How to Start Living Your Best Life
Silence your inner critic
I have an inner critic who is like a friend you just can’t get out of your life. He (I think it’s a male) lurks in my head and pops up when I least need him. His critical voice sabotages my efforts to get on with achieving my best life.
Each person’s inner critic is unique— the voice of self-doubt or inadequacy— the memory of a schoolyard bully — the critical parent or teacher — the mean girl — the drama queen — the feeling in the pit of your stomach — the tightness in your chest that makes it hard to breathe. Inner critics come in all shapes and sizes.
Psychologist Rick Hansen and author of a book on resilience writes, “We all have two different voices inside us: one that is nurturing, and one that is critical; one that lifts us up, and one that weighs us down... Both of these voices have a role to play…But for most people the inner critic goes way overboard.”
My inner critic is a tough drill sergeant, constantly pushing me to do more and to do it perfectly. He keeps me in boot camp, always running, in a perpetual problem-solving-be-in-control mode, making endless checklists of tasks to accomplish.
“Just do it,” he bellows in my head.
He is a pain in the ass.
How do self-critical attitudes develop?
“It needs to be perfect,” was my mantra.
I was raised with my mother’s high expectations to work hard and to achieve what had escaped her in life. Or at least that’s the way I saw it — it’s good to have someone to blame.
“It needs to be perfect,” was my mantra. That was great until I crashed and burned.
Rick Hansen writes: “Consider how your self-critical inner voice developed. Does it remind you of anyone?” A parent, sibling, bully, teacher, coach? By stepping back and observing where the criticism comes from, you can label it (in my case The Drill Sergeant)and stop reinforcing the voice. “You may hear it, but you don’t need to be it.”
After reflection and a little help, I realized that the tough “just do it” voice that screamed in my head was not sustainable. The drill sergeant did not want the best for me. It was a long journey to replace that harsh taskmaster’s voice.
I had to learn how to tell my inner critic to go to hell; I started to talk back. The battle is epic, but I am winning. My inner critic has been squashed back into a tiny box and stored somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind.
Here is how I did it and the lessons I learned. I also include a practical resource at the end that will be of help to you.
Accept what you cannot change
I struggled to accept that life is not perfect and there are things I can’t change. There was no discernable line in my mind between what I could and could not change. It was just a matter of trying harder.
Learning to accept certain situations were out of my control — the past, people, even death — was the first step.
Focus on what you can change
I began focussing on what was within my control to change. My thoughts! Yup, by changing what I thought — by telling myself a better story —I learned that I could control how I felt. It is not another person or our inner critic who decides if we feel nervous or inadequate or angry.
In my case, why should my drill sergeant make me feel like I could never do enough or do it well enough? He could not force me to have another chardonnay to take the edge off or to lose sleep because my mind raced.
We choose what our narrative will be. Identifying that my irrational inner critic could pop up and scream for attention and control how I felt was key to squashing him back down. When I realized my drill-sergeant-inner-critic was my enemy and prevented me from achieving my best life, I began talking back or ignoring him.
Give yourself a break
Once I got the drill sergeant off my back, it opened up a little space for me to cut myself some slack. And it created room for self-compassion. It’s an easy concept to explain but challenging to implement. It involves treating yourself with the same caring and kindness you would treat a family member, a friend, or even a stranger who is having a hard time. Our culture emphasizes being kind to others struggling, but it does not emphasize being kind to ourselves.
It took a long time to be convinced that having compassion for myself was the same as having compassion for a suffering friend. I had to sit down and have a little talk with myself to understand why being kind to myself did not come naturally. But eventually, I got there.
Self-compassion gave me the space to step back and observe my life without judgement; this is the way it is for now. It connected me to the notion that others struggle or are tough on themselves, and I am not alone. It allowed me to speak kindly to myself: the way I would speak to a friend going through a hard time. It takes practice — being kind to yourself is not easy — but like any skill, the more you practice, the better you get.
This step is a work in progress. I am taking action, and I will keep taking action. I am my priority.
I take small steps towards being present in the moment, creative and challenged, and productive but less stressed. I want to feel like I am making a difference in the lives of others and to be there for my family and friends. I am making space for writing.
What I want guides my decision-making process for what I take on. I never had the luxury of thinking of myself first. Now, I only do those things that contribute to how I want to feel. I say ‘no’ to many things with no regrets.
Resources for you
This is my story and journey of how my pesky inner critic was silenced. Yours may be saying, “you should be ashamed of yourself,” or “you’re fat,” or “you have no talent, why do you bother?”
As a starting point, if you want to silence your inner critic or quiet the annoying voice, I recommend Tame Your Inner Critic by Clare Bowditch, an Australian musician, actress, author, and life coach. It’s an excellent and thoroughly entertaining audiobook from Audible.com, and I believe you can get your first book for free.
Alice Goldbloom is a serial entrepreneur. She finds that writing is therapeutic, and smooths the edges of her day, just like a couple of glasses of chardonnay used to. You can find her here: https://www.thewritebusiness.ca/