According to the National Science Foundation the average person has about 12,000 to 60,00 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before. When these thoughts are negative about self, they can sometimes feel like they are stuck on some kind of ground hog day loop.
I often explain to HR leaders that their inner critic is the person they wish to avoid at a networking event, yet this person seeks you out, even though you have given them every indication to leave you alone. Your inner-critic doesn’t get the hint because its purpose is to protect and motivate you. I know many Leaders see their inner-critic, as their wake-up call to do better. Yes, this is true, if you act on this and then that negative chatter about yourself goes away. When it doesn’t, us humans have learnt strategies to shut it down.
The most popular in the workplace are avoidance, procrastination, micro-management and defensiveness. In the short-term highly effective, while if not can then lead to, eating and drinking more, shopping, bingeing on Netflix, taking drugs, and in some cases many of these at once. These strategies can put your inner-critic to sleep for a while, but then there she or he is there the next day, raring to go! So if we can’t get rid of negative self-talk and our inner-critic, what do we do?
Use your inner-critic wisely
Your negative self-talk and inner-critic are not the issue. It is how we relate to our inner-critic that is the issue. And given she or he is around to stay, maybe its time to develop a healthier relationship, where you can use this criticism constructively and wisely.
Acceptance over rejection of your inner-critic is proving to be a far more effective strategy for leaders and teams to achieve personal and work goals, and reach their full potential.
Try these strategies:
- Curious scientist: Imagine being a curious scientist, looking at something under the microscope. In this case the ‘something’ is your negative self-talk and inner-critic. Become an observer of these feelings, rather than struggle with them. Give these thoughts or sensations a colour, smell or even name. This allows you to see them as separate from you, rather than as you.
- Gratitude practice. Try writing down 3 things you are grateful for every day. It can be as simple as your first coffee, patting your pet, seeing the sunshine, a cuddle with a loved one. Those of you with kids, might like to try this at meal times and go around the table, where everyone has to share at least one thing they are grateful for. Gratitude and your inner-critic struggle to live together in your mind!
- Step 5: Try Mindfulness. Mindfulness is no longer just for Google, Nike and Apple have incorporated Mindfulness into their employee wellbeing programs, and these and others are realising a reduction in employee stress, improved focus, clarity of thinking, better decision-making and performance. Mindfulness helps relax us in the moment but over time (usually 10 minutes a day over 8 weeks) helps us build resilience towards negative thinking about ourselves and the world. I often call this our kryptonite for negative self-talk
- Cartoon Character play. Think of a voice of cartoon character you can play over in your head. Do it now. Close your eyes, and in your own voice pick the negative word or statement you say to yourself on loop. Notice how this feels in your body. Now, using the same word or statement, replace it with the voice of your cartoon character. Did you laugh? This strategy is based on science, called cognitive defusion. My cartoon character is Homer Simpson, and he has helped me get over nerves when I am about to speak at an event, or have one of those awkward conversations.
You don’t have be best friends with your inner-critic, while he or she (or however you relate to yours) doesn’t have to be your enemy. Learning to use your inner-critic wisely will help you, and your team be happier, healthier and more effective.
Margie Ireland is a leadership coach, register psychologist and author of The Happy Healthy Leader – how to achieve your potential even during a crisis.