At the end of the day, the last thing any of us need is a negative voice chirping away in our heads. For many of us though, instead of reverberating good thoughts, our inner dialog may tend to skew negative, and I’ve learned the hard way that it can really get in the way of the energy we want to put out into the world.
Let’s be clear: a healthy dose of self-awareness is a good thing, and sometimes that may manifest in constructive criticism. But there’s a fine line between that type and blatant negativity, as I learned more about on this recent podcast episode.
I’ve recently been working to rewire my inner critic. Scroll on for the four-step process I’ve been taking, on repeat, to build a voice that serves me better.
Listen to What It’s Saying
The first step is getting curious. Actually listen to what it is that your inner critic is saying—and why. Rather than shutting your inner critic down entirely, it’s important to separate constructive criticism from a negative spiral. When you feel like your inner critic is skewing way too negative, take a close listen. Identify when it starts to chirp, and why.
Stop to Ask Questions
Now that you’re listening to the contents of your inner voice’s monologues, ask it a few questions. Does your inner voice tend to kick into gear when you’re tired? Does it tend to pipe up at the end of a long workday? Does it criticize how you handle communication? Does it constantly tell you that you can do better? Now, separate the good from the bad. Ask these three questions when your inner critic really gets going.
1. Does this input serve me?
2. Is there something constructive to be taken from this criticism?
3. Is this criticism actually harmful to me?
If the answer to question one is yes, then you are likely dealing with a helpful inner critic. Nice work! Take this criticism and run with it. Use it to go to the next level, build your career, deepen a relationship. If your critic is saying, “You’re not doing your best at work!” maybe she’s right. Use question number two to figure out what actionable steps you can take to fix a real problem. Maybe you need to enact a little career refresh. However, if your answer to question three, “Is this criticism actually harmful to me?”, is yes, then you likely have a detractor as an inner critic. The next step is for you.
Reframe with Positive Input
If you’ve identified your critic as a detractor, figure out how to rewire it. If you’ve already identified that the input is potentially harmful, you need to cut it out. This may sound a little silly but tell your inner voice (audibly, if possible) to shut up. When it’s telling you something like, “you can’t do this,” shut it down. Respond, whether internally, aloud, or on paper, with exactly how you can do something.
Here are a few examples of ways to reframe common negative thoughts:
–Instead of “You can’t do this,” try “Here’s exactly how I can do this.”
–Instead of “You are bad at your job,” try “Here’s the work I’m doing to improve my skills. Here are some recent wins I’ve had that prove I am really pretty badass at my job.”
–Instead of “She’s so much better at [x] than you,” try “Sure, maybe her strengths lie in [x], but I excel at [y] and [z]]”
If you’re combating negative inner-talk on a regular basis, this is not likely to be a one-time fix. Try these steps out whenever the harmful side of your inner critic comes out to play. If you take a moment to assess, you’ll start to hear that voice less frequently, and the other voice – the one that spreads positivity, hope, and joy – will go from a whisper to your strongest daily ally.