Tools for Quieting Your Inner Critic

Tools for quelling chatter How friendly are you with the voice in your head? Is it your greatest ally or your sharpest critic? It would be great if you were always your biggest cheerleader, feeling okay with everything you do. Called the boss’s husband the wrong name? “No worries”, you think, “it could happen to anyone”. Misplaced your keys and run late to the airport? “Take a breath, you remind yourself, mistakes happen”. Of course, we all feel good about ourselves when we’re on our game and happy. But can you still love yourself while your foot is firmly planted in your mouth? Or is your self-love dependent on what others think of you? (hint- if so, welcome to normal). We all have an inner critic, that voice in our head that judges our interactions and events as we move through our day. Although you may be in ally mode much of the time, the inner critic often pops in and stays on, even when you really want to change the channel. This leads to what Ph.D Psychologist Ethan Kross refers to as chatter, where we replay the thoughts and emotions that keep us focusing on the negative. Chatter, or rumination often happens when our stress levels are up or the stakes are high, just when we need our inner ally most. What’s going on here? Why does your very own brain sometimes work against you? Blame it on your neurobiology. When you’re exposed to a stressor, the part of your brain known as the amygdala is immediately alerted. This can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response (increased heart rate and respiration to prepare for action) even when the event isn’t physically threatening. In fact, the amygdala is so easily triggered, information about potentially frightening things can reach it before we are even consciously aware that there’s anything to be afraid of. I’ll say it again, your fear reaction is triggered before you even have time to think about what it is that’s so frightening. All you know you’re stressed about something, so there must be something to worry about. This is your brain’s natural defense system, subconsciously protecting you by assuming the worst first and figuring out the details later. Negative self-talk The way we talk to ourselves has a powerful influence on our feelings about ourselves and how we show up in the world. Yet it’s not easy to control our thoughts. And often, the ruminating we do thinking it leads to problem-solving simply strengthens the neural circuitry and makes it worse. Fortunately, while telling yourself not to think about the white bear never works, there are other ways to redirect a negative inner dialogue. Shift your perspective Researchers have found that it’s not just about what you say to yourself, it’s also how you say it. Studies show the importance of talking to yourself in the 2nd or 3rd person. When practicing self-talk, don’t refer to yourself as “I” or “me.” Instead, switch to using “you”, “he” or “she,” or refer to yourself by name. Known as “distance self-talk”, this practice lets you shift perspectives so you can think more objectively about your response and emotions. By decoupling yourself from your problems, you automatically reduce stress and anxiety. Slow down! It’s estimated that 95% of our behavior runs on autopilot—something we call “fast brain.” Our neural networks are so efficient in creating shortcuts that they often cause us to relapse into old behaviors before we remember what we meant to do instead. Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these processes; it’s the slow brain. It’s executive control rather than autopilot and enables intentional actions, willpower, and decisions. This is one of the main tenets and benefits of mindfulness. The act of quieting the mind and observing your thoughts instead of getting caught up in them. The reality is, when faced with uncertainty you’re more likely to focus on and remember the negative, and to mentally replay negative events more frequently than positive ones. It’s up to you to shift perspectives to quiet the inner critic, gain more clarity and focus, and show up as your strongest ally even in the midst of uncertainty. A daily mindful breathing practice helps you to slow the mind down long enough to recognize a trigger. From this less negatively biased place, you can more objectively assess the issue. Now you’re able to apply the distance self-talk strategy for reducing anxiety and changing your thought channel. Other ways to quiet mind chatter: Practice self-compassion. Rather than letting you off the hook, self-compassion has been shown to help you move past the emotional obstacles that otherwise hold you back. It’s a practice worth committing to! Broaden your perspective. Think about how the experience you’re worried about compares with other events you or those close to you have dealt with. Reposition the experience as a challenge. To calm your inner voice, remind yourself of how you’ve succeeded in similar circumstances. Know that in every hardship there is an opportunity for learning. Reinterpret your body’s stress response. An upset stomach, the tension in your jaw, and shaky hands are all part of an adaptive response designed to help you respond to a challenge, not a sign that something’s wrong with you. Recognize that the situation is temporary by engaging in mental time travel. Ask yourself “Where will you be in a month or a year from now?” Write about your deepest feeling and challenges in a “just for you” style, as in no one else needs to see it unless you want them to. Journal for 15-20 minutes a day for 3-5 days using the 3rd person’s voice. This is a proven antidote to anxiety as well. I hope you’ll join me for the next (and final) free Breathe into Breakthrough 10-day workshop (future series will be shorter!) Take the opportunity to benefit from:
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  • Daily themes for increasing positive energy, gaining clarity, finding focus, letting go of self-judgement, and building resilience
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