how to understand your inner critic

fine art photograph by julien denoyer - click image to view more

How often do you hear that voice inside that likes to tell you you’re not good enough? That your ideas aren’t fresh enough? That your clothes aren’t cute enough or your blog isn’t designy enough?

If you’re like me, you hear it all the time. Seriously.

Here are the end of the year, looking back over what I’ve accomplished, what I need to wrap up, and what I need to do going forward, that voice is practically screaming at me. Do you hear her?

I know you do because I hear from so many struggling with this through my free Creating Action ecourse. It’s hard to take the first step when something inside is yelling that you’re not good enough.

Luckily, I got a tip.

Meet Tara Sophia Mohr. Aside from having a kick ass name, Tara Sophia is a graduate of Yale & the Stanford Business School and a wise living coach. She agreed to answer a few key questions about life with our inner critics:

The first point you make in your keys to leaving a B+ life is to “forge a unique path.” I couldn’t agree more! But the inner critic likes to tell me all about my “unique ideas.” Chiefly that they’re unique because they’re bad. Do you have a tip for setting our uniqueness free from the grasp of our inner critic?

Our inner critics absolutely show up when we start to live our uniqueness. We can plan on hearing from them! They make all kinds of mean arguments to try and stop us: “That idea is lame.” “It’s been done before.” “This isn’t the appropriate time or context to share it…” “

The inner critic’s goal is to keep us safe from emotional risk. When we share (or even think about sharing) our authentic selves, the inner critic’s alarm bells go off: “ALERT! Risk of potentially painful failure or rejection!”

1. When you hear your inner critic, imagine a more powerful, successful you – you 20 years out in the future. Check in with that person, and ask him/her how she sees the situation at hand. What would he or she have you do in this moment?

2. Say “thanks but no thanks.” Demonizing or arguing with the inner critic is a losing battle – don’t go there! Instead, say with compassion to that fearful part of you, “Thank you so much for your input. I know you are doing your best to protect me from any possible harm. However, I’ve got this one covered. You have the day off.”

My inner critic often takes the form of cultural demands. Do more. Buy more. Think of yourself less. Spend more time with family. Put others first, self second. How have you shielded yourself from cultural demands to live a wiser life?

Yes. There are inner critic voices that come out of our individual experiences, and inner critic voices that come out of social norms or cultural expectations. Women get the message from the culture that our value comes from “putting others first” and also from our likability.

One thing that is very effective is creating a character for that inner critic voice. Ask yourself, if it were a person, who would it be? Perhaps a character from film or literature, or someone from your life. What does she look like? What is she wearing? What’s her name?

Let’s say you decide to name this particular strand of your inner critic “Miss Martyr.” Then, over a week or two, spend time just getting to know “Miss Martyr.” What are her most frequently voiced beliefs? What’s her worst fear? If you listened to her for the next twenty years, how would you end up?

It sounds silly, but it works. When we personify our inner critics, which everyone will have the opportunity to do in the Inner Critic Clinic, we can identify them when they show up. We can clearly separate their voices from our own best thinking. That’s where the power lies.

And this can be fun! Our inner critics are irrational, and when we create characters for them, we can see the humor in the crazy thing they tell us!

When I’m on the path of a new idea or project, I try to tell myself to “follow my gut.” If something feels right, do it. If it doesn’t don’t. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes my inner critic plays the role of it-doesn’t-feel-right and I get confused! How have you learned to tell the difference between your gut & your inner critic in your own life?

It is tricky – great question. There are several distinguishing features of the inner critic voice, all of which we’ll be covering in the course. For example, our critics are very repetitive. Their voices usually sound rushed, anxious, and frantic. They make definite pronouncements about the way things are and never show curiosity. If the voice I’m hearing has several of those inner critic attributes, I know it’s probably the inner critic.

Another tool I use is this: if I’m having a strong “DON’T DO IT!” feeling, but am not sure if that’s my inner critic or my gut instinct, I’ll imagine doing the thing. If I notice I feel terrified (particularly of failure or rejection) as I imagine it, I know it’s just my inner critic saying “DON’T DO IT!” If I feel a strong sense of being off track or compromising myself, I’d then look more at what my gut instinct might be telling me.

Last one. In one of your recent blog posts, you said that you often ask clients, “What do you want?” So I’m going to ask you: What do YOU want to get out of your Inner Critic Clinic?

In my coaching practice, I’ve watched dozens of people experience life–changing effects from just a few sessions of work on their inner critics. To be honest, I was shocked again and again to see how dramatic the effects were: more confidence, more bold action without fear. Less needless suffering. An open channel for their brilliance to flow out to the world. What I want out of the Inner Critic Clinic is to give more people an access point to that transformation.


Thanks, Tara!

If you’d like to learn more about how to leave your inner critic behind in 2011, check out Tara’s virtual workshop.

7 thoughts on “how to understand your inner critic

  1. I like the reminder that “we all have it”. I too hear it and have to tell myself to not listen, but to replace the thought with a positive one. It is the only way I will stay on the path that I have chosen no matter how bumpy. Thanks Tara and Happy Holidays to you and your family

  2. Thanks for this amazing post!

    I know this “inner critic” too well.
    But now I recognize it. Every time I am starting something very new, or I am in a very new situation, I start to feel like this: “Why did I start this? Why did I come here? Why did not I stayed at my _comfortable_ home in my known surroundings? Maybe I should stop doing this, or go home” etc etc…”

    so when I feel like this, I know it is my inner critic trying to defend myself from possible failures….also, when I feel this I know, that I am on the right track.

    thanks again! :-)

  3. As so many of us do, I also hear the inner critic way too often. I find she comes out when I’m in the middle of a project and brings up my doubt that I’ll be able to finish successfully or reach my goal. To me this is the worst time for doubt, it makes all my efforts to date seem a waste and a feel like a failure before I even get to the end.

    I love the advice to personify your inner critic, not only is it easier to talk to someone you can imagine as not yourself, but you may also be able to place where that fear is coming from more readily. Is it a young version of you still afraid to be bold? Is it the conservative side of you thinking you’re pushing too many boundaries? Or is it an older version afraid you’re making mistakes that you’ll never get over? I find knowing where the critic is coming from makes it easier to quiet the voice.

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