All of us at one time has experienced an inner critic - the nagging voice that tells you that you should have done better in that presentation, berates you for being 'stupid' when you make a mistake, or sows the seed of doubt when starting something new.
The 'critic' can be motivating, such as when you set out deliberately to prove yourself wrong, but all too often the self doubt is too strong and it can make people avoid certain situations, develop anxiety in others and can even cause professional sportsmen at the top of their game to 'choke' and lose the match.
An inner critic delights in attacking those who strive for perfection. Research shows that perfectionism can sabotage work, school and sporting achievements with negative implications for health, including stress and burnout. The constant need to achieve against unachievable standards is a remedy for failure and fuel for the critical fire.
So how can you tackle your own inner critic and prevent it putting barriers in your way to succeed?
1. Perfectionism only leads to procrastination
"To err is human". And the way that we learn and evolve is through making mistakes. The only way to make a mistake is to try. Ask yourself this question... "What can I achieve if I'm not perfect?" or even better "Who can I help if I'm not perfect?"... Everything and Everyone?
2. Focus on the AR in SMART
Goals should be Realistic and Achievable. If you set your sights too far out of reach, you will either talk yourself out of starting in the first place, or berate your lack of achievement when you struggle to meet your exacting standards. Strive to be better, not perfect.
3. Start listening to the angel on your shoulder instead of the devil
Think of all those times when an inner voice has told you 'You can do it!'. As children, our inner dialogue is positive and creative. We have a desire to explore and experience new things and it is usually the rules of others that hold us back, not ourselves. When you achieve success, celebrate it and enjoy some self praise. Positive thoughts disempower your inner critic.
4. Use your successes to motivate you, instead of a fear of failure
Take some time to reflect on everything you have achieved in your life. The reason you are where you are now is because you have succeeded. You have overcome adversity many times over and it is this belief that should drive you.
5. Depersonalise the inner critic
When you hear that voice in your head, whose voice is it? If you can conjure it up right now, see if you can change the voice so it sounds like Mickey Mouse. Speed it up. Now try and turn down the volume, so that it's so quiet you can barely hear it. And then, see if you can move it far away from you so that it sounds like it's coming from a great distance, perhaps echoey, like it is on the opposite side of a vast cavern. It doesn't matter if you can't do all of these things, but hopefully it will show you that you can control this voice.
Next time that your inner critic makes an appearance, see what happens when you change it. You will begin to disassociate with it more and more until it no longer feels part of you. Take on board any constructive feedback and put the critic to bed once and for all.