Do you ever happen to dwell on a humiliating situation that took place long ago?
Do you tend to repeat mistakes you made over and over in your mind?
Is it easier for you to name your flaws and imperfections than your good qualities?
Well, you're not alone in this. All humans are wired to focus on the bad things because of the phenomenon called negativity bias.
As a result of evolution, we're equipped with a hyper-vigilant "survivor brain" that detects dangers and threats, facilitating our survival. While it was a question of life or death in the primal times, nowadays negativity bias can cause pain and impact our well-being.
The inner critic is a widely known example of the detrimental effects of this bias. It's this voice in the back of our minds that's always ready to scold, abuse and bully us. We can all experience the vicious, repetitive cycle of self-criticism, allowing it to spill into and impact ourf self-worth.
So how do we get this inner critic to take a backseat and have less of an impact in our lives? Dr Rick Hanson explains in his Ted Talk “Hardwiring Happiness” that we can form new lasting neural connections by training our mind to readjust unhelpful thinking patterns. Or, in other words, change the brain structure so that it replaces those negative thoughts with helpful ones!
Want to give it a try?
Here's a list of 3 exercises to tame your inner critic:
Becoming conscious of your inner critic and its toll on your mental health is the first step towards a long-lasting change.
Next time the inner critic starts to discourage you, listen to it without judgment. Rather than trying to change these thoughts, try to accept and let go of them. Create distance by treating these words as a suggestion, not a fact.
Extra tip: Next time you catch yourself thinking, "I am a total failure", change this thought to "My inner critic suggests that I am a total failure". Test out the effects of this trick yourself!
Kristin Neff, the author of this exercise and a self-compassion researcher, noticed how different is the reaction to our own mistakes versus a mistake of a close friend. Neff suggests that we can evoke self-compassion by treating ourselves like a friend or a loved one.
Think of a time when a close friend was struggling with overwhelming self-criticism.
What was your response in that situation? What did you do to comfort that person?
Recall the words you said, your tone of voice, body language etc. Is there something you would improve? Write it all down.
Now ask yourself the challenging questions & note the answers:
Why do you choose to treat others much kinder than yourself?
If you were to treat yourself as a friend, what would change?
Aside from the inner critic, we also have the "inner nurturer" (as Rick Hanson calls it in his article). The latter provides us with a confidence boost and loving support. It's much easier to navigate the reality in which the balance between the two exists.
Here's one way to achieve it:
Focus your attention on the inner nurturer. Feel the goodness that exists within you.
Remind yourself of your merits, unique skills and other inspiring qualities.
Recall one thing that you recently said or did that was kind. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture. The chosen act can be as small as making someone smile or setting some time aside for self-care.
Feel your kindness and compassionate nature. Give yourself permission to honour and embrace your beautiful values.
If the inner critic emerges, allow it to appear and let it fade away, like a wave kissing the shore.
The aim here is not to suppress or get rid of the inner critic as it can be quite essential in guiding our growth and showing us room for improvement. These exercises help foster mental well-being and balanced life, where you're in charge of your beliefs and behaviours.
How do you tame your inner critic? Let us know in the comments down below.