Do you know that nagging voice in the back of your head that tells you you’re not good enough?
That no matter how hard you try, you’ll never get an A on your college mid-term, or land a graduate job at one of the Big 4 accounting firms?
We all have a voice like this voice in the back of our heads – but for some people, it is barely noticeable. For most of us, though, that voice controls our lives.
It tells us:
- “You’re not good enough”
- “You’ll never find a good job”
- “You’ll be able to do …”
- “You’re just not smart enough …”
- “You look ugly”
…and so much more.
I like to call this voice our inner critic. Our inner critic is like a rear mirror who looks back on all our failures and makes us doubt what we can do.
It’s trying to save us from disappointment and lofty expectations. But it can also stop us from singing on our patio, travelling the world and flirting with a cool guy at the bar.
In that case, we’ve given our inner critic too much power, turning it from a friend in potentially our meanest foe.
I know how often I need to deal with my inner critic and its doubting voice– and so, I want to share some tips to help you manage your limiting beliefs more effectively.
Tip 1: Reframe negative thoughts
The first tip I’d like to share is based on a technique that psychologists call reframing. The way reframing works is that you give a new frame to events, or that you interpret experiences in a way that helps rather than hurts you.
This means that it’s not the experiences you’ve had that determine how you feel, but the meaning you assign to each of your experiences.
Here’s a short example to show how two people can interpret the same situation in totally different ways.
Story 1: Ana
On a rainy morning. a girl named Ana wakes up at 7 a.m. She looks outside and sees the droplets smacking hard against her bedroom window. ‘What nasty weather’, she mumbles to herself, disappointed that she won’t be able to go skateboarding on the wet tarmac in the afternoon.
Ana walks down a flight of stairs to the family’s ground-floor kitchen and almost trips over her younger brother’s school bag. ‘Why can’t he ever put his stuff away?’ she thinks, vowing to tell her brother off when she sees him.
As she enters the kitchen, Ana notices that no more bread is left. Her dad has eaten it all, and so grumpily makes herself some cereal. But it doesn’t taste as well as it usually does, because the milk has been left to warm on the kitchen table. After a few spoons, Ana angrily throws out the rest of our cereal bowl and heads to her room for a 2-hour study session.
As she turns on her laptop, Ana reminds herself how much nicer it would be if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, and she could study on campus with her friends. She feels sad, knowing that this won’t happen any time and begrudgingly starts to work on some math problems.
But nothing works the way she expected – she can’t solve the problems and to make matters worse, her laptop crashes midway through. Now Ana can’t do anymore studying. With her exam only a few hours away, she starts to panic because she won’t have a working laptop by then.
Completely stressed, she calls her department at university and tells them about the tough spot she is. They offer to let her take the exam on campus, and so she runs out the back door of her house, cursing at the pouring rain, as she makes her way to uni. She just about catches the bus and arrives on campus in the nick of time. Five minutes before the exam is due to start, a soaked Ana presents herself to the head of department and receives a laptop to do her work.
At this point, she is so stressed that the exam goes miserably, and after 1.5 hours of typing, she is certain that she’s failed. Due to her anxiety levels, she’s forgotten half of what she wanted to say, and she didn’t have time to revise the final unit of her module earlier that morning.
Story 2: Luke
On a rainy morning. a boy named Luke wakes up at 7 a.m. He looks outside and sees droplets smacking hard against her bedroom window. ‘Really good revision weather’, he thinks to himself, knowing that he won’t be tempted to go skateboarding on the wet tarmac in the afternoon.
He walks down a flight of stairs to the family’s ground-floor kitchen and almost trips over her younger brother’s school bag. It was a near miss, but Luke is glad he didn’t fall today. Because what would be worse than having bruises on exam day?
As he enters the kitchen, he notices that no more bread is left. His dad has eaten it all, and so he makes himself a bowl of cereal. The cereal doesn’t taste as well as it usually does, because it has been left to warm on the kitchen table. After a few spoons, Luke throws out the remaining cereal and heads to his room for a 2-hour study session, thinking that it’s better to revise on an empty stomach.
As he turns on his laptop, Luke reminds himself of the benefits of home working. There’re no friends to distract him from his study session, giving him the perfect setting to prepare for his exams. Full of energy, he starts s to work on his math problems.
But things don’t go as expected – Luke struggles to solve the problems and his laptop crashes midway through. He sees this as a sign that he shouldn’t do any last-minute cramming. Instead, he calls his uni department, to make arrangements for a working laptop.
His head of department offers to let him take the exam on campus, so Luke runs out the back door of his house, unfazed by the pouring rain. He feels really lucky, because he just about caught the bus, and manages to arrive on campus with five minutes to spear.
Soaked, but also relieved, Luke presents himself to the head of departments and gets a laptop for the exam. He knows that no unexpected questions will faze him after such an event-full morning. Luke spends the full 1.5 hours typing and is confident that he has done the best he could. Despite not having time to revise the final unit of his module earlier that morning, he is very happy with the answers that he has managed to come up with. He leaves university feeling relieved and motivated for his next exam.
