“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t you are right.” – Henry Ford
This is a very powerful statement. If you take a moment to think these words through and let them sink into your mind you will notice that you have lived these words over and over again. You are what you believe, what you think.
I must have been maybe 4 or 5 years old when I can first remember feeling critical about myself. I didn’t think I was good enough in art or I didn’t think I could learn to ride a 2 wheel bike or I didn’t think I would ever be able to wear grown up shoes. When we are little life is what we see right in front of us. It has no beginning, no end; it is not attached to a greater purpose or grand plan. Just like our bodies change as we age so does our brain. Our brain evolves and grows. The more we learn the more pathways are created to greater understanding. But, just like every up has a down, every front has a back we quickly learn that every yes has a no, or does it?
“We are the creators of our own experience—remembering this, and living our lives from this perspective, empowers us.” –Mike Robbins
What if what we think we can’t do actually has the ability to become something we can do?
Like everyone, I have carried self- doubt with me most of my life. Self-doubt shows up for a lot of as a voice inside that endlessly says we are no good, we can’t do things we really want to try or do. It says things like, “who are you kidding?”, “You are not smart enough”, “You are not wealthy enough”, “You don’t do well in social situations”, etc. A litany of judgments and limiting beliefs that holds us back.
Don’t be stubborn or shy, admit it. You can relate to these thoughts. Whether you remember when it started or not does not matter. Your own negative thinking about yourself shows up almost on a daily basis. It’s the voice inside your head that seems to always be there ready and waiting to put you down, to stop you from doing something it knows you are feeling hesitant about already. This is our inner critic. The bad news is that your inner critic will never go away. The good news is there are myriad of ways to turn the negative voice around to become your comrade, your support system.
In my profession, life coaching, I have had clients who refer to their inner critic as a gremlin, a dragon, a saboteur. Some clients give their inner critic names, some clients can imagine what their inner critic looks like. We all go through self- doubt, whether big or small, daily or randomly. Our inner critic gets its strength from the moments we are feeling weak, small, fearful, unsure, and angry. It shows up through feelings of lack of self-esteem, lack of self-respect, lack of a good self-image, lack of courage. Its job is to stand in your way and put you down. Have you ever felt like Hercules one day and then the next day felt like a mouse? We are fragile beings and within ourselves we rise and set with the sun figuratively and literally.
Recently I took a leap of faith. I got so very tired of hearing my inner critic say no, say “I can’t”, that I left my very negative, hostile, life sucking job to embark on a new career. Don’t misunderstand, this was not and is not still an easy decision but I needed to turn a self-imposed “can’t” into a self-imposed “can.” The worst that could happen is that I would fail and have to look for another job (and deal with the fallout of the failure which is almost as bad as staying in the job that was killing me). Since I felt like I had hit bottom, the only way out for me was up and I realized that is where the sun shines.
Recognizing my own inner critic, getting to know its voice and its negative patterns was the first step to beating it at its own game. Every time I started feeling angry, defensive, shy, lonely, depressed, hurt, I stopped what I was doing and noticed what might have caused me to feel that way. I took a deep breath, stood still, and got set to fight my way through that negative moment. I imagined it much like a football player putting on his uniform ready to fight to win the game or the Knights of the Round Table putting on their armor and fighting their enemies.
Here are a few steps I took to practice keeping my inner critic at bay:
1) Spot clean: Organize, clean; straighten a messy area in your home, office, car, and garage. Doing a physical positive like cleaning will bring instant happiness to any negative situation. “Drop and give me 20” is also a great way to combat the negative thoughts. You not only keep your body in shape and in motion but you are exerting unwanted negative energy and can then stand tall and move through what needs to get done.
2) Quickly think of something funny or happy or positive that would annoy your inner critic. A negative thought can’t get stronger if laughter or happiness is at the ready to chase it away.
3) Draw a picture of what you think your inner critic looks like. Use colors, words, facial expressions to make the inner critic as real as possible. When you have finished your drawing drop the drawing on the floor. Take your dirtiest shoe and stomp on the drawing. While you are stomping on the inner critic shout at it with phrases and words like: STOP!, You are poison!, You cannot control me!, I don’t like you!, etc. Getting out the negative thoughts toward your inner critic will help you develop positive power over it.
I started this article quoting Henry Ford, that whether you think you can or you think you can’t you are right. Every time you think you can’t, think of at least 3 reasons how you can. Practice positive, productive, purposeful thinking and behaving. Create a habit of happy, uplifting, energetic thoughts to combat your inner critic as soon as it shows up. Practice makes practically perfect. It will be a life- long battle but the more you practice using your “can do” muscle the weaker your inner critic will become.