Firing Our Inner Critic

As people that live and breathe, haven't we all found ourselves in doubt at some point in our lives? We've built up an idea in our minds about something we'd like to do and low-and-behold, who shows up? That Eeyore voice comes waddling in and takes over the conversation repeating something to the effect of, "It'll never woooork." As a meditation coach and hypnotherapist, it is not uncommon for my clients to bump into several voices while under hypnosis. Sometimes, they find the voice of their mother telling them what they should or shouldn't do, or, they might hear or get a sense of a wise voice guiding them in a way that really resonates. Often times, however, the tape that is running is from the ever-so-prevalent Inner Critic. This voice can be a loud one, so-much-so that many don't even need to be hypnotized - many can hear this voice walking through the grocery store, looking in a mirror or contemplating a new idea.

Learning to recognize our Inner Critic is the first step in learning to silence it.

First off, let's be clear about the word critical.

When we use the word critical on its own, it brings up negative thoughts around judgement and disapproving comments. Actors perform their gifts on stage and, unfortunately, have to deal with the opinions of the critics. Authors, chefs, and artists will all have to deal with critics and their opinions at some point in their lives. Even friends can be critical of another friend's decisions.

Now, what happens when we add the word thinking to the word critical? It changes everything. Parents are encouraged to raise strong children who can critically think for themselves. Critical thinking is related to problem solving, decision making, knowledge, intelligence and reflection.

Critically thinking keeps us alive everyday because we are able to judge (that's another funny word) the distance between the front of our car and the back of the car in front of us. But, the kind of critic that I'm talking about is that voice inside our heads whose favorite phrase is, "ya, but!"

Let's look at this another way.

Siskel and Ebert were 2 very famous American Film Critics who spent their lives educating the general public on the films we should add to our list and which ones to reconsider. Why did we trust their opinion so much? Well, they had some key qualities that kept them fair and insightful - but, at the end of the day, it is always our choice to listen or not. 

A good and fair critic will have some basic qualities:

  • Must be incredibly knowledgeable on the subject at hand via education or experience
  • Must be entirely impersonal and objective
  • Must be unemotional
  • Must look at the current article on its own merits and not be influcenced by past work or situations

A good and qualified, art/food/film/music critic must have these qualities for us to consider them a fair critic; otherwise it is nothing more than an unfounded opinion that can't be trusted. I think we can all look at this list and agree with the basic principles.

So, keeping these qualities in mind, when we find ourselves mulling over a new idea for a hobby we'd like to try, a goal we'd like to set or a new business idea we'd like to consider, we need to be very clear that the chatter in our head is properly identified so we can put it in its proper place.

Let's look at an example of a new hobby we'd like to try:

  • First we have an idea - Archery sounds like a sport that I'm really interested in learning more about.
  • Then we may have "the why" show up - It would be a fun activity/It's a sport that connects me to nature/I see it as a way to defend myself/I've always connected with it in some way.
  • Then the voices may come - What if I can't do it? What if I look silly? What if people make fun of me?
  • If those voices aren't kept in check, the idea usually dies here.

So, let's ask ourselves if our Inner Critic meets the criteria of a Qualified Critic:

  • Is our Inner Critic incredibly knowledgeable about archery? Most likely not but may be in some cases.
  • Is our Inner Critic totally impersonal and objective? Absolutely not! If we are critiquing ourselves, there's no way it can be objective.
  • Is our Inner Critic unemotional about pursuing this? Questioning our ability before trying ("Can I do this?") or caring about how we'll look to others ("Will I look silly?") is an emotional and irrational response.
  • Is our Inner Critic looking at archery on its own merits or dragging in past situations? 99.9% of the time our Inner Critic is basing its opinions on past experiences. ("Remember when you tried bowling and you were a joke?")

In this Archery example, our Inner Critic would have failed at least 3 out of the 4 basic requirements necessary to weigh in.  That is unacceptable!

Rationally, we wouldn't trust a Food Critic if he didn't meet these basic standards and we'd completely toss out his opinion and choose the restaurant if we wanted to. So, if we have such high standards from a food or an art critic, why do we let our Inner Critic have such a loud voice?

Is this starting to make sense?

Does this mean that we should completely throw past experiences out the window when making decisions? No way! We're supposed to learn from previous experiences - what worked, what didn't and how we can do things differently in the future. But if our Inner Critic is making it so that we get paralyzed and turned around before even getting to the "how might I move forward" part, then that critical voice really needs to be put in check.

We need to be sure when we are considering a new adventure or even a new hair style that if that Eeyore voice comes in and tries to stop us from even moving to the step involving serious consideration that we check ourselves. We need to measure that voice against the standards of a qualified critic and if it doesn't pass, we need to throw that opinion right out the window. What we'll likely find is this voice is getting silenced most all the time which will at least allow us to move forward into the consideration phase.

The next time we find ourselves having a great, new idea or wanting to try something different, be aware if there are any nay-Sayers in the mind chatter who may be having too much of an influence on us. If there are, measure their qualifications mentioned above as we would do anywhere else in life. If they don't qualify, and they likely won't, we logically have no choice but to fire that Inner Critic on the spot.

Please be aware that just like every other thing in this universe, our Inner Critic has an instinctual drive to stay alive. Its need to survive will be strong so we should expect that voice to get louder, more critical and more fear-based when we first start kicking it to the curb. Expect this so it won't come as a surprise. Eventually, our Inner Critic will see we mean business and get packing so that we can get on with taking our archery class. And, if for whatever reason we complete that archery class and it just doesn't interest us like we thought it would after giving it a good solid try (finishing the class) then we can say that we tried and it really wasn't our cup of tea. If we hear a small voice saying, "I told you so!" tell it "What have you done lately besides complain...at least I'm trying new adventures!" and that ought to silence it pretty easily.

Let's enjoy this new process! We will all find that unqualified little voice hitting the road which is such a great gift to give ourselves - a little more freedom!

Dawn Marie. © Copyright, 2015, The Zen Room