It’s Time To Tell Your Inner Critic To Put A Sock In It

A ‘Silence Your Inner Critic’ Tweet Gets Me Thinking 

I follow Web MD on Twitter and today they tweeted about their new blog post on the importance of silencing your inner critic. The blog discussed how relationships can be strained when one person constantly talks negatively about themselves or refuses to accept even the most minor compliment a partner sends their way.  I don’t think that being our own worst enemy is just bad for relationships. It’s bad for every aspect of our life.

Are you too hard on yourself? Flickr photo by Untitled Blue

I caught on to how common it is for people to be unreasonably hard on themselves when they are trying to lose weight once I began wellness coaching.  Inherently when clients come into the session they start pouring out their heart to the coach about everything they didn’t accomplish over the past week.  I’ve heard everything from “I ate a whole bag of potato chips,” to “I didn’t make it to the gym once this week.”  Sometimes it’s just a blanket statement.  “The week was a mess.  I didn’t do anything I said I was going to do.”

Because this is so common, the coaching course I took taught us how to stop this head on:  Always start the session with a positive inquiry.   For example, “Tell me about the best thing that happened to you this week.”  The inquiry isn’t about what they did or didn’t eat or how much they exercised.  If the client wants to talk about their daughter’s surprise when she got a puppy for her tenth birthday they have the freedom to do that.

How To Be Your Own Best Friend

The self-help book of the 80's

The concept of ‘being your own best friend’ has been around for decades.  I remember when the self-help book “How To Be Your Own Best Friend”  was popular in the 80’s.  Twenty plus years later you can still buy it at Amazon.com.

Being our own best friends sounds like a good idea, but how many of us practice it?  I wasn’t very supportive of me this morning when a friend who is training for an Ironman competition in August invited me to join her and another friend, who is training for an Ironman competition in November, for a 10 mile run on Saturday.  Wow!  I’ve been invited to run with two iron-women athletes.  I should have been ecstatic!  But I wasn’t.  Instead my brain lit up like a switchboard with negative self-talk.  I’m too slow.  I’ll hold them back.  I’ll get tired.  I’m better on my own.  If I go they’ll see I’m not on the same level they are.

I didn’t realize what I had done it until I started checking tweets and found the Web MD blog.  So, now that I realize I have a habit of doing this – and I suspect you do too – and the consequences of doing it on a regular basis are pretty damaging, what do I intend to do about it?

Put A Sock In It 

I did some exploring on the topic of silencing our inner critic and here’s what I’ve learned:

Self-Criticism Is Hurtful – Unrelenting Self-Criticism goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety.  A study done by Dr. David M. Dunkley, a psychiatrist at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, found that people that were the most self-critical are:

  • The most likely to be depressed and to suffer from eating disorders.
  • Often fearful that their colleagues (and maybe their friends and family too) will find out who they really are, not who they are pretending to be.
  • Following the belief that if they don’t beat themselves up they won’t be successful. I guess we think that to keep ourselves from slacking we have to kick our own butts from time to time.

It’s Not Inevitable – There are four action steps that we can do to change our negative self-talk behavior.  We can:

  • Make a conscious effort to monitor our thoughts and write down self-criticisms in a journal.  We should make a note of the situations that trigger the negative self-talk.
  • Evaluate our judgments and decide if we’re being fair to ourselves or if we’re holding us up to a higher standard than we do everybody else.  Also, let’s give ourselves a break when something happens that we have no control over.  Not everything is our fault.
  • Keep a list of our achievements and occasionally look back and review our accomplishments.  Write down “I hand washed my car and all of the windows at my house on Saturday”.  Leave off “I ate a bag of potato chips last week”.
  • Learn to recognize the difference between healthy, constructive change-talk and condemnation.  Calling ourselves names is destructive condemnation.  Saying, I’ll do better tomorrow is constructive.

We’re Trying To Keep Up With The Kardashian’s – Robert L. Leahy, a psychiatrist and director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York, says “We have expanded what we expect of material success and physical appearance so that it’s completely unrealistic”.   I think there is enough fodder in that statement for an entire blog post.  It certainly summarizes why we fall into the trap of being so hard on ourselves.  We’re trying to keep up with the Kardashian’s.

No doubt social media plays a role in this.  As much as we love Facebook, we all have a ‘friend’ that posts non-stop about the amazingly awesome life they are living which makes us wonder what we’re missing.  Pinterest takes it to the next level with the boards of glamorous home furnishings, rock-hard sweaty  bodies, creative crafts that I have no clue how anyone has time to make, and dishes with ingredients in them I can’t pronounce that apparently someone out there is preparing for dinner every evening.  This ‘expanded expectation’ provides us with even more reasons to berate ourselves when we begin to suspect that we’re not measuring up to the trumped up fairy tale everyone else seems to be living.

Behavior Change 101

If we are going to alter the way we talk to ourselves we will need to apply the same principles we do when we set out to adopt other healthy behaviorsSMART goal setting, journaling, focusing on the best thing that we did instead of our failures, and allowing ourselves the same room for error that we permit the other people in our lives to have.

I’ll get us started by throwing down the gauntlet:  I plan to run with my iron-women friends this weekend.   I promise not to call myself slow, weak or lame. When I get home I’ll write down the best thing that happened during the run.  I may even blog about it.

What’s your action plan for defeating your inner critic?