Standing up to your inner critic
We often talk in terms that suggest events CAUSE our emotional and behavioural reactions, for example, “She made me angry”. We are passive in the process, victims of circumstance. However, this completely misses the crucial role of cognition in determining what we think, feel, say and do. Our thoughts and beliefs play a key role in determining our emotional reaction. These are under our control.
Empowerment is Where we Choose to Focus our Attention
Our beliefs come from our previous experiences, the media, what you’ve been told. They are ideas that we no longer question as they have become embedded in our sense of self and how we understand the world. Negative beliefs that increase our emotional response to events results in black and white thinking, and that shuts down possibilities for alternative perspectives and reducing stress.
You choose whether you listen to your thoughts. Think of the unhelpful ones as coming from your Inner Critic rather than the rational, intelligent you. The Inner Critic can be a bit of a bully, holding too much power and causing you to feel stressed or anxious. It’s not that he is aiming to make your life miserable but that he is aiming to keep you safe. By making you aware of everything that could go wrong, you’re more likely to steer clear of certain things.
Turning Limiting Beliefs into Resilience Enhancing Beliefs
For example, I plan to deliver a presentation. I know I can do it. But my Inner Critic starts telling me I could trip up walking onto stage, I could forget my words and so on. What do you do? Such limiting beliefs from your critic undermine resilience. Our stress levels increase and our performance takes a negative turn. Try replacing these with empowering beliefs that enhance resilience. Instead of, “This is awful! It’s their fault ! I can’t do this! I’m useless! I must do x or else I’ve failed,” step back, be an observer, look at the evidence of past successes and your strengths and say to yourself, “This is happening, what can I do? It’s not as bad as it could be. I will handle it. I’d like to do well but it’s ok if I don’t.”
What’s His Name?
Give your Inner Critic an identity. Notice when he (or she) is around and acknowledge him. Use some calming strategies, such as 7-11 breathing, breathing in for 7 and out for 11, or whatever feels comfortable for you, so long as your out-breath is longer. Visualise yourself doing well and then go and do it. Enjoy the feeling of control.
If you choose to listen to your critic, you give him power and he wins, just like the playground bully. Your feelings about future presentations become more negatively heightened. When you think about how many times your critic can talk to you in a day, that can feel very stressful. You might need to fake it until you make it, initially. But becoming aware of catastrophising and negative thoughts that we’re all prone to at times, gives you power. And it reduces stress.
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