How to squelch negative thoughts in 9 days - without being falsely "positive"
“I want to silence my inner critic because it makes me feel like sh*t”
That’s what one young woman told me recently.
She was in a lot of pain. Wanted to stop being brought down. Humiliated. Undermined.
Not by anybody else, but by her OWN way of thinking…
To some people, this will sound all-too familiar.
To others, maybe not.
Until relatively recently, I’d never come across the idea of an “inner critic”.
When I did, I thought it sounded a bit silly. A bit Californian.
Me, long ago, when I lived in California. I love that place!
Back then, I believed that my negative thoughts were simply a regrettable reflection of reality.
So I didn’t notice that they even were “negative” thoughts.
You may be the same.
But when you look into it, you might find that you have certain underlying beliefs…
That you are:
- too fat
- too thin
- too stupid
- too nerdy
- not well enough connected
- not (insert something else) enough
- etc etc
…to get what you want in work, perhaps in life generally.
At the same time, you may be having fiercely critical thoughts about other people.
How’s that working out for you?
I’m lucky to work with some pretty cool people. Well known names in TV, award-winning musicians and artists, novelists, film-makers, and a LOT of people who run major organisations…
Can I tell you something about them?
They’ve all found value in the idea of an “inner critic”. It helps to aggregate all the dis-empowering beliefs and self-talk that keep us from doing the things that excite us…
Beliefs and self-talk that keep us small, safe – and often miserable.
Yep, even people like these.
This is what an actor-novelist told me:
I think the negative voice thing is a great topic, BTW, and one we can all relate to.
Do you ever think part of the problem is psychotherapy, which makes us think that, if we have a bad thought, we must talk it out, and thus the bad thought makes its way once again over the surface of our brain, like a crab scuttling across a rock pool?
I say squelch that bad thought!
My own approach to squelching is not to go over the “bad thoughts” forever and ever, but to explain the CONCEPT of the inner critic, then start fighting back.
Another woman I work with identified her inner critic as a sourpuss called Mildred.
We made an agreement to throw imaginary custard pies at Mildred whenever she appeared. We had a good laugh…
More than I could ever have imagined, this imaginary custard pie-throwing seemed to help my client move on.
To get over herself.
Can you imagine what a relief that was?
Mind you… it wasn’t because of the custard pies.
What really helped was when I showed her how to NOTICE the limiting beliefs, and how to DISTANCE HERSELF from the criticism.
Showed how to pretend it was somebody else talking.
There’s a secret to that…
Having identified “Mildred”, the next thing we did was look forensically at the kinds of things Mildred had to say – and work out which bits (if any) were true.
Then find better ways to think instead, without being FALSELY positive.
It’s a PROCESS. It takes time. And a teeny bit of effort.
When I wrote about this for a major UK newspaper, The Guardian, the story was shared nearly 18,000 times. I was surprised, and incredibly pleased.
But then I started to think about it…
Newspaper articles are easy to consume without doing any work. In my heart, I knew that the people who read it would never get the full benefit.
So I took that newspaper story and built it up into something more dynamic.
I raided ideas from history, religion, philosophy, psychology and the arts…
I pulled in stories from my own life, including things that felt raw, and awkward…
I created homework…
Then I tested it, with real people.
I ran tests live, at places like The School of Life, in London, where I’ve taught occasional classes for seven years. (Great place, you should check it out some time.)
I ran it overseas, too.
And I tested it online, with people I’ve never met IRL.