As you can tell from the stories of Ana and Luke, we can interpret the same situation in many different ways. Which way do you want to interpret your experiences – like Ana or like Luke?
One of the simplest ways to reframe any experience, is to fill the blanks in a sentence like this:
- “I am glad that …, because …”
- “I am grateful for …, because ….”
- “I am happy that …, because …”
In the first blank, you can fill in your ‘negative experience’, and in the second blank you can add what you learnt from that experience or what positive impact it has had on you.
For example, “I am glad that I’ve been working remotely for a year now, because it has shown me how much I value face-to-face relationships. I know that I will appreciate these connections much more when all government restrictions are lifted.”
Or: “I am grateful for the fact that I got rejected from Oxford Uni, because it made me realise that I was applying there only for the prestige. I have since learnt to focus more on what I want, rather than what other people expect of me.”
Now, it’s over to – take one negative experience in your life and reframe it to something more positive. Then, share your before and after in the comments 😊
Tip 2: Talk to your inner critic
As I said before, our inner critic just wants to protect us from bad experiences. It’s like a caring friend that wants to look out for us but only sees the risks, challenges and obstacles in our way.
While our inner critic can protect us from foolishness, more often than not, it simply holds us back from doing the things we should be doing.
That’s why, whenever you notice that voice in your growing more and more powerful, take a moment to stop and reflect.
Think about this:
- What is your inner critic afraid of?
- Who is your inner critic angry with?
- What does your inner critic want or demand from you?
Suppose your inner critic said that you’d never get a well-paid job after uni. Maybe it’s afraid of you applying to hundreds of companies only to get rejected again and again. Or it thinks you’re not doing the right stuff to help you accomplish that goal.
When you notice a thought like this, it can be helpful to start an inner dialogue with your inner critic.
Using the example above, your conversation could go something like this:
You: “I want to get a well-paid job when I graduate.”
Inner critic: “You’ll never manage to get one.”
You: “What makes you say that?”
Inner critic: “The job market is really tough right now, and you never did anything that makes you stand out from the 100s of other applicants.”
You: “Then, what do you think I should do to get a good job? Is there I can do to stand out in a good way?”
Inner critic: “I’m not sure. I don’t think you have the right skills for a career in marketing.”
You: “Would it help if I took a training course or did an internship with a local company over summer?”
Inner critic: “Yeah, I guess it could. But you’re not confident enough to impress a hiring manager in your interview.”
You: “In that case, I’ll make sure to practice my interview technique, so by the time I do apply for graduate jobs I’ll feel totally at ease talking to recruiters and hiring managers.”
You can use this technique with any limiting belief that you have, no matter whether it’s career or fitness-related.
Just make sure you treat your inner critic with kindness and compassion. The more grateful you are and the more appreciation you have for him, the easier it is to steer your inner critic into a constructive force. When working with your inner critic, thank it for the doubts and concerns it has, because it can help you resolve problems before they arise. So make sure you listen and understand the message behind the message.
Tip 3: Set a clear goal and vision for yourself
The two leading causes of self-doubt and self-criticism are:
- We have something we don’t want – For example, you have a fear of flying and that’s stopping you from the world.
- We want something we don’t have – For example, you want to earn a lot of money, but you live off minimum wage.
Either of these scenarios can happen when we don’t set a clear goal for ourselves and stumble through life more by coincidence than with a clear purpose.
When our thoughts are scattered, and we don’t know what we want, we’re in for a surprise. And of course, the surprise can be both positive or negative.
But more often than not, this surprise is far removed from what we actually want – creating a perpetual cycle of unhappiness, self-criticism and doubt.
An easy way to fix this is by setting a clear goal and vision for yourself. Dream big, imagine what your ideal life would look like. What’s a perfect world to you?
In this world, what would you do? Who would you spend time with? And what problems and worries would magically disappear?
Only once you know the answers to these questions, can you start creating a world like this for yourself.
But beware … your values and goals come from within. You won’t be able to get this information from others, as one person’s perfect world can easily be another’s nightmare.
Your goals can be as big or small as you want.
For some of us, it’s simply about spending our summers in a beachside resort, whereas others want to go skiing with their friends every winter. But we can also have bigger dreams like starting our own online business, finding a loving boyfriend and becoming a pro at extreme sports like bungee jumping.
Once you have a clear understanding of your goals, learn how to use the power of your thoughts to fulfil your life-long dreams.
Bonus tip: Stop comparing yourself to others
One of the sneakiest ways that your inner critic makes you feel bad is by constantly comparing you to the people around you.
Maybe you have smaller ears, a lower salary or less experience with guys than your friends.
Each of these can weigh you down, if you feel like you aren’t doing the right things or being as successful as you should be.
But if you keep measuring yourself against the standards of your friends, you will always have a reason to feel upset. Instead, it’s time to love yourself as you are and set your own standards for success.