Quieting The Asshole In Your Head & Stop Negativity
> We all have an inner critic that drives us nuts
It’s another typical day at work. Noisy co-workers, endless emails and the occasional hilarious social post.
Until a tiny notification pops up on your screen. It’s an email from your boss titled “Please come to my office” with no other body content.
Your heart starts beating faster, you get really hot all of a sudden and your mind starts racing.
A “Please come to my office” email?! Come to your office for what?!
You speed through all the possible scenarios. Maybe, she’s going to move you to a different team. Or worse, give you the boot!
Yes, that’s definitely it. You’re gonna get fired.
You start thinking about all the things you still need to pay for - the kids’ school trip, getting the leak fixed, your brother’s wedding present...the list goes on.
You can’t cover all of that without your next few paychecks.
You’ll have to get another job ASAP. But if your boss is sacking you, it’s obviously because you suck at your job. She’ll never give you a good reference.
You think over your performance at work and remember everything you’ve ever done wrong. You remember how your latest project was handed in a day late.
But that was actually Bill’s fault.
He took forever to get those stats to you and that’s why your project was late.
And now, because of him, you’ll be unemployed, broke and living on the streets out of a cardboard box in no time.
* DING *
A meeting invite notification pop-up snaps you back to reality.
Your boss actually sent a follow up meeting invite to the email.
Fuck, this must be serious.
You click “accept” and then immediately start to mentally plan out your job hunting strategy.
Does this sound dramatic?
Going from a simple email to being homeless on the streets?
Maybe. But in the moment, our minds can spin some wild and crazy shit.
That inner critic - the voice we all have that just loves to point out absolutely everything that’s wrong with us, can completely take over our thoughts in a flash.
Especially, if we’re already feeling stressed and anxious.
We know and battle with our inner critics every day, but we’ve learned some awesome ways to shut that bully up (at least some of the time) and we’d like to share these ideas with you.
The Inner Critic
Have you noticed how often people share the advice “follow your inner voice”?
We’ve often wondered...But what if that voice is a total asshole or bitch?
So, imagine our relief when we found out that everyone has an unrelenting inner voice that often beats us down.
It’s our inner critic.
It’s easy to accept this inner critic as one of those annoying things that’s just part of life, like tangled headphone cables or people who drive slow in the fast lane.
But the inner voice can actually have a huge impact on our lives if we don’t keep it in check.
Various studies have shown a direct link between negative self-talk and illnesses such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety and more.
They also found that people who are kinder to themselves have a lower likelihood of developing these conditions.
So how can we be more like the second set of people?
First, we need to know exactly what we’re up against.
The Inner Critic Is Our Friend!
The function of the inner critic is pretty innocent - helpful even! It’s there to protect us from making the same mistakes over and over again.
It goes all the way to the prehistoric caveman days.
We go hunting alone, have a close-call attack from a sabre-toothed tiger, and learn the hard way that hunting is a group activity for a reason. Next time we consider gallivanting around by ourselves, our inner critic will make us think twice.
Studies have found that our inner critic makes us learn faster, adapt more easily - and is key to our survival.
So what’s the problem?
Well, there’s a flaw in how the inner critic learns what to protect us from.
In today’s modern world, we aren’t so concerned with protection from wild animals when hunting or not gathering enough food to see us through winter. We have fewer physical threats and more emotional threats - but our inner critic hasn’t changed the way it learns.
As we grow up, we’re constantly learning lessons and forming ideas about the world - not only from our parents and other figures of authority but also from our interactions with friends, family and our surrounding environment.
Parents or guardians teach us useful things like: don’t put the spoon in the microwave, don’t cross the street until you see the green man, don’t run with scissors, etc.
Of course, we do most of these things anyway and our concerned parents shout at us when the inevitable happens.
When we finally learn the lesson, our inner critic steps in to stop us from making those silly mistakes again.
The Inner Critic Is Also Our Enemy...We’re Frenemies
Our parents teach us some less useful lessons too.
They tell us we should do better when we get a C on a test. They tell us not to be so silly when we say we want to be President of Earth when we grow up. They tell us not to eat that extra slice of pizza unless we want to be fat.
