Inner critics may appear different to everyone, but they’re all the same. They’re the discouraging voice in our heads that remind us that we’re never good enough for anything.
“You’re going to fail” is what mine would always say.
It replays negativity repeatedly until it becomes a song in our heads. When it achieves its purpose, our inner critic manifests itself into our worst bully.
That happened to me.
Growing up as an underachieving teen meant that I have self-esteem issues. Believing in my inner critic doesn’t help either. For many years, I measured my value on whether I was talented, pretty or smart enough compared to my friends. Silly, I know.
Seventeen magazine said to be comfortable in our own skin, but it was impossible to follow. Why should I be comfortable being mediocre? From then on, I continued being hard on myself and thought of mistakes as fundamental flaws.
Those days may be over now, but negativity does creep up once in a while.
Silencing our inner critic is not an overnight process. It’s a lifelong mental game that gets better if we focus on the good. It’s also a series of continuous baby steps until we’re comfortable making mistakes and facing failures.
With the right mindset, we can control the negative voice inside our heads. To get there, here’s what we can do.
Collect proof of praise
You may be working the night shift in a call centre or selling churros from a food truck, but criticism follows no matter what you do.
That’s the reality of our working lives.
Criticism and compliments are the yin and yang of the professional world. You can’t run away from it. To silence our inner critic, focus on the compliments.
My last hacker would know this. I have a folder in my laptop called ‘Proof of Praise’. Nothing embarrassing, really. Basically, it comprises screenshots of compliments and positive feedback I received for my work. You can recreate this method by jotting down in a journal.
Visiting my little compliment folder helped me cope with bad days at work.
Back in the day, I worked with an editor who wasn’t afraid to make blunt comments. So blunt that it sounded like this, “What is this nonsense?” or “This interview is so stupid”.
When my editor made those comments, I did two things. I imagined flipping the table in my head and then, read my proofs of praise. Apart from reminding myself that the comments were directed at my work (not me), I also recalled the compliments I received from the same editor. Coming from a boss I admired, it helped me to feel less of a shitty writer.
Proof of praise serves more than just a reminder – it’s a form of self-validation that we are good at what we do. We just screwed up our work, that’s all. When we see the positive side of things, we learn not to be so hard on ourselves.
Here’s another thing I like to do,
Write down your best qualities
You may have heard this from Tony Robbins or some self-help guru, but it’s worth repeating. Write down your best qualities and read it when you’re feeling down. It won’t take up much of your time. You can do it while taking the train to Masjid Jamek.
Give yourself ten minutes and create a list of your awesome qualities and talents. Don’t just stop at the first page. Continue adding to the list as you go along.
It’s a popular method for a reason. It makes you feel good especially when you’re feeling like a nobody next to your overachieving brother and/or successful best friend.
I can attest to that because that’s my reality.
My brother graduated summa cum laude and is greatly adored by my father. My best friend, on the other hand, has it all. She drives a luxury car, carries a Louis Vuitton, and treated herself to a weekend vacation in the Maldives recently.
You bet my inner critic would compare myself to them. They’re the definition of success, while I was the definition of subpar.
However, contrary to my inner critic, I’m far from subpar. It’s true, it says here in my list of best qualities!
I’m a good writer, a loyal friend, and a woman who doesn’t wait three days to text a man she likes. I guess I’m pretty decent?
Focusing on your best self is the way forward because the next rule explains it all.
Perfection doesn’t exist
If you think it does, your inner critic and Miranda Kerr have fooled you. It may seem like their lives are blessed with beauty, fame and money, but they’re just as flawed as everybody else.
Miranda Kerr naively dated a con man for a year. Katy Perry is an average Katheryn Hudson with a glam team. And that popular girl in school might have the hairiest legs. There’s no point comparing our lives with someone who hides them perfectly.
So tell that to your inner critic!
I have a friend who described my freelancing career as perfect. Lesser morning traffics to endure, working in pyjamas and all those rosy stereotypes. That’s because she only focused on the bright side of my job.
It’s true that I can work anywhere and don’t have to deal with office politics. But this carefree profession is not always perfect.
I need to reply to emails during my holidays. I have to chase down my clients for pending payments when I need my PTPTN money. Also, the crippling loneliness of being a freelancer is real.
Perfection doesn’t exist. So don’t buy it when your inner critic says your life is less perfect than the rest.
Since we’re always so hard on ourselves, this one is the toughest to do.
Learn to forgive ourselves
Our inner critic can be a jackass for reminding us of our mistakes, downfalls and shortcomings. That’s what they do.
What you need to remember is everyone makes mistakes. When things didn’t turn out the way it should be, it’s a life lesson or valuable experience in disguise.
I’ve made many mistakes in the past, and I’ve regretted the biggest ones.
Turning down an opportunity to work abroad. Being the cause of a broken friendship. Staying in a relationship with a cheating boyfriend.
Everyone makes unforgivable mistakes, but we can still forgive ourselves for being human. Because sometimes, mistakes were also our moments of bravery.
One time, I said no to my ex-boss when she decided to pile up more work on my desk. I was exhausted and she didn’t ask if I could take on more tasks.
Unfortunately, my ex-boss doesn’t take no for an answer. In the upcoming months, she made my workplace a living hell until I resigned much to her contentment.
My mistake was not speaking to her kindly. Despite feeling brave for standing up for myself, I should have approached the situation with a cooler head. However, on the other hand, if I hadn’t made that mistake, I wouldn’t have known the better way to resolve conflict with my future bosses.
If we constantly worry about making mistakes, we will never be stronger and better versions of ourselves.
Like the wise would say, an experience is simply the name we give our mistakes. And that’s one thing that your inner critic doesn’t want you to recognise.
Truth be told, our inner critic is like an empty vessel. It’s loud and noisy, but it doesn’t hold any power. Your level of self-worth and self-esteem will determine how powerful it can get. If you only focus on the negative side of things, that’s when our inner critic takes over.
So never give it the power to nourish and grow.
Every critic’s greatest enemy is compassion. When you concentrate on your best qualities or realise that perfection doesn’t exist, you will become more compassionate and kinder to yourself. Once you do, you only need three words to silence your inner critic.
Let it go.
For more articles by Cheryl, read 6 Things You Can Do to Be a Better Instagram Husband, and The Modern Dating Struggles Every Introvert Can Relate To.
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