Interviewing Your Inner Critic

Reprogramming your Internal Operating System

“Our inner voice is always an outer voice that we have previously observed and made our own” — The School of Life

“Are you sure you should be the one doing this?”…“You’re always too slow”…“You need to be smarter.”…“You won’t ever belong”…“You don’t deserve recognition”. We’re all familiar with negative, inner voices that we run inside our minds.

The judgments in our heads, essentially our Inner Critic(s), are the voices and messages we’ve gotten from our past or from society, for the “safest” way to live life — the “right” way to do things, how we should be to achieve “success”, what we *need* in life, etc. And having these critiquing Inner Voices is universal.

But if we pay attention to the patterns in what they’re saying to us, they’re what keep us feeling separate, disconnected, and not belonging to the world and groups around us. And it’s time to redefine our relationship with them, as they’re reinforcing anxiety, causing imposter syndrome, talking us out of necessary risks, looping a script that keeps us feeling insufficient, projecting our fears onto others, or preventing us from going after the life we want.

I recently delivered a workshop on the Inner Critic at Autodesk and to influencers in Blockchain, as they often encounter an environment where there isn’t a “right” way to do things, especially in a brand new industry like Blockchain. Yet, certain people seem much more “sure” of their knowledge, than others. And the “unsure” parts of ourselves are some of what fuels the system of competition and scarcity that keeps feeding our Inner Critic(s). So, I’ll share a process for challenging the Inner Critics that keep you second-guessing yourself, playing small, and in a mindset of “not enough”. In noticing and working through some of the Inner Critics you’ve outgrown, you’ll be reprogramming your human survival mindset, to start living into the newer things that you believe.

I’ll be covering:

  • Why we have Inner Critics — we actually have a lot of them, even though you often hear it in singular form
  • Noticing an Inner Critic (audio-recording format guided reflection)
  • Acknowledging an Inner Critic
  • Challenging an Inner Critic

Other reasons the Inner Critic is immensely useful to explore are because:

  1. It’s a way to build the relationship with the voice inside your head — your Inner Observer. You can see that your judgments aren’t you, and there’s a more objective way that you can witness, instead of be subject to the value and meaning systems that you may or may not realize you’re judging your world from.
  2. Our strongest judgments tend to give us more information about what and who we care about, particularly when you investigate the underlying fears that the Inner Critic is protecting. (Advanced tip: And then you can decide if you really do, or sometimes don’t, get value from the things you’re spending your time worrying about!)
  3. When we realize where we’re judging ourselves, we have a powerful tool for surfacing where we may be creating barriers or unwanted judgments (which we might not be aware of) across the relationships in our life. So, we can discover our patterns of criticism and blindspots, in seeing when we turn our Inner Critic on other people.

So Why Do We Have Our Inner Critic(s)?

If we think back across our biological evolution, our ancestors had to worry about being chased down by lions..and dying, accidentally eating poisonous berries…and dying, being exiled if they acted against the norms of a tribe…and dying…etc etc etc…and a lot of imminent danger. So humans were constantly on the alert, scanning for a threat.

But in today’s exponentially less life-threatening world, we’re still operating with that same programming, and employing our Inner Critic as part of our built-in threat alert system. For example, when I wanted to leave my stable, well-paying tech product career, with great benefits, my Inner Critic “Earl the Financial Planner” (who I’ve identified and named, in order to recognize when he’s talking to me), nudged me into anxiety bouts of “You can’t leave this career! You’re going to be poor, and homeless, and end up in a gutter, and die!”. While I understand that Earl is trying to protect me due to societal and developmental relationships with financial security, being influenced by his hyperbole isn’t useful.

As I’d mentioned in a previous post on developing ourselves from the Inside, Out––the Operating System of our bodies––physiology and psychology––needs to upgrade to much less reactive programming, so we can handle the increasing amount of interactions we have across new perspectives, cultures, and connections. As we’re increasing the speed and quantity of what we’re exposed to, we can’t address all of the inputs with the same level of stress as we’ve been wired to, or our health and quality of life will suffer.

Tara Mohr, author of “Playing Big” has some great research for people who are motivated by stress or the prodding of their inner critics. She discusses how people’s quality of meaning and connection is much lower when operating from fears of a punitive Inner Critic than from living towards more fulfillment when listening to a supportive, mentor-like inner voice. If you’re curious about the difference between an Inner Critic voice and a cautious voice of evaluating if something is realistic, you’ll notice that an Inner Critic speaks in black and white, either/or pronouncements, whereas, your supportive inner voice poses open-ended questions towards complexity and grey areas.

And when it comes to exploring grey areas, it can be extremely difficult to find a grey area of thinking when we’re evolving our value system, evaluating taking a big step toward something we want, or really shaking how we think or want our world to work. In these cases, there’s even more deeply embedded programming for us to undo. So it takes that much more work with the Inner Critic, to really talk ourselves out of black and white thinking, and into areas of possibility.

If we’re to upgrade our internal Operating System to get the clarity we need to make decisions for a more meaningful life, we need to learn to turn down the volume of our loudest, most insistent Inner Critics. I’m continuing to discover new ones and rediscover old ones, but I’ve learned to notice and challenge Earl almost immediately, to prevent the anxious somatic response (a cyclical tightening in my stomach, throat, and chest) that I used to experience with him.

Noticing Our Inner Critic(s)

Any time we want to stretch ourselves, there’s a good chance one of our Inner Critics is going to step in. They’re great at appearing whenever we’re trying to grow.

Brene Brown — a psychologist known for her TED talk on vulnerability and evidence-based research on shame and judgment, frequently discusses her Inner Critics, which she calls gremlins.

