3 Steps to Silence Your Inner Critic

inner critic

Let’s be honest. Ever since you were a baby, there’s been a little voice inside your head offering advice, encouragement, and justification for your actions. That same voice can also be a tough inner critic, offering judgments, doubt, and discouragement.  The dialogue in your head is called “self-talk”. It’s a normal mental process that occurs  every waking moment for all 7.4 billion people on our intimate planet.

Performance anxiety in musicians and actors , often called stage fright, happens when their inner monologue has convinced them that failure is imminent. Even mega stars like  Adele struggle with stage fright. Negative self-talk isn’t just in their minds: Fredrikson & Gunnersson (1992) documented real physical impacts from stage fright, including changes in heart rate, adrenaline, visual acuity, and dry mouth.

Professional athletes use positive self-talk to stay at the top of their game. When their thoughts go negative, like “I can’t make this putt” or “I always miss these outside shots”, their performance falls.  Van Raalte, Brewer, et al (1994) studied 24 junior tennis players and concluded that negative self-talk was associated with losing. Conversely, players using positive self-talk won more points than players who did not.  Furthermore, athletic success came from “motivational self-talk”, not “instructional self-talk” used to improve technique.

Positive self-talk is very powerful, as it builds our self-esteem, confidence, and convictions. Negative self-talk is also very powerful, building a lack of confidence, low self-esteem, even depression. The good news is that most people can learn how to turn their self-talk into a positive inner coach.

I’ll offer three easy steps to improve your self-talk:

  1. Record: Become more aware of your self-talk
  2. Restate: Fix your persistent negative themes
  3. Reprogram: Change your self-talk to a more healthy voice

How do you record your self-talk?  Just listen to your inner voice, especially in those moments before you take action.  Consider using a “thought record” and write down the situation, what you are feeling, and what you are thinking.  Look for any evidence of  “crooked thinking” (e.g. catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, exaggerating, predicting the future, black and white thinking, personalizing).

Now it’s time to restate the words that are beating you down. Review your thought list to identify persistent negative themes. Look for repeated crooked thinking. Consider whether your self-talk is tied to specific situations.  The goal is to identify just one or two repeating negative themes that you can tackle and be successful.

How do you reprogram your self-talk?  The moment you realize that unhealthy self-talk has crept in from a dark place in your mind, flip the light switch on and play a new healthy restatement back in your head (even out-loud if you can). Let me offer a few examples:

If negative Self-Talk says… Reprogram using Positive Self-Talk…
I’ll never do this right.I always do this right.
I always fail at this.I always succeed at this.
I’m no good at this.I’m better than this.
That’s just like me (when you do something poorly).That’s not like me (when you do something poorly).
That’s not like me (when you do something well).That’s just like me (when you do something well).

Silencing your inner critic by managing positive self-talk is just one technique used in a much broader area of psychology. Cognitive therapy is a treatment approach that helps people to recognize and reexamine their own thoughts so that they can reduce their negative thinking.  As you use the techniques, you can get so good at it that even your family, friends, and co-workers will notice a new, positive, more optimistic you.

Is that inner critic all bad? The answer is no. That inner dialogue might be holding you back when you really aren’t prepared to meet a challenge. Your self talk needs to provide a healthy balance between positive and cautious insight.  Too much positive talk can lead to an inflated ego and no filter on what comes out of one’s mouth.  Becoming more aware of your self-talk, and managing it to find a healthy, positive balance is the key.


The relationship between observable self-talk and competitive junior tennis players’ match performances. Van Raalte, Judy L.; Brewer, Britton W.; Rivera, Patricia M.; Petitpas, Albert J. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, Vol 16(4), Dec 1994, 400-415

What Mask Are You Wearing?

lose your maskA lot of famous characters wear masks: Batman, Catwoman, Superman, Supergirl, Zorro, and Darth Vadar, to name a few. Halloween is the popular time of year that many people put on a mask and pretend to be somebody else, but the reality is that most people wear several masks every other day of the year too. Those are the masks that intrigue me the most because they can dramatically impact your future success at home, in school, or at work. Let’s talk more about these everyday masks, more appropriately known as a Façade.

Have you ever heard of Joseph Luft or Harry Ingham? There’s a slightly better chance that you’ve heard about their main contribution to society, especially if you are a psychologist or organizational consultant. Using parts of their first names, Joe and Harry developed the Johari Window, an easy-to-understand yet powerful model that can help you in many ways, by improving your self-awareness and identifying those façades that do more harm than good.

How the Johari Window helps

Perhaps the single most important thing you can do for yourself is this: value your potential, improve your self-awareness, and make changes to improve.  The second most important thing you can do is for those you love, by valuing their potential, improving your perception of them, and supporting them when they are ready to change. Simply  understanding how the Johari Window works can lead you to taking daily action that makes your world a better place!

How the Johari Window works

The first step is to picture the Johari Window as a map of your mind, which contains a lot of information about your behavior, attitude, thoughts, feelings, knowledge, skills, perceptions, presuppositions, etc. Those “mind attributes” (see footnote) will fall into one of four quadrants in the Johari Window.  You really are only aware of two quadrants: the “Arena” and the “Façade”.  Your friends and family are only aware of two quadrants: the “Arena” and the “Blind Spot”. There’s also a tricky quadrant in your mind that is unknown to everyone, called the “Unknown”.

Johari Window

The “Arena”: This is the stuff that both you and your friends will agree is ‘the real you’. The bigger this arena, the more you can enjoy being the real you, leveraging everything God gave you to embrace life and loved ones.  Here’s a major point to remember: the goal of healthy individuals seeking healthy relationships is to make this window pane as big as possible.

