In this world, no one is perfect and we always find ourselves making mistakes frequently. However, the inner desire and push to want to be perfect makes way for the inner critic voice in our lives to speak out. We judge ourselves, belittle the small achievements we have had and the progress we are making because we are not moving exactly as we would want to.
In the grand scheme of things, the more we continue criticizing ourselves and looking down on what we have accomplished, the more we end up feeling worthless and the fire of motivation to keep going and make more progress dies out.
Here we are going to understand our negative inner voices well, how we can change that voice to a more positive one, and a meditation practice to help us think about ourselves, talk to ourselves and treat ourselves with more compassion.
Your Constant Inner Critic And What it Does to You
The inner critic voice is made up of a string of negative thoughts and feelings towards ourselves and oftentimes to others as well. This voice keeps bringing up negative thoughts that remind us how much we are lacking in different areas of our lives.
The thoughts then provoke negative feelings which make us feel bad about how we do things and who we are, and this results in us finding fault in whatever we do or even finding fault in others.
Examples of the voice that encourage destructive self-criticism include “You’re sad, weak and lazy!”, “You just can’t do anything to completion by yourself!”, “Is that how much you’re lacking in your fashion sense?”, “You are going to die alone and sad!” and “You just aren’t cut to live in this world. You’re just not good at anything!”, among others.
There are different types of inner critic voices.
The first is the judging voice. This is a voice that looks down on us and our efforts to achieve something or take on a task. This voice will often remind us how much of losers we are and how we can’t do the task even before we have started working on it. The kinds of things this voice often tells us include “You know very well you’re going to fail at this just like you did with your 2 weeks relationship!” or “Why are you bothering yourself with this and you know you’re not going to do anything useful!”
The second is the controlling voice. This is the voice that tries to dictate our lives and get us to do different things but comes with a hint of arrogance. Some of the things it says include “Wake up and get ready for work because you have to be constantly reminded to build your own life” or “You’re the most stupid person I’ve seen. You mean you can’t solve this simple math?”
The third voice is the fearful voice of upcoming failure. This voice will prophesy for us the failure or shame that is about to come our way if we do the things we are looking forward to doing. If, for instance, we like someone and we want to let them know in a party we are attending a couple of hours to come, we might hear this voice telling us “Are you even serious? Do you think that beautiful person is going to want to hang out with you? You’re going to be embarrassed in front of everyone if you dare ask them out!”
The fourth voice is the constructive criticism voice. This is the voice that criticizes our thoughts, feelings, actions, and behaviors but in a good way that is meant to improve us. Every so often we tend to make mistakes and this voice reminds us not to take a certain path we know for sure we will regret soon. Also, it helps us positively realize our weaknesses and work on them. Some of the things it tells us include “Hey there, this work is not really the best you can do. You can do much better than this. Optimize these different areas and you will note the difference.”
As we have seen, while the inner critic voice can be destructive, there are times when the constructive criticism voice is speaking. And we can always tell when that is happening because it brings about a feeling of motivation and positive energy to do better for our own sake, without the hint of arrogance.
Other than the constructive criticism voice, the other voices make it hard for us to believe in our abilities, do our best work and enjoy anything in life. They remind us we are not worth it and we can never be good enough for anything, which is completely false.
These critical inner voices come from our experiences from when we were kids. The interactions and words we got from our parents and guardians when were little as well as our friends, siblings, and relatives who have always had a substantial amount of impact in our lives shape our inner voices.
Their influence and the words they said that stuck with us feed the fire of the voices in our heads. However, we can get rid of them and completely overcome them and live our best lives.
Let’s take a closer look at how we can do that.
How to Regulate Your Inner Critic Voice
There are many ways to regulate the self-destructive voice that keeps speaking in our minds. Here are some of the most effective methods.
1. Mindfulness Meditation – Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that is aimed at helping us remain aware of the present moment. It allows us to be more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the here and now. Here is a detailed beginner’s guide on mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation can help control the negative voice by first helping us be aware of it as it speaks to us. Since we are rooted in the present moment, whenever the voice speaks we can be aware of it. After acknowledging its work, we can then put labels on the judgments and the negative thoughts and feelings the voice brings us.
For example, we can call the negative thoughts that come with the voice “judgments” or any other word you personally feel resonates with what you are feeling about them.
So whenever it comes again to speak to us and we become aware of it, we just remember the labels you gave them and you say to yourself “This is a judgment” or “This is (the labels you choose for the voices)” and after saying that, you intentionally redirect your attention to what you are doing and keep doing it to the best of your abilities.
2. Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (ACT) – This is an approach that encourages us to accept the critic that comes from our inner voices and then let them go. We just simply observe the things we are told by these voices and accept them, and thereby take the control these voices have on us. We are barely able to modulate our thoughts and feelings but we can tell when these voices are just regular thoughts that are not grounded on truth.
So by observing exactly how these voices try to make us think and show us who we are, we are more able to recognize the real voices that are based on our need to be better people from the voices that just want to pull and keep us down.
