Befriend Your Inner Critic

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closeup of violinist

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If you’re like me, you still remember (like it was yesterday) that zit-faced guy from tenth grade who, after watching you perform on stage in the school auditorium in a short skirt, declared your new nickname “thunder thighs” in front of your entire math class.

You guessed it; that was the last time I wore a short skirt on stage. Because, without even being conscious of it, I started to call myself “thunder thighs” in my head. Thank you, inner critic.

Almost everyone has a similar experience that has stuck with us for years and caused us to change our behavior over time. And as performers, we’re more vulnerable than most because we have to put ourselves out there in front of audiences all the time. Being a “public figure” opens the door to more critical comments than the average person receives.

So, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about how to befriend your inner critic, rather than succumb to their voice in your head.

How Negative Comments Become Beliefs

Whether it’s a less-than-favorable review or a troll on social media, those barbs and seemingly benign judgements can have a lasting effect. Even though deep down we know those negative comments are anomalies, we can’t help but take them to heart. And despite the fact that we get tons of fan praise, your mind amplifies the negative comments ten times louder than the positive ones.

When your mind continues to replay the negative comment over and over, you start to convert it from something some idiot said into a thought that you’re consciously thinking about and responding to. The transition is subtle and happens quietly, so we don’t even realize we’ve adopted this thought as our own.

And when we continue to think a thought for a period of time, we start to consider it a fact, as something that has been and will always be true for us. At that point, the thought takes up residence as a full-fledged belief. Subconsciously, we start seeing the world through the lens of that belief. It happens under the radar, which is why beliefs can be very difficult to dismantle.

How to Dismantle Negative Beliefs

The key to befriending your inner critic is to take back your control over your thoughts so you can dismantle these harmful beliefs.

Here’s how to do that, with some practical steps.

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1. Awareness

As I mentioned above, because we are constantly submerged in our own “inner self-talk,” we often don’t even notice that our inner critic is whispering in our ear. So the first key to befriending your inner critic is to start to be aware when they show up.

It’s also helpful to recognize that your inner critic is not trying to bash you, but instead trying to keep you safe. Wait, what? Then why are they saying those horrible things?

Because, as our protector, our inner critic has kept a record of those situations when we’ve been hurt and is just reminding us to stay clear of that happening again.

For example, when that immature jerk called me “thunder thighs,” it was in front of the whole class. Mortifying right? By constantly bringing this to mind, my inner critic tries to remind me that if I wear a short skirt on stage, I might suffer that same embarrassment again.

Once we realize the role of our inner critic, we are able to understand and even be thankful for how they are trying to protect us. Our inner critic is operating by instinct alone. They aren’t the creative deep thinker; we are. That’s why we need to take control of our thoughts if we want to break this pattern.

2. Catch It and Reframe It

Our thoughts create our reality. I know, if you’re a logical person like me, you’re skeptical. And let me be clear, I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking. The thoughts that we think on a daily basis determine the way we feel which influences the actions we take.

Once we are aware of the negative thoughts that our inner critic is creating, it’s our job to take back control over them and make a conscious choice to replace them.

It’s also important to mention that just wishing them away won’t work. Neither will focusing on “not thinking” them. Have you ever lay awake in bed thinking about how if you don’t get to sleep soon you’ll be exhausted the next day. I’m guessing that line of thinking just got you more stressed out and kept you awake even longer.

Instead of hyper-focusing on not thinking negative thoughts, the goal is to become aware of them and then “catch” them before they take hold as beliefs. It’s similar to how a GPS redirects us when we get off course. It recognizes the error, recalibrates, and sets a new course.

Once we acknowledge and catch our negative thoughts, we can be intentional about redirecting them into new, more productive thoughts that will lead to the positive outcome we want.

3. Redirect Thoughts and Actions

Yes I know, it’s not as easy as simply replacing the negative thought with a positive one, and “poof” problem solved. I’m not that naive and I know you aren’t either.

As I said earlier, recognizing that the thought pattern is happening and holding us hostage is actually the hardest part. Once we do, we can focus on reframing the criticism and redirecting it into something that can better serve us.

In my example, I had convinced myself that I had “thunder thighs” and I should never wear any clothing that exposed my legs above the knee. Now if I am honest with myself, I do know that my thighs are not my best feature, but instead of constantly berating myself over it, I could do a reframe and redirect by starting to think a new thought:

“I’m going to choose to dress so that I draw attention to what I’ve been told are my best features like my hair and shoulders.”

Now, instead of focusing on hiding something negative, I can focus on accentuating something positive. Just this little flip in my mental script can make a huge difference in the way I present myself on stage, on camera, etc.

When our negative thoughts cause us to hide a part of ourselves, that can visibly translate into us being more timid and withdrawn. But if we shift our focus to what we love about ourselves and focus on enhancing that, we come across as confident and magnetic. It’s the Law of Attraction in action; and it works, believe me.

The real struggle is finding the positive reframe when we’re so mired in the negative. This is just a matter of intentional practice and knowing you actually have the power to reverse the cycle.

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Working Together With Your Inner Critic

Be gracious to your inner critic. Thank them for trying to protect you. Forgive them for the negative chatter in your head. But then declare that you are the boss in this relationship now.

Your inner critic can make observations and suggestions, but you now control what thoughts guide your feelings and your actions. This transition won’t happen overnight. But with practice, you will become more acutely aware of the negative echoes from your inner critic so you are able to catch them and redirect them.

You can reverse the cycle before negative thoughts take hold in your subconscious. You are in the the driver’s seat. You have the power to prevent a negative belief about yourself from forming that could plague you for years to come.

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