Where did all this self-doubt come from? I thought to myself. What if I just started telling myself I can do it? What if I actually can do it?
We can be so hard on ourselves, for many reasons, society, work expectations, maybe our parents… but whether we realize it or not, the person who is usually the hardest on us is our inner critic.
I used to be so mean to myself in my head. It’s almost like the voice in my head was a different person. A much meaner person, who was very critical and judgmental. That type of constant negative self-talk just doesn’t work if you want to be truly healthy and happy. I started becoming curious about different ideas I could plant in my head to replace these painful ones. What if I became more compassionate towards myself? What if I gave myself some grace? What if I saw my struggles and “failures” as the essential ingredients of the recipe for my best self? What if I trained my inner critic to become my own personal cheering section and best friend?
I don’t just mean this as a tool for making yourself exercise, but for life.
When did I become so critical of myself?
Emotion is energy (in motion). If we don’t have a healthy way to process or release that emotion it can start to weigh us down or even turn into unhealthy thoughts and stories. A common example of this is perfectionism. Maybe as a child you became a people-pleaser in order to avoid uncomfortable situations and interactions with your parents at home. That constant feeling of needing to please everyone can end up suppressing your authentic inner voice.
In order to retrain that inner voice back to an authentic one, we need to let go of those old emotions and learn to be with uncomfortable new emotions. This is how we can become present and free. Your inner critic will no longer have the fuel to rule inner world and you can train it be your biggest cheerleader and best friend.
Negative self-talk & Self-sabotage
The negativity from the inner critic has been a coping mechanism. Sure, maybe that voice gets you to the gym every morning and putting in the extra effort to perfect that work project, but it’s not sustainable to live a life fueled by shame and fear. I also used to be really good at self-sabotage and public self-shaming. I thought that if I was the first to call out my own “flaws”, then no one else can hurt me. If I beat myself up on my own terms, I’ll save myself from other people telling me I’m not good enough. I would call myself out for being fat or stupid, acting as if I didn't care. Subconsciously I was just trying to save myself the heartache of hearing it from someone else. So I built up that critic both internally and externally.
Giving the inner voice a promotion?
What if instead of reinforcing the loop of shame, we acknowledged the inner voice for being so good at what it does, and then offered it a promotion to more enjoyable and better paying job? The role of your biggest cheerleader and your best friend. When we focus on creating this new relationship, it’s a change that happens in both your brain and body. You literally starting changing the wiring and chemistry in your brain, and your body learns new skills and energies. When you notice the inner critic speaking up, pause, acknowledge that it's there, but be fully aware of it as nothing more than story. Then offer a new, more authentic and empowering story in its place. It's powerful to also focus on some things you’re grateful for to help anchor in the new feelings. "I feel amazing for doing the best I can” or "what a blessing it is to have the opportunity and courage to get to the gym three days in row!" Remember to have true compassion for yourself. Even try creating a real dialogue with the inner critic, “I know you’re here to protect me and help me succeed, but the ways we used to do this don't work anymore” Change the critic’s tone of voice along with your posture and the energy in your body. Let it remind you that you can do hard things. Let it remind you of what you have accomplished already and let it motivate you to move beyond the self-doubt. Say, “I did the best I could and I still love myself.” The inner critic should be here to serve you, not to punish you. Sometimes we’re afraid to lose our inner critic because we’re afraid that we’ll become lazy, or never make it to a workout again because we’re not beating ourselves up. Time to give the inner critic another job.
Get out your pom-poms!
Today I got on my exercise bike and my legs were hurting a half-mile in and I thought “wow I really don’t want to do this,” because I felt uncomfortable. I’m healing from a broken ankle so my legs are still working on getting their strength back, or at least my right one is. So in my head I reminded myself why I was doing this, I set a mileage goal and I kept going. I know I will be happy that I did it, I’m listening to my body and being patient with my progress instead of beating myself up for not increasing the tension. I actually pedaled one more mile because I kept encouraging myself to go for two more minutes. Believing in yourself is powerful. I’ve tried tearing myself down to motivate myself to exercise but that doesn’t work for very long.
I had a moment in a yoga class a few years ago where the instructor was saying something about showing gratitude to your body and I started to cry. My thought was “I just want to end this war.” I was so tired of fighting with my body. I thought, “what if I stay at this weight forever, would that be so bad?” And I sat with that for a long time. The answer is, no it wouldn’t be bad at all! I am strong, I am powerful, I can do any workout I want to, and there is no need for me to feel like I need to lose weight to be better than I already am.
If life happens and throws you a curveball and the reality suddenly does not match the expectations you had for yourself. Having an inner cheerleader can help ground you and help come to terms with unexpected changes. It’s ok to feel your raw emotions. Take a look at what the event has triggered inside you, and embrace it. Change is part of life, and having positive inner voices can help you thrive.