Our inner critic learns from all of those experiences too.
And as adults, we hear the voice saying things like…
“You’re so stupid!” when we make the tiniest mistake.
“Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t do that!” when we dream big.
“You’re in a shitload of trouble and you’re gonna get fired” when you get that email from your boss.
The inner critic is there to protect us but sometimes it’s over-protecting us from unlikely worst-case scenarios or from things that we really want or need.
Let’s go back to the caveman example.
Say the attack happened near a giant tree. As well as knowing not to go hunting alone, your inner critic has also taught you that the giant tree represents certain death every single time. Or even worse, all trees equal death.
The brain is jumping to the worst possible situations to prevent us from harm. It seeks ultimate safety and minimal risk at all times.
Today, in modern times, this same deeply programmed inner voice operates in pretty much the exact same way. It’s always thinking negatively with stressful thoughts to keep us safe from possible harm.
This is when our inner voice can be an absolute jerk.
Oh, and tact is not its strong point.
How To Tame Your Inner Critic
The problem with our inner critic is that, the more we listen to it, the stronger it becomes.
This is how we go from one thought of “don’t be stupid” in response to actually doing something pretty dumb - to fully believing that we are stupid and so not going for that job or speaking in meetings or doing anything that might make others realize just how dimwitted we are.
Every time we hear the negative thought, believe it and act on it, we’re building stronger pathways in our brain, until that thought becomes fact, and repeats in our mind like a mantra.
The good news is that these pathways can be changed simply by practicing one or a few of the exercises below whenever a negative thought comes up.
It’s possible to quiet your inner critic - but keep it just alive enough so that it’s there when you really need it.
VIDEO: How to turn negative thinking into a positive outlook
> We can change our patterns of thoughts from negative to positive
> Thinking positively can slowly out-do negative thoughts
> Gratitude is an easy way to gain a positive outlook
Exercise 1: Mindfulness
Instead of ignoring negative thoughts and emotions and pretending they’re not there, when we confront them head-on, we make them less powerful and less scary.
The first step is to spot the thought or emotion - catch it in the act of happening in your head. This is the key to taking control back from the mean voice in your head.
But a lot of the time, we let the negative comments run around in our minds without giving them a second thought. We barely even take notice of what we’re thinking until it gets really mean.
The negative thoughts run on replay and become like background music.
However, as soon as we start noticing these thoughts, we can stop ourselves from going down the rabbit hole, where we start with a thought like “I shouldn’t have said that to my partner” and end up stuck on “I’m going to die alone in a cold, dark, ditch somewhere...naked...in a thunderstorm.”
Mindfulness is a method that helps you become aware of your own thoughts and actions.
Get yourself into a regular mindfulness practice, and you’ll become more aware of your thoughts - both positive and negative.
The thoughts will be like trains in the distance and now, you’re able to see them approaching well before they get to the station.
Mindfulness can be practiced as a style of meditation - but you can also get your daily dose just going about your usual tasks.
You can practice mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful breathing...you get the picture.
It’s simply about being fully present and aware of whatever it is you’re doing and minimizing other extraneous thoughts.
Here’s a super easy way to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine.
If you’re anything like us, you probably start your day with a cup of coffee.
Our guess is, you’re making the coffee while you’re scrambling to get out of the house with your bag, keys, phone and whatever else you need for the day ahead.
You rush out the door, drive to the office and make it to your desk feeling flustered but on time. You get right to work.
At some point during all of that, you drank the coffee. You couldn’t say when, how it tasted - or even where you put your coffee cup after you were done - but you had your morning coffee and that’s what counts. Right?
To turn your morning beverage into a mindfulness practice, you only need 5 minutes.
Don’t do anything else while drinking your coffee.
Try to stay present and be aware of everything.
Feel the warmth of the cup in your hands.
Smell the coffee before you sip.
Then, take your first sip.
Really taste it.
What do you notice?
Is it smokey, creamy, earthy?
Feel how it warms your mouth and throat.
Taste every sip and drop.
If your thoughts wander off at any point, that’s normal. Just practice nudging yourself back to focus on the present moment.
And there you have it.
You’ve started the day off right with a mindful practice - and your coffee probably tasted better too.
