3 simple tips on how to manage your inner critic
We are not the content of our thoughts in our mind but we become the thoughts we listen to.
Human beings are storytellers and stories have enabled us to evolve through thousands of years. We are meaning seeking machines and the job of your mind is to understand and interpret what is going on around you.
Your brain picks up on a cue internally or externally and its job to make sense of what is going on.
This has served as a critical survival tool and without it, we would not see the danger. That is why through storytelling we have survived.
Some examples of picking up cues include:
- adrenaline flowing through the body when thinking about a presentation next week
- seeing an email come into your inbox from your boss
- hearing a loud bang in the distance
- thinking about lockdown ending
Key point: Storytelling has evolved as a tool to reduce uncertainty. To create safety. To protect you from danger.
Even before these things have happened, the brain already has a programmed response for the situation.
These responses have been based on repetition of previous experiences and most of the time you will not even notice the response. It happens so quickly, it just plays out on autopilot.
Think about a driving analogy for someone who has been driving for 10 years. They are on route to the supermarket, surrounded by 1000’s of data and information – people crossing the street, buildings, traffic lights, the rain, the radio and the traffic noise. Yet, most of this information passes us by because we have learnt that they serve no threat. There is no need for thinking and in fact, thinking would use unneeded energy.
However, if we were involved in a crash the previous week, there would be a high probability it would change your feelings and thoughts. You would be more vigilant, alert and thinking more. For good reason too, you do not want to crash again.
Sometimes though, scenarios trigger unwanted feelings and thoughts where there is no actual threat.
The storytelling system (the mind) starts to interpret what is going on.
How do I solve this? Why did that happen? What did I do?
Storytelling has evolved as a tool to reduce uncertainty. To create safety. To protect you from danger.
Unfortunately, though, your mind tends to perceive many things as a threat, even when it is not. And there is a very important distinction to make.
Key point: Pain and suffering is not caused by what happened, pain and suffering arises from your addiction to your story of what happened.
We can explore the examples above:
You think about the presentation you need to give next week (what happened)
- ‘what if I mess up what I say’, ‘I am going to let my company down’ (story on top of the thought)
You receive an email from your boss (what happened)
- ‘why does she want to meet me?’, ‘what have I done?’ (story on top of the email)
Loud bang in the distance (what happened)
- ‘OMG what was that’, ‘we need to get to safety’ (story on top of the bang)
An email from your organisation about imminent changes (what happened)
- ‘I am going to lose my job’, ‘I hate change’, ‘my future is doomed’ (story about what happened)
Another example (and I must recognise and manage this one myself) is turning up late to a meeting because the bus didn’t turn up (fact).
- “They’re going to think less of me for being late”.
- “I hate being late”.
- “How dare they judge me for being late, it wasn’t my fault”.
- “They’re going to think I woke up late, I really didn’t, it was late”.
- “They’re late too at times, they can’t judge me”.
- “The bus is late ALL the time, a hate buses” (Stories).
It is not what happens that cause you the suffering. It is the story about what happened that causes you the suffering.
Not only that, but it is also the attention we give those thoughts and feelings that cause the story in our mind to turn into a drama.
Here are 3 tips on how to manage the inner critic:
Notice the physical feelings and/or thoughts you are experiencing. Perform a body scan of feelings, be present with them. Label them for what they are. Observe the thoughts. Remind yourself it is the mind on autopilot acting outside of your control.
Accept and Let it go
Our brain, body and mind reacts within microseconds to things that happen – outside of your control.
Firstly, accept that the mind negatively interprets situations. Secondly, minimise the time between what happened and letting go of what happened.
(Jill Bolte-Taylor famously said that the physiological time for an emotion to break down in body and mind is up to 90 seconds).
Literally, pause. Pause and ask yourself, what has happened. What is the fact? Are these thoughts helping me? If so, great. If not, redirect your attention into something that is going to help you. The pause allows you create space to choose what you want to do.