Inner Critic or Inner Coach
Article #77 Who Runs the Show?
Every healthy person has an internal dialogue that runs constantly. According to WebMD, a study shows that 96% of adults talk to themselves in their minds.
This internal dialogue, or self-talk, is simply peoples’ thoughts. It’s the voice in their head that comments on life, what’s happening around them, and what they’re thinking consciously or subconsciously. It’s how they apply logic to life, although that logic may be skewed or driven by emotions and experiences.
Though it may seem evident that the quality of self-talk is essential to the quality of life, scientists have not understood their relationship until relatively recently.
Self-talk has two faces. One face is the “critic.” This negative self-talk is more likely to emerge when someone makes a mistake or works on something challenging. The second face is “the coach.” This positive self-talk occurs when a person succeeds.
These conversations you have with yourself can be a powerful stepping stone or a significant obstacle to reaching your goals. Mine has become an obstacle in the last few years.
Painful early life experiences and hurtful attitudes forms the inner critic. It dwells on reasons why a person is not good enough. As they age, people unconsciously adopt and integrate these thought patterns toward themselves.
This inner voice questions each decision and undermines each accomplishment leaving a person with feelings of shame, inadequacy, or guilt.
My inner critic has gotten too big for its britches. It’s time to stop letting it get in the way of aging well.
While they don’t operate simultaneously, these are seven clues that the inner critic is talking.
It says things you would never say to another person.
It invades your thinking rather than reflecting your honest thoughts.
The same thoughts reoccur as if you hear a broken record.
You know the thought is untrue, but it doesn’t leave.
After it criticizes or plays out the worst-case scenario, it follows up with phrases like “get some perspective” or “don’t be insecure.”
It may argue about what’s in your best interest — what is realistic, and practical, what protects you from harm, and what will ensure the best outcome. It tricks you.
The inner critic takes inspiration from outer critics. Listen for echoes of a parent, a sibling, a boss, the agent of societal institutions, or significant cultural forces such as religion, company, or country.
My inner critic takes inspiration from outer critics. The same thoughts come up repeatedly, even though I know they aren’t true.
This video sums up how the critical inner voice operates.
When you know what an inner critic sounds like, you can identify yours when it speaks up – and separate from it. Then you have a choice: whether or not to take direction from this irrational, fearful part of you.
The inner coach supports your efforts, motivates you to keep trying even when you’re not 100% successful, encourages you to practice for success, and helps you figure out what you’re doing that stands in the way.
Think of it as your attitude’s trainer! It’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure this voice is loud and proud in it’s daily thoughts.
Who rules your life - the inner critic or the inner coach?
The article Enhancing Your Inner Coach offers four steps to strengthening this internal support.
Step one is to figure out what you want to accomplish. This step may seem self-explanatory, but people sometimes don’t notice their success because they have no clear goals. “I want to stick to the diet for one month,’’ gives a finish-line. Once you know what you want to accomplish, you know when you're getting close or if you need to make changes.
The next step is for people to determine what they need to do to accomplish the task. A helpful tip is to break the goal into segments that lead in the right direction.
For example, if you want a new job, how about updating your resume, registering with an online classified service, researching the industry in your area, or contacting prospective employers? Along the way, you can see your progress and redirect yourself from going off-track.
Step 3 is to remove obstacles and solve problems. People should identify things in their life that stand in their way. Most of the time, barriers can be removed or set aside for a while.
Beware of excuses for why you can’t follow through, schedule too many things simultaneously, and make decisions that take you further from the goal.
Finally, reward your success. Give yourself well-deserved acknowledgment for improvement made. Remember, you are shooting for progress, not perfection! The bigger the win, the bigger the reward should be.
Inner Critic Management
The Forbes article Coaching Your Own Critic suggests the following three-step approach to manage the critic.
Push pause. Nothing does more to diminish the harmful effects of the inner critic than becoming aware of the contemptuous banter in your head. Naming what’s happening and doing something else for a few minutes can be advantageous.
Be compassionate. The goal is to treat yourself with kindness and respect. The benefits are vast. Studies show that people who practice “self-compassion” are happier, more optimistic, and less anxious. I wrote an article on Self-Compassion if you want to learn more.
Be curious. Another way to coach the inner critic out of harshness and into respect is to get curious about what you might not be seeing, what the situation might teach you, and what you might be able to learn or grow from should you seek a different way of looking at it.
We can’t “silence” our inner critic permanently. There is no arrival to a place when harshness is gone for good. But the rewards of working to keep our inner critic in check - reduced stress, better relationships, better job performance, more energy, better health and, yes, a bit more happiness - are well worth the effort.
Another Forbes article, Taming Your Inner Critic 7 Steps to Silence the Negativity provides additional ideas. The three ideas that I plan to experiment with are
Develop an awareness of my thoughts. Pay attention to what I’m thinking and recognize that just feeling something doesn’t mean it’s true.
Stop ruminating. After making a mistake, I re-play the events in my head. However, reminding myself of that embarrassment only makes me feel worse and doesn’t solve the problem.
Balance acceptance with self-improvement. There’s a difference between telling myself, I’m not good enough and reminding myself that I can improve. So, accept my flaws for what they are and commit to changing what I can.
My inner critic has taken over. It isn’t helpful as I work toward the goal of aging well. It can’t be healthy. It’s time to focus more on what the self-coach says.
If I were to guess, I’d say the critic has become so vocal for two reasons. The aging process involves changes, such as hearing loss, aches and pains, and forgetfulness.
I have also had to take on many new tasks since my husband died, and I am on my own for the first time. While that is exciting, it also leaves me open to making mistakes, stepping out of my comfort zone, and doing things I don’t know how to do.
In looking at those suggestions, a place to start is with awareness of the criticism. Then I can focus on being compassionate with myself, and being curious about what I might learn by looking at situations differently.
As my coach, I would encourage myself to be proud of my accomplishments, work on what I can, and focus on lessons to be learned. The inner critic has no place in that plan.
Articles I liked this week.
Living to be 100. “We have done an excellent job of extending lifespan, but we’ve done a terrible job of creating a life worth expanding.” Something worth considering. We need to start now.
Perfection vs. Excellence. “Perfection becomes the impossible standard whereby we try to meet the real or imagined expectations of “others” that define if we’re good or bad.” Maybe excellence is a better goal.
How To Deal With Negativity “Negativity permeates the world. Not just because of negative media bias but also because the world as we know it seems to be in flux, increasing the level of uncertainty most of us feel daily. The antidote is to focus on what is within our control and sphere of influence.”
Thanks for reading Aging Well News! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.