My inner critic’s a real jerk.
He sits in the background, waiting for any opportunity to criticize my work or pass judgment. He never has anything productive to offer. He makes no suggestions on how to improve. He just offers some belligerent ravings on how trying anything new will be an unmitigated disaster.
So yeah, he’s a real jerk. But somehow, he’s also effective. A few whispered criticisms are enough to keep me second-guessing myself. A few well-timed comments are enough to make me hesitate before taking a risk.
It’s like having a personal bully take up residence in my head, offering an endless string of criticisms and discouragement: “That’ll never work. Keep quiet; no one wants to hear your ideas. Don’t publish this article, everyone will hate it.”
We all have our own inner critic. And left unchecked, the daily negativity’s enough to paralyze anyone into inaction. It becomes a harsh self-governor that keeps me from trying anything new.
If we want to shut it down, the first step is recognizing it. And while the specifics may vary for each of us, all of our inner critics have a few things in common. For one, they all behave like diehard Trump supporters.
Signs of Your Inner Critic
Your inner critic has a lot in common with diehard Trump supporters. Their belligerent methods, commitment to unfounded accusations, and complete disregard for reality mirror the behaviors of our inner critics. Start paying attention to them and you’ll likely notice three main things.
First, our inner critics deal in ridiculous absolutes. With logic that Trump supporters reserve for health care and voting fraud, our inner critics love making bold, unfounded generalizations. They tell us “you’ll never succeed,” or they say, “everyone will hate your work.” They equate failure with ridiculous expectations, saying that if we get just one negative comment, or fail to please one person, we’ve completely failed.
Second, straight out of the climate change denier playbook, our inner critics specialize in cherry-picking examples to fit their narrative. Yours might say that “you can’t speak in public,” while reminding you of that one time you flopped two years ago. Or it might discourage you from asking for a raise because of some minor past issue. It, of course, neglects to bring up all of your successes since then.
Finally, like the Trump supporter who claims increased immigration will destroy the country, our inner critics thrive in making dubious statements and worst-case scenarios. It tells you, “not only are you going to fail, you’ll be the laughing stock of the entire office.” Or it might say, “if you start that business, no one will buy your product, you’ll go bankrupt, and soon you and your family will be living on the street.” It creates worst-case scenarios and portrays them as inevitabilities, trying to overwhelm you with fear of the unknown.
While this might seem depressing at first, it’s actually good news. Once we recognize that these criticisms are based on flawed logic, they’re much easier to refute.
And we already know how to do that. Just treat your inner critic like you would that diehard Trump supporter.
Shut Down Your Inner Critic Today
One of my engineers was a committed Trump supporter. Thankfully, he abandoned the cause by mid-November, but the weeks leading up to the election were rough. I know I can’t fire someone for their political beliefs, but it’s hard to take someone’s technical recommendation seriously when they’re adamant that climate change is a hoax.
While it was annoying, it was manageable for one key reason. No one gave any credence to his statements. The moment he made a claim, people challenged him. When he parroted out Fox News propaganda, people responded with actual facts. After a few embarrassing rounds of debate, he started keeping his political opinions to himself.
We can deal with our inner critics in this same manner. They’re only effective when we take them at their word. The moment we challenge them, their arguments fall apart like most of the conservative culture war.
The next time your inner critic starts making dubious claims and tries to scare you into inaction, try implementing the following four steps. They work for inner critics and Trump supports alike.
1. Put the claims under a microscope. The next time your inner critic spouts off a bold claim, don’t take it at face value. Acknowledge the statement and pick it apart. Recognize whether it’s a worst-case scenario that’s unlikely to come true or an unfounded generalization. Even a quick analysis tends to show that these claims are nothing more than delusional ravings.
2. Ask for supporting evidence. If your inner critic tells you that you’re going to fail, ask for the evidence to back up its claim. When it offers an outdated example, counter with other times where you’ve been successful. Or, barring that, remind it that what happened a year ago doesn’t much matter now. We improve every day. That previous failure simply helped you grow into a stronger place.
3. Respond with a rational argument. As your inner critic hands out absolutes, recognize these statements for the ludicrous exaggerations that they are and counter with a rational argument. If it says that you’ll never succeed, respond with the idea that if you keep working at it, eventually you’ll get there. If it tells you that everyone will hate your work, counter with the idea that while it may not please every body, it’s incredibly rare that everyone universally hates something. I mean, even Gigli got a 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. More importantly, even if everyone does hate this one, you’ll take that feedback and get better for next time.
4. Self-distance. Your inner critic wants to appeal to your emotions. Push back and look at this feedback from a third-party perspective. This method helps with making hard choices and weighing inputs in a more dispassionate method. While we tend to struggle to recognize our own problems, we’ve very adept at spotting them in others. The more that we can remove emotion from the argument and focus on the facts, the less authority we give our inner critics.
You Deserve Better than Incessant Criticism
It’s worth mentioning that in moderation, our inner critics can be helpful. And many accomplished people will credit their inner critic with instilling the self-discipline and drive they need to succeed. In some ways, they liken their inner critic to my overzealous high school soccer coach, whose main joy in life was screaming at us every afternoon.
He made us better. Unfortunately, I also learned to hate soccer. And him. Mostly him.
Peak performance rarely comes from toxic environments. When our inner critic drives our actions, success never feels genuine. The stress is relentless. It’s a direct route to anxiety and depression.
Don’t let your inner critic lead you down this path. Start to recognize these statements. The more that you can recognize the ludicrous claims your inner critic makes, the easier it is to shut them down. Just as you would that diehard Trump supporter.
Thanks, as always, for reading. Agree? Disagree? Have your own tricks to help keep that inner critic under control? Feel free to start a conversation, I’d love to hear from you. Cheers!