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4 Strategies to Defang Your Inner Critic
Some of you may have been just as surprised as I was last week when Friday rolled around and there was no MM in your inbox. For me, it was an opportunity to practice self-compassion. We often set lofty goals for ourselves, and it isn’t uncommon when either we or others fall short of those expectations. Practicing self-kindness in such situations can be a necessary salve to keep us from falling prey to our Inner Critic.
Some of you, however, have expressed dismay at the practice of self-compassion, feeling it is either too self-indulgent, or too soft. I politely disagree, but welcome the opportunity to present other methods to deal with our often brutal and unforgiving Inner Critic. These methods come straight from Acceptance and Commitment Training, also popularly known as ACT, (pronounced like the word act, NOT as A-C-T).
According to ACT, what we think is far less important than how we relate to our thoughts. ACT recognizes that many of our thoughts come to us unbidden. We do not actively generate them; they simply arise in the mind. Therefore, trying to suppress our thoughts can be, at best, a futile effort. At worst, it can lead to more frustration and irritation. However, we do not have to fall prey to our thoughts, even when they come to as in the form of a brutal Inner Critic. We just need to relate to them in a new way.
To do this, we need to gain some space from our thoughts, not identifying with them as who we are. ACT promotes a variety of techniques to gain such space. A few of them are described here:
Noticing your thoughts - When you find yourself falling victim to your Inner Critic telling you, “I’m a loser”, etc., tell yourself: “I’m having a thought ‘I’m a loser’”. Or, to take it one step further, you could say, “I’m noticing I’m having a thought ‘I’m a loser’.” Doing so helps you identify as the observer of your thoughts, and not the target.
Sing your thoughts - If you find yourself falling victim to negative self-talk, put that to music. When you’re alone, sing that thought to the tune of Happy Birthday, or perhaps one of your favorite songs. Doing so can help us see that a thought is just a thought.
Silly voices - Repeat your negative self-talk with silly voices. The sillier, the better!
Thank your story-telling mind - With warmth and general appreciation, thank your mind for its story-telling abilities. You could say, “Thank you, Mind, for sharing!” or “Thank you for the story!” Be careful with this strategy, however. Avoid sarcasm and bitterness while emphasizing kindness.
Each of these four strategies can help us nurture a more positive relationship with our thoughts, even when they’re not playing nice. They are all recommended as ACT practices, and can be found in the book The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris.
If you enjoyed these strategies and would like to learn more about ACT, I would strongly recommend Dr. Harris’s book. Alternatively, join me for a discussion involving more strategies from ACT, entitled “Pivot Toward What Matters”. To learn more about that talk (and others), click HERE.