as I wanted, but that doesn’t mean I can’t rise above this and do better in the future.” Don’t let your inner critic have the last word.
And finally, in order to quiet that critical voice inside your head, you’ll need to give it less space by replacing it with something positive. When working with clients who’ve struggled with this, I’ve suggested that they at least try to balance the positive and negative thoughts 50/50. It’s estimated that around 60 to 80 percent of what we say to ourselves is negative, so practice applying self-compassion and speaking kindly to yourself.
When you catch yourself criticizing your body, balance that with something complimentary (or at least with something neutral). If you think you’re overweight or unattractive, for instance, remind yourself that you’re healthy, you’ve made fitness improvements, or that you have some other trait or accomplishment specific to you that is positive.
We truly are often our own worst enemies. Saying negative things in our head all day can bring us down and keep us from experiencing real joy and fulfillment. Apply these strategies to tame that pesky critic in your mind and find some inner peace.