So the first, and biggest step is Noticing them. If we can notice them, then we can start to get more information from them. You can often catch an Inner Critic if you recognize an inner voice saying things like “I should”, “I’ll never”, “I always”, “I can’t”, “I shouldn’t”, “I have to”.

In the next exercise, you’ll be able to practice this. Try to track the phrases that are looping in your head. These are likely some of the scripts that run the internal Operating System that shapes your decision processes, judgments toward others, and/or reality of what’s possible.

Silent, Guided Inner Critic Reflection

Now, we’ll be doing an 11-minute, silent, guided reflection, to interview one of your inner critics. You might come up with thoughts quickly, or slowly––don’t worry if you lose track of following my voice, because there’s a WORKSHEET included. Make sure to have a pen and paper or something to write with, in front of you.

Reflection Prompt:

“Bring to mind something you’re stuck on, second guessing yourself for, or where you may fear losing credibility, acceptance, or approval” 
(anything where it’s likely you’re wrestling an Inner Critic).

Some Ideas:

  • Something that puts you in a place of not feeling _________ enough.
  • Something you’re scared to take a chance on?
  • Something where you’re not fitting in how you’d like.

Self-reflection can be uncomfortable, but it’s where growth and change starts, so I invite you to stay curious and open, as you explore an Inner Critic that’s active for you right now.

Start the Guided Reflection (click here)

Interviewing Your Inner Critic

Once you’ve completed the guided experience, and become more familiar with the motives of your protective Inner Critic, visit the accompanying worksheet, to organize your thoughts. Assigning identities to your loudest Inner Critics makes it easier to recognize and catch when they’re showing up or looping a familiar script to you.

Among several recurring Inner Critics of mine is my “Taskmaster Nun” from my Catholic school upbringing (and possibly a Catholic-educated lawyer for a mom, who’s one of the closest people to me in my life).

Below is an example of my reflection responses:

As you continue working with various inner critics, you’ll likely uncover more insidious, sneakier voices (the reflection can be for repeated use, and one of my clients does it at the beginning of every month). Here’s one of my primary, deepest operating voices that I work with frequently, to keep from drowning out my core, wisest self:

Calling On Your Inner Guide

In reviewing what you came up with, you might see that we often talk to ourselves in ways we wouldn’t ever consider talking to a friend.

As you consider the scripts that might be running (and looping!) your internal Operating System, think about how you might challenge your Inner Critic:

  1. How could your Inner Critic be wrong?
    Zoom out. Explore if there are other people, perspectives, experiences, ways of living, life values, or goals you’re not considering?
  2. What’s the kindest way you’d speak to a friend?
  3. Consider how EVERYONE has flaws and things they don’t like about themselves. AND how you have unique qualities, experiences and strengths that give you the opportunity to share them in a way that only you can (sometimes the strengths even come from the flaws).

Much of my coaching practice focuses on helping people start to challenge their inner critics and bring in reinforcement. And I leverage fantastic research on managing the Inner Critic from psychology and neuroscience focused thought-leaders like Rick Hanson and Kelly McGonigal, and Richard Schwartz.

Practice Practice Practice

Keep practicing this powerful tool of noticing the specific Inner Critic you’ve interviewed today, and how often they may be speaking to you, potentially without you realizing. How often does your inner critic vs. your wisest self take over? As you track yourself within conversations, see if you can hear an Inner Critic speaking up, and practice quieting them down with the NOTICE, ACKNOWLEDGE, CHALLENGE process, so you can bring your fullest self to your interactions:

  • NOTICE
    Again, the biggest step is to NOTICE when an Inner Critic is talking to you. Often, there are signals in your body that you can look out for, like a raised heartbeat, tightness in your chest, stomach, or throat, heat or cold sensations. Just starting to realize how often your decisions and peace of mind are disturbed by an Inner Critic will help you see patterns of decisions you do and don’t make about the life you want.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE
    Practice conversing with them, but not negotiating with them. Let them know you hear them, and ACKNOWLEDGE how they’re trying to protect you, and potentially even that you see how hard they’re working to do their job.
  • CHALLENGE
    Then you might be able to address their fears by bringing in your wiser self to CHALLENGE them, possibly by considering “How could they be wrong?”. Approach them as you might, a good friend, and offer yourself possibilities for a less black and white/either-or perspective.

You have several different Inner Critics, all from various parts of the values and culture your grew up in, and the people you’re exposed to, so it’s a continuous practice to bring compassion to yourself as old and new ones continue to show up. As you see patterns in your Inner Critics showing up and understand more of the trends in your “not enough” statements, you might even start to see opportunities to remove Inner Critics from some of the relationships and dynamics you have with other people. I continue to work with myself to be patient as I catch Inner Critics that keep me from living in more aliveness. I’ve also been learning to bring self-compassion to my underlying fear, when I notice that I’m directing an Inner Critic at other people.

Now, it’s time to start turning up the volume of that voice in yourself that’s different from all the voices that talk you out of what you want, or the voices that insist on doubts or impossibility. Contact me at marisol@insideoutQ.com and I’ll send you a worksheet on connecting to the part of you that’s the expert of your life and your wisest, most powerful source of guidance, your Inner Guide.

I’m a Leadership Coach, and I specialize in helping people upgrade their internal Operating System programming, so they can make decisions from the wisdom of their Inner Guide, instead of their Inner Critics––I’m always happy to schedule a free consultation session to discuss how you can live your possibilities, instead of limitations.

If you’d like to learn more about my coaching philosophy, or know of a group or company that could benefit from a workshop on this (also termed ‘Imposter Syndrome’), please reach me here or check out some influential resources and my website InsideOut Quotient.

Special thanks to fellow coaches Val Sanders and Marissa Pelliccia, who collaborated on an initial Inner Critic workshop.