3. Compassion Meditation – Compassion meditation is a meditation practice that seeks to empower us to cultivate thoughts of compassion and train our minds towards living with compassion for ourselves and others. It helps us get rid of all forms of selfishness, self-absorption, and any form of suffering and how it influences our actions and thoughts and makes us more positive and appreciative.
Ideally, by cultivating compassion towards ourselves, we learn how to befriend our thoughts and only think good things about ourselves. We wish ourselves and others well and seek to move in that direction despite the many challenges we may have. We accept that life is not all chocolate and roses, and we need to see beyond the suffering and shortcomings when they come.
4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This is an effective approach that is based on logic and reason. The idea here is to boil down the negative inner voices to their essence in our lives, that is, to produce countless negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves. These negative thoughts and feelings can be traced back to the beliefs and thoughts we harbor within ourselves. Now this being the case, CBT aims to use logical facts and reasonable evidence that what the voices tell us is false and baseless. When the voices appear in our minds, we should face them and disprove them using facts and evidence. When we do this consistently, we become stronger and more positive and start believing more in ourselves.
5. The Positive Intelligence Approach – This is another method that is based on awareness and redirection. It takes the approach that the inner critic is a well-experienced judge that makes frequent judgments about ourselves and also other people. And to overcome this judge, we must first observe “him”. We take note of how “he” expresses himself and the angle of thinking that he encourages us to have.
After that, we should be constantly on the lookout for his actions in our minds. When we notice him trying to influence us, we say in our minds “There he goes again with the judgments” and then we should redirect our attention and focus on our senses. For example, we can focus on looking at something that is within our environment or sounds we are hearing or even touch different objects that are around us.
The redirection of attention and focus on our senses allows us to get away from the noise in our heads and therefore weaken this judge since he has no power over our senses and what we do with them in the present moment.
Meditation Practice to Overcome the Negative Inner Voice
While we have looked at meditation-based approaches to silencing the inner critical voice, here is a meditation practice that is specifically focused on this aspect that can be used as-is to deal with the problem.
Step 1. Find a comfortable place – Look for a fairly comfortable seat you can use to meditate. Sit with your spine erect. Keep your feet on the ground and your hands on your laps. You can choose to keep your eyes completely closed or half-open while maintaining a low gaze.
Step 2. Be aware of your breath – Now notice your breathing process. Take a deep breath. Observe how you take air into your body through your nose. Feel the texture of the air as it hits the walls of your nose. Feel how it enters into your lungs, how your chest expands and how all other body parts involved in the breathing process react to inhalation. Do the same for exhalation. With each breath, feel how relaxation increases. Allow yourself to be relaxed and calm.
Step 3. Be attentive to external sounds around you – Be aware of the sounds within your surroundings. It may be the sound of birds, the sound of vehicles, the sound of the wind, or any other sound. Be aware of all of them, each at a time without getting lost in them. Just simply be aware.
Step 4. Find an object of attention – Now look for something you can direct your attention to and keep it there for a long time. The object should ideally be something you find interesting. It could be the external sounds or your breath or your tongue or a part of your body or anything you feel is interesting for you. You don’t have to be perfect with this step and there is no right object for everyone. Get the one that deeply resonates with you.
Step 5. Focus on that object – Direct your awareness and attention to that object and be aware of everything about it. If it is your breath, do step 2 and if it is something else, aim to be aware of every aspect of that object. Notice how it feels, sounds, and any other aspect about it you can take note of. But be sure not to leave your seat or divert from the practice. Work with something that is within your reach and which won’t affect the progress of your session.
Step 6. Keep your attention on the object and notice when your mind wanders – As you maintain your focus and attention on the chosen object, you are going to notice when your mind wanders, get lost in other thoughts, and forget about your practice. This is normal. When you become aware of it, simply redirect your attention gently to the chosen object of focus and keep at it.
Step 7. Notice any critical voices that come up – As you keep going with your practice, you’re going to notice some judgmental thoughts coming up and disappearing every so often. It could be “I’m never going to hack this meditation thing” or “I’m just not good at meditation at all” or “Why did I let myself sleep so late and not get to wake up early? I’m just so stupid!” Whatever your case may be, take note of them and begin putting labels on them. For instance, if you notice the first critical voice, say “judgment 1” and then when the second comes you say “judgment 2” and so on. Do the same thing with other thoughts that arise. Look for a word that best describes the thoughts. For example, when you begin replaying yesterday’s or a distant past’s events in your mind, you can label that “recalling”. Do that for every thought that comes up.
Step 8. Be more compassionate towards yourself – As you put labels on the judgments and thoughts, and as you redirect your awareness to your object of focus, let compassion in and notice how free and happy your life is without the negative thoughts. Notice every other thing that feels right without them.
Step 9. Try to think about how well your meditation is going – As you keep meditating, notice how you have managed to be aware of your breath, be focused on your chosen object, and how you have redirected your attention whenever your mind drifted. Notice how many times the voices came and how you labeled them.
