These past few months have been a bit of a roller coaster for me. There have been some amazing ups and some very trying lows, both professionally and personally. We’ve all been there, and we all will likely be there again at some point. What made these recent ups and downs even more difficult was the negative self-talk I endured along the way.
My inner critic found a megaphone.
On this platform, I talk about the techniques and intricacies of influential conversations. I often say that persuasion is a team “sport.” It takes two (or more) to tango when it comes to influence.
But, what happens when you want to influence yourself?
How can you convince your inner critic to shut up?
The Constant Conversation
The first step to influencing your inner critic is to be observant and acknowledge the conversation you’re having with yourself all the time.
Self-talk is never-ending, which is why it’s so important to master your language for it.
When you’re unaware of your self-talk, your subconscious mind (aka inner critic) is holding on to the wheel of your life, and not always steering you in the right direction.
It’s the inner critic that tells you that you shouldn’t take the risk because it likely won’t work out. It’s the critic that tells you that you need to do more research before you start that big project. And it’s the critic that tells you there’s no point in raising your rates or asking for a raise, because do you really think you deserve that much?
When you have enough of those conversations between your ears, it’s no wonder how you can lose your balance.
A few months back, my inner critic got so prolific that it quite literally knocked me down with depression. That’s the power the inner critic’s words, and why we all need to step-up our language skills – so you can stand up for yourself, to yourself.
And, please, don’t discount the ripple effect caused by the critic. Because when you can’t convince yourself of your worthiness, it’s that much harder to persuade someone else to believe it, too.
Here are a few of the linguistic jiu-jitsu moves I found helpful most recently in winning a few debates with my critic and quiet it down for a while.
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Self-Reflection vs Self-Bashing
Once you’re aware of the constant conversation, it’s time to dig into the details.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’re likely a self-reflective person. After all, I teach that influence starts with observation – both observing others and observing yourself.
However, a problem occurs when self-reflection turns into self-criticism. I can easily find myself thinking demeaning thoughts over and over, stuck on a repeating loop. So, I had to figure out a way to break that loop. Here’s a process that helped me:
- Is this true?
When I caught a negative thought running by, I asked myself, “Is this true?” Do I truly believe that I’m a terrible person? Do I really believe I deserve the names I’m calling myself? And, thankfully, every time the answer was, “No.”
- Is the opposite true?
If the terrible you’re thinking about yourself isn’t true, then you want to replace that thought with one that you do believe. The easiest way I found my replacement thoughts was by asking myself, “Is the opposite true?”
So, if I was thinking, “I am such a stupid idiot.” Would the opposite be true? Could “I am an intelligent person” be true? In this case, yes, I do believe that statement about myself. And so, I would say that counter-thought whenever the negative one started running laps. Funny how the negative thought ran out of steam faster when the replacement thought became its echo.
Now, the trick to this step is that the replacement thought must feel true to you. You must believe it or else it’s hollow and useless. Sometimes thinking the opposite of the negative thought feels aligned, and you have your replacement. But, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes I didn’t feel it.
When this happened, I chose to focus on only a part of the negative statement, instead of the whole thing. See below.
- Break it down
Looking back at our previous example, “I am such a stupid idiot,” I asked myself “What would this sentence look like if I removed the untrue parts?
So, I took out the untrue (unhelpful) words of the statement that was on loop. I consciously removed “such a stupid idiot.” That edit left me with “I am.” Perhaps no truer statement can be said about all of us. That edited criticism became sentence became my anchor into the present moment – focusing on nothing else but what is true in this moment. This keeps my mind from spiraling into rehashing the past and worrying about the future.
It might sound silly, but think about it. Those words (the criticism) is already running through your head. So, if you can’t stop the words from showing up, you still might be able to cut them off at the pass. Those words already have power; just edit them down until they have positive power.
This way, you’re turning negative self-talk and into a meditative practice.
Worries into Visions
My inner critic loves to sing songs of “What If’s.” What if it doesn’t work out? What if you’ve just been wasting your time? What if, what if, what if.
Similar to finding a replacement thought, I needed a replacement vision of my future during these moments. So, I would just ask myself,
“What if it were the opposite? What would that look like?”
When I was feeling overwhelmed, all I could think about was being overwhelmed.“It’s so overwhelming. There’s so much to do. It’s such a big undertaking.” It’s in these moments, I would trigger my imagination with “What if” visions instead of worries.
What if it wasn’t overwhelming? What would that look like?
It’s amazing at how that question would prompt my brain to see new possibilities.
Within that question is the notion of“What if I had my stuff together? What would that look like?” And more often than not, within a few moments, I had creative ideas about organization and systems. Plus, I briefly imagined myself as someone who felt like she had things under control. This gave me the beginnings of what to work towards, instead of what to work against.
Here are some more examples:
There’s too much to do.
What if there weren’t that much to do? What would that look like?
I saw important opportunities for me to outsource tasks – along with tasks to remove altogether.
It’s such a big undertaking?
What if it were small? What would that look like?
I broke down my bigger tasks and projects into bite-sized wins I could knock out. Instead of staring at the mountain, I just focused on each step along the path.
By learning how to talk to your critic (yourself), you can not only quiet it down, but sometimes even shut it up entirely.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the inner conversation is continuous. There’s no getting away from it. Your job is to consciously have the continuous conversation.
Just like when you want to influence someone else, you must begin with observation – be curious without judgment about your experience, especially your positive and negative associations.
Next, you connect – build a rapport with yourself by being kind and compassionate towards who you are in this very moment.
Lastly, you influence – find the words that will persuade YOU. The more you practice this kind of conversation, the faster you’ll be able to enjoy your own company.
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