How to quiet down an overly critical inner voice

gif of illustrated head and brain

Is your inner voice a bit of a dick?

You know, the type to have impossibly high standards, be super critical, and generally completely unfair?

You’re certainly not the only one dealing with a negative nelly living in your mind.

Most people have an inner voice that skews towards the pessimistic and overly critical. It sucks, and it’s completely unhelpful.

‘We all have an inner critic, it’s part of how our brains keeps us safe,’ Katy Murray, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘The inner critic can take on different tones or emphases; some of us may have a perfectionist inner critic that tells us that our work, and we ourselves, aren’t good enough.

‘This voice discourages us from putting ourselves and our work out there, for fear of rejection, disapproval or not meeting the ever-present high standards.

‘We procrastinate and put off important pieces of work, or are so distracted by getting the detail “right”, that we miss the bigger picture opportunities.’

That’s not great. So how can we learn to ignore our perfectionist inner voice’s nonsense?

Tune in to your inner dialogue

‘Firstly notice when and how your inner critic shows up,’ says Katy. ‘Tune into your inner dialogue.

‘How are you speaking to yourself? How does your inner critic show up? Look out for words like should, ought, always, never.’

Talk back

This sounds a bit silly, we know, but take a moment to address that inner critic as if its a separate being.

Say hi. Acknowledge that it’s there. ‘This can sometimes be enough to quieten the voice,’ notes Katy.

Write down what your inner critic tells you

‘Getting it out of our heads is in itself a way to limit its power,’ advises Katy. ‘We can see what we’re saying to ourselves in a fresh light. Would we speak to our best friends (or anyone else!) in that way?’

Ask about your inner voice’s intention

Katy suggests asking: ‘What’s the intention – How is your inner critic wanting to protect you? Achieve for you?’

Perhaps that voice that tells you not to try is terrified of being judged, or doesn’t want you to take a risk.

There’s a subtext behind the nastiness – try to figure out where it’s coming from.

‘Now,’ advises Katy, ‘say to your inner critic “thanks I’ve heard you, I’ve got this”.’

Play out the worst-case scenario

Okay, so imagine your anxious inner voice is right for a second, and everything goes wrong. Would that even be as bad as you’re imagining?

Katy says: ‘What’s the worst-case scenario? Play that out in your head, write it down in your journal.

‘Is it really so bad? How likely is that worst case to actually happen? What resources do you have to support you, if it does happen?’

Remind yourself of your resilience

‘Remind yourself that you are resilience and it’s possible for you to take measured risks, put your work out there and learn from the experience,’ recommends Katy. ‘Remind yourself that you can make faster progress, feel more creative and be less critical of your self and others.’

Break out of the self-criticism spiral

When you notice your negative inner voice rearing its head, physically get up and do something else for a bit.

Jump around, go for a walk, or just shake out your body. It’s about interrupting that monologue before it gets properly stuck in.

Katy Murray is a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant specialising in women’s leadership development and author of Change Makers: A Woman’s Guide to Stepping Up Without Burning Out At Work

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