How to be Kind to Yourself - Part 1
In this article I’m going to imagine that I’m having a chat with my inner critic as if it’s a person inside of me. I hope this helps to illustrate what the inner critic is for, how it can end up causing us no end of pointless suffering, and how to make best use of it.
Hello there, Andy’s Inner Critic - good to speak to you!
So what kind of thing do you criticise Andy for?
He should be doing more of almost everything! Earning, saving, exercising, seeing his friends and family, doing nothing, meditating, eating fruit and veg, one handed press ups, learning Chinese, he should start a property portfolio and save the world from climate change.
What’s your goal? Why do you exist?
I want him to be better! Better at everything. Ultimately, I want him to be happier, healthier and more successful.
How do you make him feel when you’re present?
Well the criticism makes him feel anxious, down, sometimes despairing. Not good enough. Sometimes ashamed.
Does that make him feel motivated to improve himself?
Errrr now that you’re asking, I have to admit it demotivates him. He loses enthusiasm and stops believing it’s possible to improve.
OK, we can all agree on the goal of helping him be happier, healthier and more successful, but the strategy for how to achieve that seems to be counter-productive. Is that a fair comment?
Yes, I suppose it is.
How about you stop criticising him then?
Oh I’m not sure about that. I’d be very worried that he’d just lie in bed all day eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and watching Netflix. Without me, how would he motivate himself?
That’s a good question. So if there was another way, you’d be willing to step back a bit, would you?
Of course I would.
OK, thank you Andy’s Inner Critic, good to speak to you. Now I would like to speak to Andy’s Inner-Cheerleader.
Hiiiiii! Andy’s Inner-Cheerleader here. Ready for action!
So, what do you think Andy is currently doing well?
He gets good sleep, he eats pretty well, does lots of exercise, he helps people a lot through his work, he’s curious, loves learning, supports his family and friends, makes people laugh… I could go on!
What do you want for him? Why do you exist?
I want him to be happy, heathy, and successful!
How does he feel when you’re present?
Positive, energised, confident and motivated!
And how much of the time are you present in his mind?
Hmmm some of the time. But the Inner Critic is a lot louder and gets more airtime.
What would his life be like if you were around more, and the Inner Critic was a bit more quiet?
He’d be happier, and he’d actually improve his life more, which is what the Inner Critic wants! He’d believe in himself more.
That sounds pretty good! So how could he make that happen?
Being more aware when the Inner Critic has taken over. Listen to him, sure. He’s great at suggesting improvements. But when it comes to taking action, reconnect to me. I can remind you of your strengths, your past successes and encourage you to move forward!
Thank you, Inner-Cheerleader. That’s been really helpful.
You are so welcome! Remember, I’m available any time :)
So there you have it. The Inner Critic is just trying to help you improve, but by getting you down, you can lose motivation to do the improving. The Inner Cheerleader helps us to get into the state of mind where change is actually possible.
Next time you realise your Inner Critic is having a go at you, just labelling it to yourself “Ah that’s my Inner Critic speaking” can already help take some of the power out of it. Try writing down or telling someone what it has to say. Then try switching to the opposite perspective as your Inner Cheerleader. This will help you exit the loop of negative thoughts that can hold us back from success and happiness.
Next week we will explore some of the research around how self-criticism sets us up for failure and unhappiness. Then we’ll look at another antidote: self-compassion.