Tips for taming your inner critic

Photo credit - Chris Lu via

Photo credit – Chris Lu via

I have always been a curious person and have enjoyed learning. Having spent most of my career in education, it was quite a surprise to find out how much I struggled with learning a new job. The struggle was not with others as much as with myself. An inner voice, my own inner critic, seemed to wreak havoc over my sense of competence. Taming it became part of the challenge!

Learning about your own learning
The characteristics of the learning process vary, but dealing with a degree of discomfort is part of the change process. At its best, the discomfort leads you to see the purpose and benefit of learning the new skill/process/concept. When applied and successful, the brain likes the sense of success. There is a rush of satisfaction with the “Yes! I’ve got it” experience.

In learning a new job, the learning curve can seem really steep. There is a lot to learn, a new way of working, in a new environment. When I have tried to help others with dealing with this, I encourage them to “chunk things up” into manageable bits. Deal with one. Manage it or learn it, then move to the next chunk.

So, why couldn’t I apply this to myself?

Why couldn’t I see that there is a lot to learn in a situation, and be patient? Why don’t I remind myself to deal with one chunk at a time?

I think I had a fixed idea of what I knew and how I did things. I also think my inner critic was reigning supreme over my thoughts and ideas. I was failing to meet my own expectations. This was a fixed mindset that was difficult to budge. In retrospect, perspective is a wonderful thing. To really benefit from that though, is to recognise the circumstances when they happen again.

Step 1. Awareness – learn to recognise your fixed mindset
Being able to recognise when your mindset is fixed and limits your potential and your self-belief. You may recognise this through things you say to yourself. Notice this. Make yourself aware of it happening and recognise its limiting “self talk” or “inner voice”.

As you approach a challenge, that voice might say to you “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent.”
“What if you fail—you’ll be a failure”
“People will laugh at you for thinking you have talent.”
“If you don’t try, you can protect yourself and maintain your dignity.”

As you hit a setback, the voice might say, “This would have been easy if you had talent.”
“You see, I told you it was a risk. Now you’ve gone and shown everyone how limited you are.”
“ It’s not too late to back out, make excuses, and try to regain your dignity.”

You might hear yourself say, “It’s not my fault. It was something or someone else’s fault.” You might feel yourself getting angry people who is give you feedback.

You may notice yourself feeling defensive when someone is giving you specific, constructive feedback. It could be that they seem to say “I’m really disappointed in you. I thought you were capable but now I see you’re not.”

Step 2. Acceptance – recognise your choices
How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your skills, knowledge and abilities and with effort, stretch yourself, and expand your capabilities. It’s up to you.

Step 3. Action – inner critic meets a growth mindset 
As you approach a challenge and the voice of your inner critic can be heard, counter it with a growth mindset voice.

Where the inner critic questions your ability to do something, remind yourself that you can learn to do it with time and effort.

When the inner critic threatens failure, remind yourself that many successful people have had and learned from failures.

When your inner critic suggests that trying new things presents risks and potential failure, remind yourself that not trying represents failure.


Step 4. Continued action – with a growth mindset
Over time, you choose which voice you heed. Choosing a growth mindset means taking action to:

  • embracing challenges wholeheartedly
  • learn from setbacks and try again
  • hear criticism and act on it

Encouraging your own learning
I love the word “encourage”. Its etymology suggests it means to “make strong, hearten”. Make your own learning strong with positive self-regard. Remind yourself that you are capable succeeding, or you are capable of developing that.  Be kind in the learning process, recognising that progress is possible with effort and commitment.

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