“What an idiot!” I heard the young man behind me at the ATM say.
“Excuse me?” I asked, turning around suddenly.
“Oh, sorry,” he replied, “I was talking to myself. I forgot my cheque at home.”
“It’s okay,” I assured him. “And, for what it’s worth,” I continued as I started to leave, “I don’t think you are an idiot.”
Self-talk. It can be good and it can be bad. Really bad.
We all have this little voice in our heads. For some of us, that voice is encouraging. Positive self-talk stems from a positive belief and that can give us the boost we need to get the job done:
- “I can do this.”
- “I deserve this.”
- “I live in a universe of abundance and I deserve a share of it.”
- “I know someone who can help me. I just have to ask.”
- “That didn’t work out as well as I had planned but if I try again, I can do much better.”
For others, that voice sounds more like an inner critic:
- “I could never do that.”
- “Why should I try? I’ll just embarrass myself.”
- “Success is hard and I am too lazy.”
- “I’m an idiot.”
- “Why am I so stupid?”
- “I’m not worth it.”
Needles to say—but I will say it, anyway—the inner critic reflects our inner beliefs and that can cause a lot of grief. And a ton of unnecessary pain.
Thomas Alva Edison—you know, the guy who failed a thousand times before a light bulb went off?—once said that if we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.
And I believe him.
The inner voice is very important and will have—notice I didn’t say “can” have—a tremendous impact on how your life unfolds.
It’s important to realize that if your inner voice is acting like an inner critic and limiting your belief in yourself, it’s there for a reason. Its purpose is to protect you from shame, embarrassment, rejection and loneliness. (This inner critic is often developed during our formative years.) Trouble is, it may be just a little too protective.
It’s important to protect yourself from those things as they all cause a disconnection between you and others. And that is something to fear! Nobody wants to feel those negative emotions. They can hurt just as much now as they did when we were children.
Two things to remember. First, no amount of positive thinking will change things. Change cannot be done through brute force. That would quickly start to look like denial.
But it can be done.
And second, the idea isn’t to shut that voice down. The goal is to get that inner voice sounding less like a critic and more like a cheerleader. Ask yourself, is what it is protecting you from even real? It likely isn’t. It’s time to say thanks, but that level of protection is no longer needed. Now, it’s time to build positive experiences and reinforce new, more positive beliefs.
Where did that voice come from? Why are some people with a “growth” mindset positive in their beliefs and confident in their abilities while others with a “fixed” mindset scared, unsure and negative in their beliefs?
Some say nature, some say nurture. Who’s right?
No matter why it happens, most experts also agree that your mindset can change. You have that ability. You can take control of that inner voice. You can move from a fixed mindset where the inner voice is a critic to a growth mindset where the inner voice is a cheerleader.
Sure, that all sounds great, even logical. But enough of that psychological stuff. Just tell me how I can make it happen.
For that answer, I lean heavily on Dr. Lisa Firestone, a psychologist and author. She outlines this six-step process.
- Notice your inner voice. It’s there. Especially when faced with hard choices, tough challenges or when you are just feeling down. “You look so tired/fat/ugly/stupid.” “You’re annoying people.” “You can’t do this.” “You’re such a mess.” “What’s the matter with you?”
- Write down the things your inner voice is telling you. Write it in the second person (using “you” statements). “You’re not fun.” “No one finds you interesting.” “You couldn’t possibly do that.” This process, says Dr. Firestone, helps you separate your critical inner voice from your real point of view. Now you can see it as the enemy it actually is.
- Think about where this negative inner critic came from. (No, it’s not the Black Lagoon although it may feel like it, sometimes.) Therapists often find, she says, that when you spend some time thinking about them, these “voices” start to sound familiar. “It sounds like my mother talking to me” or “that expression is exactly what my father used to say.” When you know where they came from, you can then separate the voices from your current sense of self.
- Challenge the voice. Respond from a compassionate and realistic perspective. This time, use “I” statements. “I am a worthy person with many fun-loving qualities. I have a lot to offer.” “I can do this.” “Sure, I may have to try a couple of times, but I can learn!”
- Connect your voices to your actions. As you get better at recognizing your critical inner voice, you can start to catch on when it’s starting to influence your behavior. Try to identify patterns and recognize self-limiting behaviors you engage in based on these voices.
- Alter your behaviour. Once you see how your inner critic can throw you off course and change your behavior, you can start to consciously act against its directives. But remember, Dr. Firestone reminds us, these are deep-seated beliefs you’re challenging. At first, the critical inner voice will often get louder. The more you actively ignore it, however, the weaker it will ultimately become.
Action is a critical element here. Once you have raised your awareness, you need to take action—no matter how small—for change to happen.
Consistent action taken on a daily basis is very powerful when it comes to shifting mindsets and transforming yourself.
We all have an “inner voice.” Don’t despair if yours is an inner critic, however. Be compassionate with yourself. And with a little time and effort, that inner critic can turn into your biggest cheerleader.
As it should be.
What’s your experience with your inner voice? Leave a comment or drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.