We all have an inner critic – you know, that voice in your head that provides an on-going running commentary on how you’re doing. Some people’s inner critics are louder than others, but most of us are familiar with that little voice telling us whether what we are doing is good enough, sensible, realistic, successful.

This voice is well established. She or he has been there for most of our lives, and to be fair it’s just doing its job – which is to keep us safe; safe from harm, embarrassment or failure. But for many people, the inner critic has got way too loud and judgemental. It has stopped being helpful and can be the very thing that trips us up.

And if your inner critic is a perfectionist then it is a doubly whammy. Here’s why; perfectionism is a curse, pure and simple. Perfectionism tells us that there is a certain way to be, and that we will always fall short. Perfectionism is a fantasy based on an idealised form of the world. No-one can achieve it because it doesn’t exist. Life is way messier and more interesting than that. But if your inner critic is telling you that it does, then I would bet my bottom dollar that your little voice is causing havoc with your confidence. It is constantly telling you that you are lacking whatever it takes to do whatever it is as well as you should.

If you have a perfectionist inner critic here are three things that you can do to learn how to ignore it, or at least lessen its hold over you. First off, learn to notice it. Tune in and start to listen to when that little voice speaks to you and not only that, but what it says and the tone in which it says it. It can really help if you write it down. This usually brings us to the stark reality of the inner critic which for many can be so dominant. The truth is, that when we do this, we may be surprised at how downright horrible she or he is! You may want to reflect on whether you would you speak to your best friend, your child, your partner in such a way.

Once you have started to notice how your inner critic speaks to you, then you can start to build up some alternative options. Your inner critic is like that person at a dinner party who completely dominates the conversation – full of opinion, bluster and who loves the sound of their own voice. Imagine how much more pleasant and interesting it would be to invite some different voices to the conversation. Who haven’t you heard from that you might like to? I recommend creating two or three alternative characters / voices – for example, your kind voice, your best friend voice, your courageous voice. What would they have to say to you? Try writing down some sentences that they might say.

For example, if you’ve just said something difficult in a meeting or to a friend, and your inner critic gets busy telling you what a fool you were for speaking out, you could invite your kind voice to offer her point of view – “that was such a brave thing to say, well done!” It can even help when reflecting on your patterns of thinking, to speak the sentences out loud.

The third thing that we can do is to really befriend the alternative voices, and practice listening to them. It’s unlikely that your inner critic will go away, but you can at least turn down the volume on it and allow yourself to hear from your other perspectives. The more we practice allowing alternative voices into our heads, the louder and more familiar they will become. Neuroscientists have now demonstrated that our brains really do change when we practice thinking differently. Some people choose to keep a journal of their inner voices – especially when you are changing a life-long pattern of thinking. The key is to get really good at noticing – and listening to – the voices in your inner world and starting to offer yourself alternative perspectives. So try releasing yourself from the judgemental grip of your inner critic, and learn to listen to your kinder self.

First published in Stylist.

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