If you want to explore more about mindfulness meditation, particularly while you’re at work, check out this article. It goes into more depth about meditating at the office.
Exercise 2: Name Your Voice
All the gurus and self-help books keep telling us to trust ourselves and listen to the voice within.
However, when it comes to the voice that’s beating us up all the time, it helps to give it another name so that it’s not you calling yourself worthless, dumb or a waste of space - it’s Mean-ass Mindy. Or Douchebag Dave.
Homer Simpson does this wonderfully and it’s the main way he deals with his inner critic. Unsurprisingly, Homer calls his inner critic “Brain” for simplistic ease - totally Homer.
VIDEO: The Simpsons: Best of Homer and His Brain
YOUTUBE: Liam Dominic Fanning
> Homer’s brain always has the upper hand
> Every once in awhile, Homer does impress “brain”
> Homer’s sheer stupidity is “brain’s” true weakness
Just like Homer, separating yourself from your inner voice can be a good way to minimize the sting.
We know that the voice is made from past experiences, so it’s really not you - or at least not the true you - who’s saying all these hurtful things.
Naming the voice helps you to remember that.
Exercise 3: Put The Trash Talk Where It Belongs
Another way to separate yourself from the negative thought is to write it down and physically throw it away.
This Ohio State University study, published in the Journal Of Psychological Science, found that the act of physically getting rid of the written thought reduces the effect it has on you.
If a particular thought is plaguing you, write it down, rip it up and throw it in the trash. Or even better, feed it in the office paper shredder - the noises can really help to add to the effect. You can do this really quickly and easily at work without anybody noticing.
Sure, the thought will probably come back - but there’s something cathartic about (temporarily) showing it who’s boss.
Exercise 4: Question Everything
We all have that one friend who can convince you of anything.
They speak with such confidence and authority that whatever they’re selling, you’re buying.
Even though deep down you know that 99% of what they say is total BS.
The inner critic is like that.
Because the voice is literally in our heads, we just take whatever it says as gospel.
To change that, there are some questions we can ask ourselves whenever a negative thought crops up.
1) Is this useful?
If the answer is yes, what is this thought trying to tell you? What lesson does it want you to learn? How is it benefiting you right now?
If you realize the thought is about as useful as a glass hammer, it’s easier to let it go.
2) Is this thought helping me to get where I want to go?
Similarly to number one, it might actually be warning you or drawing your attention to something useful.
Otherwise, it’s just distracting you from that never-ending to-do list.
3) Where’s the proof?
When you first start using this question, the inner voice is probably so in control that you’ll come up with lots of evidence to back up the criticism.
“You want evidence that I’m a failure? I’ve got plenty! Let’s start with that spelling bee in 3rd Grade.”
But as you get used to it, you’ll realize that there’s really no evidence.
Sure, you’ve failed before but so has literally every other human being on the planet (yes that includes both Beyoncé & Elon Musk) - so that doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human.
4) Can I do something about it?
If so, what? If not, it’s not in your control and trying to control something out of your control is only going to piss you off. So, let that shit go.
5) Would I say this to a friend?
If not, then why on earth are you saying it to yourself?!
Exercise 5: Practice Gratitude & Reframe The Thought
Showing gratitude for a bully that’s constantly trying to bring you down sounds effing ridiculous.
But hear us out. Remember those pathways we talked about earlier?
Showing gratitude helps to get rid of some of the negativity and form more positive pathways in our brain.
Just writing down one small thing that makes you happy or that you’re grateful for every day in your work notebook is enough to trigger some joy. Check out our other happiness triggers that you can use at work today.
If the negative thought is nothing useful like ‘“you’re a fat pig”, you can say something back like “Thanks for looking out for me but actually, I am going to eat the whole damn pizza - and I’ll enjoy it too!”
If the questions above showed you that there’s actually some sense behind Mean Mindy’s rudeness, you could say something like “Thanks for bringing that to my attention” and then reframe it.
Reframing is when you look for the positives from a situation or thought that seems all bad.
Maybe you go to the bathroom, catch yourself in the mirror, and your inner critic pipes up, “you look like shit.”
