After 12+ years of running my business, it’s clear that when more than three people email me the same article within a 24-hour period, I'm most likely going to be inspired to blog about it and share it with my audience as quickly as possible. That was just the case this past weekend when a number of people forwarded me a piece from the New York Times by Emmy Award-winning actress America Ferrera, where she recounts her long struggle with her Inner Critic. The moment I read it, I knew I had to share it immediately!
You guys know how often we deal with inner critics in the coaching room. Just the other night at our Path Alum workshop, our brave friend Chrissie volunteered to work on her Inner Critic in front of the whole group and practice the process we recommend for silencing it*.
Here's the deal: Our Inner Critics are never going to go away completely (I know...sorry). Here’s why: Inner Critic thoughts originated from our caveman brains — when we experienced threats like lions and tigers and bears on a regular basis. Scientifically, this is known as an Amigdayla Hijack. The Amigdyla is a tiny, almond-size part of the brain that is programmed to recognize danger — this is the fight/flight/freeze mechanism you might be familiar with. In (most of) our lives NOW, our brain, lacking those constant physical perils, perceives less dangerous events as major threats. So an audition or a big meeting or even a comment from someone can make you FEEL like you’re being attacked by a bear.
This is simply how we're wired, as humans. And completely eliminating this phenomenon is not the point, anyway. I have found that the more I get curious about my Inner Critics, the more likely I am to have some compassion for this very human part of me.
America Ferrera's story captures the very essence of this human struggle and I absolutely love how her Inner Coach wins out in the end. You don't want to miss this read!
*4 STRATEGIES TO QUIET THE INNER CRITIC
1. CATCH IT
This step is all about understanding that an Inner Critic has taken over. Often, we can feel as if the Inner Critic talk is TRUE, but we need to CATCH it in the moment, and realize that this is just that caveman-part of our brain. It's REAL, but not TRUE. So the first step is to CATCH the Inner Critic in the moment, and distinguish it. This step is hugely powerful — just by realizing it's there, you are able to step away from that front line where it can feel like you are being pummeled.
Since Inner Critics hate being present, the most important thing you can do is to check in with your body. Where in your body do you feel this Inner Critic? Is there a particular area that feels tight or constricted? Just note it.
2. HEAR IT
Inner Critics are like small children who just want their perspective to be HEARD. If you don’t clearly identify what they are saying, you will remain stuck under their grip. By distilling their message, you can begin to disarm them. You want to hear the Inner Critic out until you get to its essential message. Examples include: You are a failure; You’re not going to make it; etc…
Often, the essential message will include some kind of action with it — like, “You are a failure, you should just quit.” Just like you would do with a small child who wants something that you’re not going to give them, you are going to LISTEN to it’s message but you’re NOT going to do what it says. You will NEVER do what it says.
I mentioned this story in a recent blog post, but it bears repeating here. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, tells a beautiful parable about a young warrior who is told by her teacher that she must enter into battle with FEAR.
She is terrified do to this, but follows her teacher’s orders, and before going into battle, she asks FEAR: "How can I defeat you?" FEAR says: "My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power."
3. NAME IT
Once you get its message, you have to give it a NAME. It may be one you already know; if it feels like a new Inner Critic, come up with a name on the spot (some of mine: Darlene the Drama Queen, Perfectionist Patty…). The moment you name it, you distance it from YOU. This is one of the most important things you can do to silence these guys. So embrace the silliness of this and give them a name, each and every one!
4. TAME IT
This is where this process becomes very individual. Becoming aware of the Inner Critic may be enough for you — it may start to dissipate just by you becoming aware and naming it. But if you are still struggling, I’ve got a bunch of strategies from coaching that I’m going to offer you. However, YOU need to play around with finding a method that will be most useful to you. Here are some things I suggest:
* Walk it out of the room: You can literally get up out of your chair and walk your Inner Critic out of the room and shut the door. Make sure it’s gone! Repeat if necessary.
* Change your state: Changing your physical state can really help here: Try going for a walk or a run, or even just dancing in your room for a minute. It may sound silly, but, by doing this, you’re changing your physiology which can release new chemicals to your brain and alter your thought patterns.
* Distract it with a new activity: Sometimes just changing activities, reading a book, watching a favorite tv show, or calling a friend will distract your Inner Critic long enough to make it quiet down.
* Visualization: There are a variety of ways to do this. You can imagine that you have a giant mason jar in your head, and you’re going to take every statement the Inner Critic makes and put it into the jar and screw it tight. You can also imagine that your Inner Critic is inhabiting a room, and then envision walking OUT of the room.
*Write a letter: Write a letter from It to You, or from You to It about however it makes you feel. Writing about it decreases our distress.
*Listen to your Inner Coach: One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to quiet the Inner Critic is to simply listen to another voice inside of you, one that we like to call your Inner Coach — you know, that voice inside of you that can champion your best friend in a heartbeat when they are down. The one that feels complete compassion for a little child who just doesn’t know any better yet. That’s the voice to cultivate, to pay more attention to and, ultimately, the voice you want to FOLLOW.
Whatever you choose to do to tame it, keep in mind that this takes CONSTANT and VIGILANT practice. These are now yours to play with and try out. It’s easy to feel like nothing will work — in fact, that may be your Inner Critic talking, trying to convince you to stay stuck. So, get CURIOUS about your own mindset and give this kind of awareness a try, and you will see — just like America Ferrera explains — that it can be integral to your success.