Ah, the inner critic. That tiny, tiny sound in the back of your head that is always prepared to rattle off how you’re not good enough, beautiful enough or talented enough. It’s like your own free, customized bully!
If there were some way to banish your inner critic to some high-security prison on a remote island near Antarctica, well, I’d love to hear about it. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with that obnoxious little voice in our heads until some medical company invents a mind-controlling pill and it sits on the shelf long enough for Walmart to pump out an affordable knockoff. But, of course, that doesn’t mean we have to pay the voice any attention. Here are some ways you capture it and work with it:
Write it down. Have all of its words on paper? Good. Grip the top of the paper with both hands, and tear. Rip it all into pieces. Give it a moronic name with a dimwitted connotation, and insult it. Destroy the destroyer. Grab a trash can and sweep. Okay, so getting rid of Billybobprincess isn’t that easy. But it’s important to recognize and separate your inner critic’s thoughts from your own self-confidence and pride. In order to fight it, harness it, and prove it wrong, you need to know what you’re up against.
Drown it out. Distract yourself with whatever you like – classical music, chatting with friends or raunchy adult comedy, anything to distance your mind from pessimistic, defeatist thoughts. This works best when you’re prepping for an actual event, like a performance or swim meet. You have worked as hard as you can. You are ready, and you are going to crush it. Listening and giving in to your inner critic can only hurt you at this point, so turn to a different channel.
Remember all the times you’ve proved it wrong before. Every time I walk out of an orchestra audition, I’ve already started hurling insults at myself. That was so out of tune! That shift was horrific! You closed the door way too hard, and that’ll subliminally make the judges hate you! Then I remember the time I thought I tanked an audition when I actually ended up getting first chair and the time I thought there was no way I’d passed a test and ended up getting a solid B on it. Your inner critic doesn’t have control over the outcome – you do. Think of those moments when you completely subverted its expectations. Concentrate on those. Revel in those.
Put a positive spin on it. You suck at math, it says. Okay, try to think positive. How would your grandmother phrase it? “Maybe you should spend more time studying for tests and get a tutor, poochkins. Here, have a cookie!” You made a huge, terrible mistake. What would your friend say? “So you screwed up once, big deal. You weren’t one of the publishers who rejected Harry Potter, SNL isn’t going to make jokes about you, and this won’t ruin your future. Now give me your math homework.”
Be kind to yourself. Aim for self-improvement, not self-destruction.
Stop exaggerating and be realistic. There’s no point in listening to yourself say overblown statements like “Everyone hates me!” that are obviously not true. Be honest and consider the evidence at hand. Think like a scientist: is there data that proves whatever conclusion your inner critic has forced you to believe? Most likely not. So try not to waste your time dwelling on falsehoods and focus instead on taking action to address your underlying worries. Instead of, say, telling yourself “I’ll never get into college!” do your research, talk to a guidance counselor, and give your best shot.
If Edison had given up inventing the lightbulb because he stopped believing in himself after his first 999 tries, we’d be living in a dark, dark world. You’re destined to do amazing things too – so don’t prevent them by letting your inner critic win.