Using some of the questions above you realize you don’t look like shit thank you very much - but you do look tired.
And you look tired because you are tired. You’ve been working your ass off this week, not taking time for yourself, and haven’t been sleeping well. And now it’s starting to show.
So, how can you reframe this?
Your inner critic has slapped you in the face with something that’s bugging you but maybe you’ve been ignoring.
Now that you’re aware, you can do something about it.
Maybe you’ll work on your prioritization so you’re not spending so long at work.
Maybe you’ll get back into your evening digital detox routine, to make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
Whatever it is, you’re taking the negative thought, removing the criticism from it and turning it into positive action.
You can also reframe negative self-talk with a simple, positive response.
“I can’t believe I did that, I’m such an idiot!”... “But now I know not to do it next time.”
“I failed again!”... “But I’m so glad I tried - I’ve learned from it and I can do better next time.”
The more you practice reframing, the easier it will come.
Exercise 6: Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is not to be confused with over-confidence or arrogance.
It’s not about proclaiming how awesome you are or even about thinking you’re awesome.
You’ve almost definitely heard the phrase “Treat others as you wish to be treated” but we also need to treat ourselves as we wish to be treated. And that starts with self-compassion.
It’s just being kinder to yourself. Self-compassion is understanding the difference between doing something wrong and being something wrong.
Practicing self-compassion after years of negative self-criticism is really hard.
But the more you practice, the more it becomes a habit.
The absolute easiest way to start is by adding three little words after every negative thought.
“...and that’s okay.”
Say you click send on an email and instantly realize you’ve mistakenly sent it as “Reply All”. We’ve all done this before - and maybe even a few times with some personal snarky comments (ugh, the embarrassment).
This is when Negative Nancy pipes up in your head with “Aghh, I’m such an idiot!”
Just instantly add "...and that’s okay." Because it is.
VIDEO: Bridgestone - Reply All - 2011 Super Bowl Commercials
YOUTUBE: Turkey Bridgestone
> Don’t be so quick on the “send” trigger
> An unintended “Reply All” can put you on the Wall Of Shame
> We want a dedicated “Unsend” button, please
Exercise 7: Develop A Growth Mindset
A huge amount of our criticisms come from or are fueled by comparison.
We think of ourselves as failures when we see other people’s fancy cars, sprawling homes or vacation pics from Monaco.
We think of ourselves as out of shape when we see Instagram fitness posts on #TransformationTuesday.
Developing a growth mindset can help to change this.
A growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset.
With a fixed mindset, we believe that our skills and our life situation are unlikely to change. We see other people’s successes and don’t believe we can achieve the same.
With a growth mindset, we believe that we can continue to learn, grow and develop - and radically change our life situation. We take inspiration and motivation from other people’s successes.
Adopting a growth mindset means that we see our setbacks or shortcomings as opportunities for growth so we’re less critical of ourselves.
Taking Back Control
On some days, our inner critic can affect us to the point we feel like we’re not in control.
Let’s go back to the example from the intro.
Just after you accept the invite from your boss, Bill comes over for a chat.
Are you fucking kidding?! Doesn’t he know that because of his crap you’re about to get fired?!
You tell him where to shove it (in a passive-aggressive, office appropriate speak of course) and turn your attention straight back to your computer.
A couple of hours later and the dreaded “Please come to my office” meeting has come and gone.
Your boss wanted to give you props for your latest project (yeah, the one where Bill messed you up) and ask your opinion on another upcoming project.
As you walk back to your desk - past Bill - relief and shame fight a battle for your attention. Shame wins, obviously.
You didn’t verbally bitch-slap him because you’re a nasty person. It was just a side effect of an out of control inner critic in your head.
However, with the ideas in this article, you can learn to release negativity and cultivate self-compassion, which puts you firmly in the driver’s seat of your thoughts - and, as a result, your reactions.
Can we ban negative self-talk forever?
Of course not (sorry). And it’s for our own good (sometimes) remember?
But what we can do is learn to tell the difference between useful and not-so-useful thoughts, train ourselves to reframe our negative thoughts, and build self-compassion.
This will lead to less stress and greater wellbeing - not just for us, but for those around us too.