Loving Your Inner Critic

“You didn’t do that very well, did you?”

“You made the wrong choice.”

“That was stupid.”

We’ve all heard critical comments like these directed at us; they’re part of living. But there’s a major difference between hearing those kinds of comments coming from others, and hearing them coming from inside ourselves: from our Inner Critic.

The best ways to handle critical comments coming from others will be the topic of another post. (Spoiler alert: take them with a grain of salt.) This time, I’d like to tackle the much more important topic: How to handle comments from our own Inner Critic.

There are at least four important lessons you should learn about hearing and handling comments from your Inner Critic:

Lesson One: They Can Be Useful

In popular culture, your Inner Critic is a “bad thing” that can bring you no benefits. But that’s just one side of the proverbial coin. The flip side is much more positive: Your Inner Critic can be a powerful force that helps drive you toward excellence.

You want proof? Think about all the shoddy, inadequate work you’ve seen others produce. These are people whose Inner Critic is on vacation, lazy, or cursed with bad taste. Some of them may have no Inner Critic at all. Even worse off are those who suffer with a mean-spirited Inner Critic.

With a missing, defective, or vindictive Inner Critic, it’s easy, normal, and natural to turn out shoddy or inadequate work. That’s why you see so much of it.

An active, supportive Inner Critic, on the other hand, is positively oriented toward motivating you to go the extra mile to achieve greater results. It’s also what helps you recognize when you’ve produced inadequate, merely adequate, or truly superior achievements.

Of course, your Inner Critic may sometimes be too critical, suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or even totally refuse to accept any less than perfection. These Inner Critic tendencies usually cause you serious problems and disappointments – although your outlook is not entirely hopeless: there are ways to reduce such negativity.

But by and large, having a functioning Inner Critic is better than not having one.

Lesson Two: They’re Better When Balanced

While the comments you hear from your Inner Critic are normally useful, as I’ve described above, you can make them even more useful by seeking balance.

It’s easy to do: just respond to every negative comment from your Inner Critic by searching your memory for an offsetting positive experience.

For example, when your Inner Critic points out you’ve made a bad choice, think about a time when you made a good one. Or if your Inner Critic isn’t satisfied with how you handled a difficult social scene, try to remember a similar situation you navigated smoothly.

Balancing negativity from your Inner Critic with positive self-talk will help you feel more accepting of your Inner Criticism, while at the same time boosting your confidence in your skills, talents, and abilities.

Lesson Three: They Teach Us How to Improve

The most basic and obvious benefit of comments from your Inner Critic is the information, suggestions, and directions they offer on how to generate better results. They often point out one or more weaknesses in your thinking, your planning, and your actions – all of which are prime areas for meaningful improvement.

Like any good teacher, your Inner Critic also provides extra motivation to research, experiment, and practice so as to steadily upgrade your knowledge, techniques, and skills.  

Lesson Four: They Have Their Time and Place

Perhaps the most important lesson you can learn about handling comments from your Inner Critic, however, is simply this: you don’t want, need, or benefit from Inner Criticism that goes on 24/7/365. It’s always a good idea to give your Inner Critic some regular rest – or even a forced vacation.

At the right time and place – when you’re striving hard to accomplish a task, project, or goal that’s important in your work or your life – your Inner Critic can be a powerful force to greatly improve your level of quality, results, productivity, and success. But other times – when you’re relaxing, seeking enjoyment, or just dealing with routine everyday issues – your Inner Critic can easily feel like an unwanted source of pressure, stress, and disappointment. These are times when you safely can – and wisely should – ignore it.

Although it’s fairly common to fret about the comments you hear from your Inner Critic, learning these four lessons can instead help you recognize and appreciate the variety of benefits – and the enjoyable free time – available from yours.

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