How to Know When Your Inner Voice Is Speaking to You
Look, I'm not gonna sugar coat it.
It's a waste of your time and energy arguing with your inner critic. The critic will always win because it has you right where it wants you while you're busy arguing with it. Not launching your business, not shipping your new big idea, or putting your voice out there. The critic has a never-ending list of reasons why you should continue to play small. If you win one argument with reason #57, the critic will simply move on to reason #58. The goal isn't to win the argument. It's to notice it, unhook and walk away.
The inner critic exists as part of our safety instinct. That's why it tries to convince you not to do that thing that could lead to embarrassment or failure, especially when you're trying something new. Your instinct may try to control you with arguments like "what you want to make, someone has already done it better." When it tells you stuff like that, it's making its best attempt to keep you safe from emotional risk, hurt, failure, criticism, and rejection.
What Does The Inner Critic Have To Do With Finding Your Voice?
When I talk about the inner critic, I'm talking about the voice inside your head that says "not me." It shows up in many forms and often has the following qualities.
- It's mean. You know it's your inner critic when you're talking to yourself in a way that you wouldn't speak to a person you love.
- All or nothing. The inner critic knows no possibilities. You're either smart or stupid, gorgeous or ugly, and your dreams are on or off. There are no in-between or grey areas.
- Pretend to be the voice of reason. The critic packages itself as the voice of reason that acts in your best interest. Saying things like "If you go forward with that business idea, you'll ruin your reputation or "you better hold off a while, until things are safer."
- The voice of "You'll need to...". That implies that you aren't ready and need to do something like "take another course" or "get more experience." Especially for women, their voice always says try harder, do more, and you'll need to keep practicing. This keeps women stuck in the I'm not enough loop.
- The voice of "You're not good at that stuff." This one usually shows up when women are taking on technical skills. Historically, men have taken on managing money, negotiating, and leadership. So women automatically think they have a deficit in this area and step back or tell themselves they need to work ten times harder to be successful.
- The voice of body-shaming. Another common expression is the voice of body-shaming. "You need to lose weight," "Look at how dull your skin looks," and "you're not as attractive as you used to be."
- Automatic downloads. The longer you're engaged with your inner critic, the stronger its hold on you. Some people describe it as their automatic thoughts because they can't distinguish between their voice and their inner critic's voice.
- A broken record. The inner critic setting is on repeat. It usually repeats a set of core negative thoughts and comes up with something new from time to time. It wants to interfere with you finding your authentic voice.
- Powerful and persistent. The inner critic's persistence can overpower you and leave you feeling powerless.
- Sounds like other people in your life. You may notice that your inner critic sounds like people you know, like a parent, sibling, or boss. It can also be a voice that tells you that you're not living up to cultural expectations.
How To Know If The Voice In Your Head Is The Inner Critic Or Realistic Thinking?
Not everyone is good at everything, and some things aren't in your strengths zone. It can be hard to tell your inner critic from realistic thinking. Here's how you can tell the difference.
- Focuses on the problems and worse case scenarios
- Asserts how certain situations will be, using fortune-telling
- Not evidence-based
- All or nothing thinking, it's either this or that.
- Asks only yes or no questions
- Is problem-focused, meditating on the risk and what-ifs
- It speaks with an anxious tone
- Forward moving and focused on solutions
- Is curious and ask generous questions
- Is open-minded and gathers information
- Understands compromise, leaves room for complexity and grey areas.
- It's curious, and ask about the possibilities
- It's solution-focused
- Speaks with a steady, calm tone
The Practice: 4 Steps To Find Your Authentic Voice And Unhook From The Inner Critic
Now, let's turn to what you can do moment-to-moment when your inner critic shows up. The goal is to become aware of the inner critic and let it do its thing without taking direction. You can be consciously aware of its voice without allowing it to determine your choices. In other words, you're the driver, and your inner critic is in the backseat. If it has to come for the ride, the rule is you don't take direction from back seat drivers or passengers. Try these four strategies to find your authentic voice and unhook from the automatic thoughts of your inner critic.
- Notice and name it. When you identify your inner critic is talking, notice it by saying to yourself, "oh, that's my inner critic." Awareness is the foundation of this practice.
- Separate the "I" from the inner critic. When you recognize the inner critic as an entity outside of you, you no longer identify with being it and whatever dreadful thing it's telling you. For example, you might say, "That's my inner critic telling me to play small," rather than telling yourself that you "play it safe and wait."
- Create an avatar. Creating a character with a name and visual image reminds you that voice is not you. It's an entity that only exists to make you unhappy.
- Thank you and goodbye. A simple "thank you for your input, but I've got this one covered" will put your inner critic right where it belongs, in the trunk. When you hear your inner critic, you could ask, "why are you here? What or who do you think I need protection from? Use your avatar to visualize this conversation and respond with compassion because you know why it's showing up, but you won't need it to protect you.