The other day I got caught in what I call an "Inner Critic Spiral." I was making a video for my website, and somehow I just couldn't get the tone or pitch of my voice right. Listening to myself over and over again invariably challenges me.
My thoughts began innocuously enough: "Your rhythm is too slow, Vanessa. Pick it up. People will zone out." Reasonable self- assessment right? After all, we need to be self-aware and honest to grow. But the voice continued on. "You actually kind of suck at this. I don't see how you're going to get any better. Some people have it. Some don't. You are the have not. And what's with that face you're making?" Next thing I know I was trapped in a nightmare of perfectionism paralysis and self-doubt.
Perhaps you're also intimately familiar with the insidious voice of your Inner Critic. You may recognize thoughts like, "Who do you think you are?" "You don't have what it takes." Or any variation of "you suck" spoken in your own special terms.
I've got a few powerful tricks to share that can help you move from self-condemnation back to confident, creative flow.
First, let's get to know your Inner Critic. What does it really want? And why is it here?
Think of your Inner Critic as a soldier whose sole purpose is to protect you. It's not concerned with your happiness, higher evolution or personal growth. Its only concern is to keep you as part of the "in group" so you don't get booted out into the wilderness and left to die. To that end, it uses an arsenal of potent weapons, including shame, perfectionism, fear and judgment.
I can't tell you how many times someone has told me they wouldn't be able to motivate themselves without their Critic. This logic is a favored tactic your Critic uses to keep you buying what it's selling. Really, the opposite is true. Self-criticism is linked to your survival brain. Your survival brain becomes dominant when the Inner Critic takes over, and you become hypervigilant and driven by fear.
Beyond self-criticism lies a wonderful nirvana called self-compassion. Not only is self-compassion a bedrock principle of most spiritual traditions, but research shows it fosters confidence and peace of mind. Learning self-compassion gives you the courage to take risks and follow your heart.
What's the difference between between healthy self-awareness and unhealthy inner criticism? Here's the key: self-awareness lacks shame. A hallmark of an Inner Critic spiral is the sense that you're somehow not enough or you're lacking in some essential way. Good self-reflection sparks your fire to overcome hurdles and excel. Inner criticism deflates you, breeding fear and shame.
Now let's reverse the spiral.
Here are two techniques I teach my clients to cleanse criticism and boost self-compassion:
1. Calm your body.
Typically, people kick into critical mode, then try to talk themselves out of it with little success. Before you can talk yourself into a different mindset, you have to first stop the alarm bells in your brain that signal danger.
The next time you're spiraling, try this remedy: Put your hand on your heart and take a few deep breaths, imagining you can breathe in and out of that heart center. These gestures restore your body's sense of ease by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. Now you can flip the script.
2. Find a compassionate voice.
You know you wouldn't speak to anyone else the way you do yourself. Phrases like, "Get over it," "Stop being such a baby," or, "You'll never get this right" simply don't feel good and never help. You just wind up feeling shut down, worthless or ashamed.
Instead, acknowledge what's happening, and find a kind, honest response to what you're experiencing. For example, "I know you're afraid, which makes you clumsy. But just breathe and trust that no matter how this goes you will work it out."
Your Critic is outdated. You won't die if you're booted from the "in crowd" today. But both your dreams and your peace of mind may "die on the vine" if you let your Critic run rampant. Through finding your compassionate center you'll not only gain more ease and confidence, you'll be surprised at just how motivated and ready you are to shine.