Kicking Your Inner Critic To The Curb

6 min readFeb 9, 2021


How often does negative self-talk take the reins within your mind? If your the voice of your inner critic is frustratingly familiar, you’re certainly not alone. The tricky truth of the matter is that our inner critic all-too-often slams the brakes on our capacity to live our best lives. Thankfully, there is a lot we can do to diminish that inner nay-sayer’s clout. Excitingly, science tells us that taking control of our self-talk is not only possible, but can offer life-altering results. Case in point, when a group of athletes were studied as they underwent self-talk training, their rewards included greater self-confidence, self-optimization, self-efficacy, and performance, with reduced levels of anxiety as a welcome cherry-on-top.

So, where exactly does that niggling voice come from? Years of research reveals that children who grew up with overly critical guardians often internalise that negative narrative. For others, the absence of a soothing and supportive caregiver during childhood may also contribute to an emboldened inner critic. You may or may not not have a strong sense of how your inner critic came to be, but there’s comfort to be found in recognising that its presence is not entirely a bad thing. Critical self-talk indicates that we care, which can always be considered something good. The magic happens when we bring our self-talk back into the fold, and make sure that we aren’t letting it build any internal barriers between us and our happiness. So, here’s how to recognise when your inner critic goes rogue, and get it back in check!

Tune In To Your Thoughts

The voice of the inner critic can sneak up on us when we least expect it. That said, a lot of people don’t pay much attention to how they talk to themselves in their minds. If you’ve noticed your inner critic chiming in with a totally deflating “I’ll never be good enough” or “I always get it wrong”, then it’s time to start tracking that inner gremlin’s activity. As your thoughts meander throughout the day, try to be alert when the inner critic interrupts. From here, experiment with a practice called thought stopping. This means delivering a deft counter-interruption, by doing something like imagining a bright red stop sign, parrying back with a positive thought, or snapping a rubber band on your wrist whenever you catch that inner critic in action.

Apply The Friend Test

A great way of assessing whether your self talk is worthy of the mental real estate it occupies is to subject it to the friend test. Ask yourself: if a friend spoke to you in that way, would you remain friends for long? Would you ever speak to someone you care about in that way? If the answer is no then you definitely have a bone to pick with your inner critic! To shift your self-talk for the better, hold focus on the idea that your inner voice should always be that of a supportive and trusted friend rather than a saboteur — even if that sometimes means telling it like it is with kindness.

Re-Cast Your Critical Voice

If those gut-punching thoughts just keep popping into your mind, re-casting your critical voice is another great strategy to adopt. For many, those cruel little catch phrases come at us in our own voice, while for others it may be the voice of a parent or teacher. Whatever the current status-quo, with a little creative thinking you can re-cast your inner critic as any character you desire. Giving that voice a silly nickname or imagining Mr. Burns from the Simpsons will take some of the weight out of those words, until you can stop them coming at you all together. If your inner critic tends to speak in the first person, try to switch those “I”s to “you”s. Separate your inner critic from your sense of self, and then knock it down a peg!

Choose Problem Solving Over Rumination

Those who wrestle with negative self-talk are usually familiar with its side-kicks: self-blame and rumination. Allowing these two troublemakers to crash our inner party is not something to be OK about, because research links them to an increased risk of mental health problems. In truth, going over and over how something went wrong or how we should have done things differently doesn’t change a thing. Looking for opportunities to be proactive and engaging in problem solving — identifying things that you can impact in a meaningful way moving forwards — is, in contrast, totally empowering.

Puncture Those Critical Points

A rampaging inner critic tends to be a master of catastrophising. The secret that it doesn’t want you to know is that you’ll soon spot that its narratives are riddled with holes, when under closer inspection. When that negative self-talk swoops in, ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? If the critical voice says you’ll falter when you do that work presentation and then your world will fall apart, will it really matter so much? If it says you’re an [insert insult of choice] person, does that reflect reality, or is it rooted in flaky and flawed logic? While you’re at it, zoom out a little and get some perspective, too. Will whatever your inner critic is so concerned about really matter next year, or a decade from now?

Lean In To Self-Acceptance

When we give too much power to our inner critic, we limit our thinking. In turn, this limits our horizons. If you give credence to self talk telling you that you’ll never get that raise, write that book, or run that marathon, then trying to achieve that dream is going to be all the harder. So, what’s the antidote? Self-compassion and self-acceptance are key. Carl R. Rogers, author of On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, explained it thusly: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” You don’t have to be perfect to be worthy — none of us are. Any voice that says otherwise, be it internal or external, simply isn’t worth your glorious attention.

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