The “Façade”: This is your “mask”, the stuff that you know well, but for whatever reason, don’t want others know about. Sometimes a façade is a good thing, for example, when what you’re hiding is a bad behavior or attitude that you’re actively working to improve or eliminate. Sometimes a façade is not a good thing, for example, when you intentionally pretend to be something that isn’t true. And sometimes a façade is an unintentional way to avoid dealing with behavior or attitudes that you should be addressing.

The “Blind Spot”: This is the stuff you really don’t know about yourself, but that others can see.  When you receive constructive criticism, often times what you’re hearing is the observation of others about your blind spot.  If you want to be a stronger, healthier person, then you’ll be thankful for input that helps you to shrink this blind spot.

The “Unknown”: Here’s the stuff that no one really knows. Sometimes this area contains emotions, behaviors, and attitudes that have never had to come to the surface.  The younger you are, the bigger this blind spot. As you mature, build relationships, and experience life, this blind spot should begin to shrink down to a manageable size.

The Reinforcing Power…

By being more transparent about yourself, you have the ability to reduce your façade, and therefore become a healthier person with healthier relationships (e.g. spouses, family, friends, and coworkers).  When you are not constantly wearing those pesky masks, the results can be quite wonderful:  the perception other people have of you will improve, their interaction with you will improve, their feedback will be more accurate, you will trust them more, and your self-awareness will grow.  Save your masks for Halloween.  After all, that’s what masks are intended for!

Footnote – The Johari Window uses the following 56 adjectives to manage feedback and tool validity:
  • able
  • accepting
  • adaptable
  • bold
  • brave
  • calm
  • caring
  • cheerful
  • clever
  • complex
  • confident
  • dependable
  • dignified
  • energetic
  • friendly
  • giving
  • happy
  • helpful
  • idealistic
  • independent
  • ingenious
  • intelligent
  • introverted
  • kind
  • knowledgeable
  • logical
  • loving
  • modest
  • nervous
  • observant
  • organized
  • patient
  • powerful
  • proud
  • quiet
  • reflective
  • relaxed
  • religious
  • responsive
  • searching
  • self-conscious
  • sensible
  • sentimental
  • shy
  • silly
  • smart
  • spontaneous
  • sympathetic
  • tense
  • trustworthy
  • warm
  • wise
  • witty

Time To Reinvent Yourself?


Have you ever thought:

“I don’t like the person I have become”?

Does your reputation pressure you to respond in ways you now want to change? Are you losing control of some aspect of your life? Do you simply want to be a better person?  If you see the need to reinvent yourself, then that’s good news as awareness is the first step in making a change! Here’s our advice to give you help (and hope) with the journey to a better you!

When to reinvent

The best time to reinvent is when you are truly motivated to change. You’ll be even more successful if you can take advantage of a change in your surroundings, as this will minimize the pressure you feel to maintain the ‘status quo’. New surroundings will allow you to rebuild your reputation as you gain support from the higher expectations of new friends.  Good opportunities for reinvention include: moving to a new neighborhood, attending a new school or college, beginning a new job, changing your college major, or starting out with a new circle of friends.

How to Reinvent

The basic steps are to: 1) identify the need for change, 2) create a plan, and 3) put your plan into action. While we can’t address all possible changes that people make, we can offer advice on how to build a healthier emotional attitude and a framework for reinvention.

#1 Be intentional.  Stephen Covey, a business leadership guru, said “Begin with the end in mind”.  If you are going to reinvent yourself, create a personal positive vision of your future, figure out what changes you need to make, then take action. Don’t put off to tomorrow what needs to be done today and don’t wait for fate or someone else to make things happen.  Actions speak louder than words, and this is about improving your life.

#2 Be positive. Optimists see a half filled cup as half full, while pessimists see it as half empty. The difference is what they choose to focus on. Make a conscious choice to focus on what is positive, and use positive self-talk (the voice in your head that encourages or critiques you all the time). Professional athletes train their brain to think positively. For example, if they make a great shot, they think “That’s just like me” and if they make a poor shot, they think “Hey, that’s not like me”. Start listening to whether your self-talk is positive or negative, and if it is negative, retrain your brain by saying “hey, that’s not like me”.

#3 Be Persistent – There’s an amazing amount of power in making a steady flow of good little choices. Most likely the journey that got you to a place where you now want to leave was a series of little choices that weren’t in your best interests. Likewise, the journey back to a much better you will take some time as you persistently give attention to those new (and better) little choices. Whether you’re reinventing towards a healthier lifestyle, better study habits, more affectionate relationships, or better lifestyle choices, those little trivial choices are a powerful weapon against stress, depression, apathy, anger, illness and other struggles in our life.

#4 Be Supported – If you think peer pressure goes away after high school, you couldn’t be more wrong. “Keeping up with the Jones’” has pressured people into buying bigger cars, boats, and houses.  Perhaps the best way to reinvent yourself and stay that way is to surround yourself with high quality friends who constantly support you, and breaking away from those who don’t help you to be your best.

#5 Be Protective  Managing your reputation is critical if you really want to reinvent yourself. You don’t need to hire a PR agency, just use common sense. For example, Facebook allows your reputation to be built by your friends in a rather public environment. Show some self-discipline about what you post, what you say, and what you imply. Your reputation builds over a long period of time, so be patient while you make progress.

If “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”…

…then “Hope is the Father of Re-Invention”. Hope that life can be better. Hope that you can be stronger. Hope that the effort is worth the reward. And whether you make great progress or struggle with a few false starts or wrong turns, do your very best to enjoy the journey!