Step 10. Invite more kindness in – Now imagine someone you really love and who brings joy to your life. The person could be your family member, your relative, your friend, or even a pet. If you can’t think of anyone, you can imagine a character in a movie or book who you felt that way towards. With the person in mind, send good wishes to them. Say phrases like “May your life get even better!”, “May you be peaceful, healthy, and happy!”, “May you get all your life desires!”, “May you be safe!” and “May you find acceptance and joy in who you are!”
Step 11. Feel the compassion and kindness within your body – As you repeat these phrases, feel the kindness and compassion you are sending the person within your body. Feel it increasing as you keep saying the phrases. Now say these phrases to yourself, “May I be at home with kindness forever”. “May I be compassionate towards myself”. “May this kindness and compassion never run dry”. “May I be with myself exactly as I am.” As you say the phrases feel it happening in your life.
Step 12. Redirect your focus and attention to your breath and then set the intention of concluding your session. And then open your eyes fully and go about your day. The session is now over.
Rewarding Tips For Taming Your Inner Critical Voice
On top of the meditation and the different approaches for conquering the negative inner voice, here are some more effective tips we can also work with to ensure we get more positive results and more success in this area.
– Increase your self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to see ourselves with clarity, understand who we are, how other people view us, and how we fit into the world. Here is a detailed guide to self-awareness and how to increase it in our lives. When we seek to become more self-aware, we will be able to recognize the falsehood that lies in the negative voices in our heads and have an easier time overcoming them. Through self-awareness, we get to know who we are and our true abilities, and it helps us put away anything in the form of thoughts or feelings that is not true. It also helps us to accept and work on our weaknesses.
– Avoid generalizing. It is always important to stop linking everything we do to a mistake we made once and think that we are wired to always make that mistake. It is obvious that we are going to make lots of mistakes in our lives. Many times, we might notice that have made mistakes that are related but with slight differences, and we may think that in that area, we generally can’t do anything well. At times, it may be due to a lack of understanding in that area which we can work on by taking time to reflect, research, resolve and act upon what we have found out. Other times, it may be nothing but coincidence. And if we set our minds on the fact that we just can’t do something substantial and valuable in that area and we accept it, we will always mess up. By being specific to the areas we are weak in and understanding why we think we are weak in these areas, and really zooming in on them, we will know when we are generalizing it and when we need to work on the area generally.
– Have time-specific emotional goals. When we experience negative feelings, most of the time we seek to suppress them or allow them to overwhelm us completely for many days. And doing this builds up the experiences that burn into our core beliefs which then make us feel like what the negative inner voices are saying is true. We can deal with this problem by allocating a period where we allow ourselves to let the emotions we are feeling at a particular moment run wild. We can give ourselves a window of about one hour where we let our emotions express themselves entirely. Once the window is over, we “sober up” and think about the best next moves to take, that is, why the emotions came in the first place, what we are doing wrong, how we can right that, and the kind of steps to take to make sure we never feel like that in the future.
– Work with a journal. Keeping a journal is a great way to improve our self-awareness. It can also be a good way to acknowledge, accept and deal with negative voices. The best and perhaps the most effective way to use journaling to fight off the inner critic is by writing down the negative things the inner voice says about us together with an improved way of looking at that area. For example, we can have a page in our journal divided into 2 sections. One section can be for all the negative things and the other one can be for the rephrased versions of the negative things. To be more specific, say the inner voice has said “What I said to my friend really made me look stupid”. You will write that in the first section for negative things and then you can rephrase it into something like “I discovered a more careful way to express my thoughts to my friends”. Keep doing that and you should notice a huge improvement after some time.
– Broaden your idea of success. The most common idea of success is achieving all our goals and being the best of the best at what we are doing. And this definition is true. However, we should not overlook the smaller steps that lead to this big achievement. We should make an effort of appreciating the little things we do right, the roadblocks we overcome, the discoveries we make that keep us going, and the mindset shift that also helps us achieve something difficult. These small achievements give us the motivation and positivity we need to reach the bigger goal that makes us feel we have succeeded, not to mention the proof that we are stronger, better, and more capable than what our negative voices tell us.
– Distance from yourself for a while and be a friend to yourself. It is important to always treat yourself like a good best friend you have, even during the times when your thoughts are telling you heartbreaking things. Imagine a good friend you have and think about what you would advise them to do if they came to you telling you they think or feel some type of way that is bringing them down. The advice you’d give them is the same that you should apply to your particular case. We can distance ourselves from the self and view it like another good friend we have that we can offer our best advice to and encourage them to work with it consistently. It helps to break the deeply connected bond we have with the self that makes us think it’s still the inner voice that tells us bad things about ourselves which seemingly appear true.
Ideally, aiming to be aware of our inner critic, labeling the judgments we make on ourselves, changing the negative song that keeps singing in our minds through having self-compassion can help us overcome the negative self-talk completely.
The idea is to practice more awareness of our thoughts and feelings and work towards changing them by directing our attention to the more positive side of our lives. The small achievements, the few steps forward, and the small bits of success are part of the bigger picture and if we keep going despite the challenges we face, we are going to have the big success we desire.
We encourage you to begin applying this technique and practice the meditation we have discussed regularly to become more positive and energized to keep chasing your goals and dreams.