This is Kristi Angevine. Welcome to episode eight, The Truth About Your Inner Critic.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits and feel as good on the inside as they look on paper. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do so you can learn to create habits that give more than they take, and now, here's your host physician and certified life coach Kristi Angevine.
Hello everyone, today we're talking about the inner critic. I'm going to start by sharing one of the most lovely, ordinary, everyday things in my life right now, and it's at that time when I'm some cuddles and chatting with my kiddos. My youngest is almost six years old. We've gotten into this really fun routine where after we talk about our day, we'll do a happy, sad, grateful running through of things. Then one of us will ask the other if we need any advice.
And the other week, he asked me if I wanted any advice. I told him that I was trying to decide what I wanted to talk about on the podcast, and he sweetly told me this. He said, I could do one about life, and that way, if someone was having a bad life, they could listen and learn how to have a good life. And it was cute not just because of the simplicity of it, but right now, his L's they sound a little bit like W's.
So, it sounded like if you have a bad wife and you want a good wife, you can tune in. I can teach you how to make that happen, but matchmaking and dating advice aren't really my forte, but what I can do is I can help you with your relationship with yourself. Since your habits and your identity are so interrelated in the most interesting ways, when you focus on your habits, you can actually learn how to have a good life.
Anyway, back to our cuddles and conversations, I asked him how people could have a good life to see what he thought. He went on to talk about what he does when he feels sad to feel better. It's so cool to hear him share some really wise self-regulation techniques he uses. This tells me that my indoctrination of my family with coaching concepts is totally working. He also talked about how it's counterproductive to get mad at yourself if things don't go as you want. The example that he gave me was if you're climbing and you can't do a move and your body can't climb the way you want it to, if you get mad at yourself or mad at your body, that's bad.
And that's basically what we're talking about today, your inner critic. That part of you that gets upset with you. So, whatever you call it, your inner mean girl, the panel of judges in your mind, the clipboard brigade, you know that cohort of really critical evaluators that are carrying clipboards, and they're ever ready to offer their comments about what you did wrong? That is today's focus.
In this episode, I'll explain what happens when you believe a really harsh, mean, critical script. I'm going to share my theory for why we do it, and I'll offer you a new approach and a practical way to start changing it for today. This episode is my invitation to you to start redesigning your relationship with this critical and judgmental part and ultimately redesign your inner self-talk.
I want to plant a seed for you to think about, the deeper work that's available when you take time to thoughtfully examine your inner critic and consider why that critical thinking is there, when and where it started, what purpose it served in the past, and what assumptions, rules, beliefs would need to change in order to shift to a kinder inner narrative? This deeper work is so transformative. This is the kind of work that goes on in my small coaching groups, which are currently specifically for women physicians who want to unpack their stress, better understand their habits, and create intentional habits.
The group span is six months, and there are weekly group calls, and enrollment for the next one is going to start soon. So, suppose you're a physician, and this kind of work is interesting to you, and you want to learn more. In that case, you'll want to get on the Habits On Purpose email list and watch for a message where you can join the waitlist. Now, if you're interested in this work, but you aren't a physician, you'll also want to get on the email list because that's where you're going to hear when I open the groups up to nonphysicians.
So, regardless of where you do this work, whether it's with a therapist or with a coach, this deeper work is some of the best work you can do when it comes to redesigning your habits. Yet, that work is not required to get started with a better understanding of your inner critic, which is what we'll do today. So, what's the truth about your inner critic? There are three truths. Number one, it's not a fixed personality trait. It's a well-practiced habit. It's learned, and therefore it can be unlearned and rewired. Truth number two, the inner critic, once served a purpose. It makes sense that you have it as a part of your inner narrative, but it's unnecessary to keep.
Truth number three, the inner critic does not actually help you do better, create excellence, maintain high standards, or avoid mediocrity. Dropping it does not actually lower your standards or hinder performance but actually does the opposite. So, what is your inner critic? The way I define it is your inner critic is a collection of well-rehearsed ideas, beliefs, and thoughts. They may run like an ever-present background music, or they may show up every time you do something new. Like any habit that is learned, a harsh inner critic can be unlearned, rewired, and redesigned. New thoughts that are kinder and warmer can become your new default.
So, let's talk about what an inner critic sounds like. Whatever you call it, the inner critic, your inner mean girl, the judge, the evaluators, it's characterized by the following: harsh, negative, and personally inditing. It's cold and uncompassionate. If it were a dissertation, the thesis would be that you are not good enough. An inner critic compares you to others unfavorably. It's binary. It comes with an all-or-nothing tone where things are all good or all bad.
There's a tendency to globalize where one event, one little thing means you're a complete failure. Your inner critic is great at catastrophic exaggeration of consequences. It's skeptical, smirking, condescending, patronizing, superior, and it's argumentative. It will up the ante if you ever try to counter it. Sometimes it's very eloquent, and it knows exactly what to say to elicit the biggest sting. Other times it may sound rather childlike with simple insults like that's lame, what a loser, such an idiot, you're so stupid.
