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How to Make Friends with the Voice in Your Head

The beat of the music was pulsing through me as I struggled to keep time with the synchronized movements of Karen, the instructor of the kick-boxing class I was trying. Although I was doing my best, I felt my cheeks grow hot more than once as I went right while the rest of the class went left. Instead of congratulating myself on trying something new, my inner critic was laser focused on my lack of grace.

At the end of a song, Karen laughingly apologized for missing one of the movements. Over the next few classes I noticed that she was in the habit of keeping a running commentary of her missteps, even if they were too trivial for anyone else to notice.  Karen was giving us a glimpse of her inner critic.

I was reminded of a lovely, funny and outwardly successful acquaintance who can’t hear a compliment without supplying an instant rebuttal. A comment about her nice outfit results in an inevitable, “It would look better if I lost a few pounds.” When she completes eight out of 10 tasks on her to-do list, she condemns herself for the unfinished two. Like many, she has an inner critic who works overtime.

Use Your Power for Good (your own that is)

The inner voice we think of as “me” is a collection of habitual thought patterns and unconscious programming accumulated over the years. It regurgitates the voices that influenced us growing up including parents, teachers, sports coaches, peers, the media, etc. Left unobserved, that voice tends toward self-judgment and worry.

The good news is your inner voice is NOT you. You are actually the observer of that voice and have the power to redirect it toward more self-supporting thoughts. With awareness, observation and practicing a few simple techniques, you can re-wire yourself for a more positive and self-supporting inner world which leads directly to better results in the outer world.

Step 1: Notice

The truth is that what is happening lacks any true power until we choose our reaction. Most of us are in default judgment reaction, like my instant shame at not picking up kick boxing during the first class. The first step in taming this inner critic is simply to notice the content of the thoughts that are running through your head as you move through your day. Just observing them is a great beginning.

Step 2: Set Your Intention

The next step is to set your intention for how you will relate to yourself and your life. It is not possible to eliminate negative thoughts and that’s really not the aim. The crux is getting in the habit of noticing how you relate to yourself and setting the intention to shift from constant critic or frenetic fretter to loving, positive and supportive fan.

Step 3: Talk Back!

It doesn’t take long to get good at noticing your inner critic’s voice. I’m not suggesting that this aspect of you is bad or needs to be wiped out. In fact, it’s probably trying to protect you in some way. Yet, like any unquestioned pattern, it can easily run amok. Instead of resisting it or vilifying it, you can create a compassionate relationship with it.

One way to do this is to give your inner critic a name and get a mental picture of what it would look like if it was a person. A past client started calling his inner critic Tank and the picture that came to him was a pro-wrestler. Whenever Tank was too active in reviewing past regrets and projecting failure into the future, my client would say, “I hear you Tank, I know you’re trying to help but I don’t need to know everything that can go wrong. What would it look like if everything went right?” Tank was a creative genius at coming up with multiple possible negative scenarios. When my client posed this question to himself as Tank, he was able to turn all of that powerful energy toward more supportive thoughts.

The simple action of acknowledging your inner critic and understanding that you can talk to, befriend and redirect it can have a profound impact on your happiness level and well-being if you decide to adopt it as an ongoing practice.

Deb Purdy, is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of
Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter and Happier After Divorce.

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