So, listen in, do any of these specific examples ring familiar? You're just lazy and dumb, you're not smart enough, you're not likable, you're definitely not lovable. You just don't know enough. They know more, speak better, look nicer, parent with ease, their homes are tidy, socialize without being awkward, and they're so much more confident. They don't mess up like me; others manage their time better, good people, good parents, good daughters, good friends, they don't do it like that.
Well, maybe you did okay this time, but remember that other time ten years ago, and what about next time? They would pay you more if they actually valued you. They would actually value you if you were valuable. You're so awkward, ugly, out of shape. You have wasted and squandered all of your time. You should have known better. What a total loser, what a disappointment. It's never going to work out. You're going to be 90 before you figure your shit out. You're going to mess it all up, get fired, irreparably compromise your relationship, and everyone will hate you. Then, you'll be miserable, full of regret, and alone forever.
What does your inner critic say to you? And how do you feel when you believe these critical sentences? Usually, we feel pretty awful. Just offering those examples makes me feel really awful. So, let's visit the first truth about the inner critic. Truth number one, it is not a fixed personality trait. It is a well-practiced, learned habit that you can unlearn and rewire. Adult human brains have a tendency to engage in really repetitive patterns even if they aren't helpful or useful.
So, let's ponder, why would we hold on to such an unpleasant habit if it feels terrible and it's not fixed? We'll unpack this by discussing the second truth about your inner critic. Truth number two, inner critical thoughts served a purpose at one point in time, and they may not be serving you now, but in some way, they made sense, your inner critic made sense. It was the best available approach based on what you knew and what you'd experienced at the time, and it worked well enough.
So, how did it make sense, and why do we maintain it? This part varies from person to person, but there are some common threads. Perhaps you can slate self-criticism with high standards and a desire for excellence or attention to detail. At some point in time, you may have created an association between self-criticism and excellent results or excellent performance. You may have worked really hard while also simultaneously thinking tons of critical thoughts.
Then you ultimately created results you were proud of. In hindsight, you erroneously attribute the success with the inner critic and not just with the work that you did. Often, we may believe the critic shields us from mediocrity, or critical thoughts could seem like they help us avoid failure, now mediocrity and failure are often very unpalatable to the primitive part of us that prefers to seek pleasure and avoid pain to this part, failure can seem really dangerous and wildly uncomfortable. In a very childlike, simple way, failure can seem akin to rejection and death.
So, in this way, the critic serves a protective role, stay small, avoid failing, avoid failing, avoid exclusion from the tribe, and certain death. So, how else might an inner critic make sense? The critic may have been passed down to us from loved ones with comments like, is that all the better you can do, or where's the other 2%, or you can't afford to give an inch? And these sentiments, well-intended, can become blended into our own self-concept where we can't distinguish internalized messaging that isn't useful from what seems like deeply held assumptions about the world in ourselves that came from caretakers and people that we love and trust.
Or your inner critic may have served as an explanation to help you make sense of or give meaning to something at a time when you didn't understand. You might not understand why, say, kids in middle school seem really mean or didn't include you. So, you came up with the idea that kids in middle school aren't nice because there is something wrong with you.
This may be a really painful thing to believe. Still, it could make sense because it helps you make sense of something that's confusing. Although it's not indicate of a truth that there's actually something wrong with you, it served a purpose because it helped give an explanation in a time that you needed one. So, the bottom line is you have your unique reasons for how an inner critic makes sense and in some way served a purpose for you in the past, which brings us to truth number three.
The inner critic does not actually help you do better, create excellence, maintain high standards, or avoid mediocrity. And dropping your inner critic does not lower standards or hinder performance, but rather it helps you do the opposite. Research shows that in a work environment, when people are insulted, knocked, belittled, treated disrespectfully, or rudely they are less motivated.
They cut back on their efforts at work, and they ultimately perform poorly. In one study, even just having study participants read words that could trigger an association with rudeness, reading words like obnoxious, bother, interrupt, impolite, these study participants went on to miss information that was right in front of them, take longer to make decisions, and they made more errors.
So, imagine the impact when the criticism comes from within. When you believe your harsh, critical, cold, mean thoughts, how do you feel? Now, if you want a really powerful exercise to drive home to impact of believing critical, harsh, inner voices, imagine holding a photo of someone you love, your partner, a relative that you adore, a friend, or your child, and this can also be done with a photograph of yourself as a child. Then, imagine saying to them the words your inner critic says to you.
This exercise shows you the abrasiveness that you often overlook. Many people will actually start this exercise, but then find they can't do it for very long because how exquisitely painful it is. Yet, we acclimate to doing it internally, and we never question the effect that it has. So, truth number one, your inner critic is not a fixed personality trait. It's a well-practiced habit that you can unlearn. Truth number two, at its inception, it made sense and served a purpose. In truth, number three, a harsh inner critic, is actually counterproductive to excellence and high achievement, not the other way around.
So, ultimately what's the problem with believing your inner critic? It comes down to how it feels and what it drives you to do and not do. Imagine what it would be like to change your relationship with your inner critic. What would it be like to just retire it? What would you stop doing that you're currently doing, and what would you begin doing? What would you have so much more ease doing, what would be possible in your life, your relationships, and what would you be modeling for your children?
Now, I like to insert a caveat here. Changing your inner critic is not sticking your head in the sand, avoiding hard truths, pretending there's no room for growth, or never make mistakes, or being like Pollyanna. This work is not turning yourself into a cheerful robot who walks around asking, how is this actually perfect for me about every scenario? It's not about seeing only silver linings, rainbows, and daisies. Changing the critical narrative is not doing this. Rather it's a process of being really clear about how this habituated thinking is and isn't helpful and adjusting it in ways that enhance your capacity for resourcefulness.
So, the inner critic is your unique collection of thoughts that are really harsh, negative, and mean. That says you aren't good enough. That tells you that you're not as good as you should be. That you're not as good as others. That makes leaps from small things to personal indictments of your worth and makes catastrophic predictions of an apocalyptic future. This mindset is not fixed, and although it serves some purpose, it did not form because there was actually something wrong with you. In contrary to popular belief, it limits rather than helps you.
So, now what, we inherit and habituate our inner critic. Still, the good news is that once we identify it and know when it's operating, we can change it. The change starts with not automatically believing it. Now, let me just say there's not one right way to redesign this relationship, and only you will discover what works best for you. At first, it boils down to basically being aware of it and noticing how believing these thoughts make you feel.
Then, the next step is to spend some time understanding how it may have made sense. Whether this is with journaling, talking it out, getting coached, with a therapist, anything. Then, consider you don't need to believe every thought just because it's present in your mind. Like, if I'm ever up on something really high like, near a cliff while I'm hiking or on a patio of a tall building, I will notice thoughts like, woah, that is a long way down. If I fell, I would be so screwed.
What if I took one wrong step? That would be it. And I don't hear these thoughts and feel compelled to act on them or fling myself off the edge. I hear them, and I think yeah, that's a long way down, and no, I'm not interested in taking one wrong step. I know it's not really a big deal that my mind offers things like this. My mind can imagine all sorts of fantastic imagery and catastrophes and give me all sorts of sentences. Thankfully I know not to believe every image or every sentence just because it's there.
So, consider you actually get to decide how you want to engage with and relate to the thoughts that come into your mind from your inner critic. And one option is to notice them but not automatically believe them and to not take them so seriously. Basically, to essentially refuse to believe every sentence without carefully considering if it's helpful. So, who says you have to listen to, engage with, and believe every thought that goes through your mind?
This makes me think of those infomercials, the ones that try to sell you something for 19.95 plus shipping and handling, and the thing they're selling is one of a kind. It's minted. It's never before been released. It's some spatula set, gizmo, a cleaning product that promises to make your life easier and to solve all things. There's a 1-800 number, and this rabid salesperson's level of fervor makes you want to hide. What is your response to those?
Maybe an eye roll or this is ridiculous. Do people actually watch this and buy this? What the heck? Is this real? Come on. Imagine if self-critical thoughts arose, and you thought of them the way you think of these infomercials trying to sell you something that you don't need. This could sound simply like, noticing your inner critic and thinking, oh, hi there, critic. Um, no thanks, not today.
Or think of that chatty acquaintance or neighbor that you run into in the grocery store who keeps talking and keeps talking even though you have ice cream melting in your cart, your kids are melting down, and you're running late. Who, you ultimately say awesome nice to see you, I have to run. And even if they're midsentence, you just walk away. What if that was how you engaged with your inner critic?
The point I want to make is you get to decide how you want to relate to this well-rehearsed old critical narrative. Will you take it so seriously and solemnly believe without question, or will you say, I hear you, I won't ignore you, but I'm also making sure to listen to the other half of the story. Or will you say, there's my inner critic, I know you? I know what happens when I believe you, thanks, but no thanks. Or will you put your foot down and say firmly no, not today?
The brilliance of focusing on how you want to engage with your inner critic is that it doesn't require these habituated thought patterns to go away, and yet when your focus isn't on irradicating this inner critic, what actually eventually happens is a shift in your inner narrative to one that is warmer, kinder, more understanding, and more compassionate. And you develop a confidence in deciding what you're going to think on purpose when your critical mean thoughts surface.
So, now to the practical aspect of this, this week I want to invite you to do three things. Number one, notice what your inner critic, your internal panel of judges, says to you. Number two, notice how it feels to believe those thoughts. Then, thirdly, ask yourself what else could also be true? This is one of my favorite questions because answering it helps you get out of a rut where all you can see is just one way or one thing. So, the question is, what else could also be true?
When you do this, you also get to imagine what might be available to you. Think about it. What might be available if you could keep your high standards, keep working toward excellence in your vocation and with your goals. Still, you release the inner critic from having to report to duty. So, that's a wrap for today's episode. This is the foundational work for changing your inner critic. If you have questions, you can share what you've found in the Habits On Purpose Facebook Group, or you can find me on Instagram @kristi.angevine.
This work is also the jumping-off point for the deeper work we do in my coaching groups. So, if you want to learn more about coaching with me, or you just want to receive extra fun in the form of emails from me, come join the email list that you can find at habitsonpurpose.com or linked in the show notes, and I'll see you next week.
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