How to use your inner critique to develop your resilience and clarity
We all have an inner voice/critique that never shuts up. As author Michael A Singer points out: if you’re thinking “I don’t have a voice inside my head”, that’s the voice!
This voice can make an objectively great success feel awful. For example, you finish a project, people tell you it’s great, but the voice in your head says “It wasn’t good enough, I really should have done better”. Or you’re working with someone, you feel like things are going really well and then they make a face when you suggest something. You start thinking “they don’t like what I said, they don’t like anything I’ve said, this isn’t going well, this project won’t work, we’re going to fail etc.”
It can cause us to procrastinate as these endlessly distracting thoughts, judgements and insecurities bounce around as it says things like: “I should get this done but it’s hard, I wish it was easier, couldn’t I just not do it? But if I don’t do it now Sam will tell me I’m not working hard enough…”
It can make mountains out of mole hills and keep us up at night with incessant chatter that we can’t stop or control as it replays the day's events or the worries that are on our minds.
If we don’t learn to use it, it will almost certainly use us.
However, there are ways that you can use this inner critique to develop your resilience, your mental strength, your efficiency and your mental clarity at work. And doing this doesn’t require hard discipline or extraneous effort, it can in fact be a simple practice that brings you more energy and joy - wouldn’t that be nice.
A good first step is to really, truly, fully recognise that there is indeed a voice in your head. Become conscious of it. Right now, as you read this, can you take a moment to identify that voice? It might say things like “why am I reading this?” or “I wish the person next to me would be quiet” or “how much longer ‘till my next meal?”
We tend to think of this inner voice as being us, but that doesn’t seem to hold up under scrutiny. Why? Because you can listen to it, you can observe it. If you can do those things, then the question has to be asked: who is doing the listening? Who is doing the observing?
I believe (as many great teachers and wise people have said) that: it’s that part of you that listens and observes, that is you. The voice is just mental chatter, it’s not you.
This, in and of itself can be a fantastically liberating realisation. You’re not the voice. You’re not the critique. You’re not responsible for what it says. You’re not bad if the critique says “bad” things. You’re not good if the voice says “good” things. You’re you, and then there’s the voice. You’re the presence, the awareness behind the voice, observing the voice. You’re the wise person (awareness) watching a young kid (the critique/voice) run around in a craze on a sugar high.
Don’t believe everything your inner critic says
Very often, this inner critic says things that simply aren’t true. For example, it might say “Sally thinks I’m a bad leader and she’s trying to undermine my every move. If things don’t improve she’s going to put in a complaint and my life is going to become much more difficult.”
This could be true, but it could also be completely false. It’s good to question where this thought is coming from. What’s the hard evidence to support what it’s saying? If we investigate why we believe certain things, we’ll likely find that there’s very little hard evidence to support the case for it being true.
We regularly make all kinds of false assumptions. Whether it’s misinterpreting people’s facial expressions and actions, or making an error at work and immediately going to “I’m stupid”. This is partially because we perceive the world through our own problems and insecurities which makes our observations anything but clear. Very often it’s just wild misinterpretations stemming from our fears.
We tend to believe this inner voice without question. Singer brilliantly points out that this voice can be wrong again and again and again and again, and yet we still believe it 100%
How many times have you feared something that you were certain would happen but never actually took place? How many times have you thought someone liked you or didn’t like you only to find out the opposite? How many times were you sure you were in the right to blame someone for something only to find out the truth was completely different?
Singer writes that if we had a friend that gave us the advice this inner critic does, with the same track record of accuracy, we would never ask them for advice. In fact, we would probably ignore most of what they said or actively do the opposite. Yet we hardly ever question whether or not this voice is right.
Perhaps part of the reason we believe the voice without question is because we believe it is us without question. So become conscious of the voice and you will be less likely to follow it blindly off a cliff. Don’t believe everything the voice says.
Using the voice to develop our resilience and clarity
Every time you hear the voice (which is pretty much 24/7), you can use it to step back and realise you are the one observing the voice. You use it as a reminder to become conscious. By stepping back, you’re stepping back into who you are, you’re relaxing into an awareness that is more centred. You’re relaxing back into an awareness that isn’t riddled with ragging tantrums, insane judgements and impossible demands on how people, events and the world in general should be different.
Therefore, the more you hear the voice, the more incessant it becomes, the more it rains on your parade, the clearer the message becomes to step back, relax, release, become conscious, and observe it.
By going about it this way you’re not trying to control the voice or discipline it to do what you want it to do, or eliminate it and destroy all negative thinking for all time!!! You’re becoming conscious and relaxing - relaxing your shoulders, your chest, your stomach etc.
From this place, you have more clarity, you can make better decisions and work more effectively.
Singer writes that over time, as you continue to relax and release, it becomes less noisy. Your triggers and fears and insecurities get to be processed in this practice. The pull of being conscious becomes stronger than the pull of getting caught up in the thoughts and worries etc. Therefore over time you naturally become more resilient.
What to do when it’s an emotion instead of a thought
Sometimes you may not have a particular thought that’s bothering you. Sometimes it’s more of a feeling or a state of being that you’re getting caught up in. It could be a frenzied panic to get things done, it could be a pit in your stomach when you realise you have to face something difficult, it be anger towards someone who’s getting on your nerves or you might just be frustrated for no apparent reason.
In these situations, you can apply the same principle of stepping back, relaxing and observing, but you’re observing the reaction or the feeling rather than the voice. Just like you’re not the voice, you’re also not the feeling or the emotion, you’re the one having the feeling. But there’s another way that Singer phrases this that can be helpful here:
Singer talks about how negative feelings tend to cause us to “close”. In other words, when we feel happy and inspired, our hearts are open and there’s a natural flow of energy that invigorates us. But when something comes around that we don’t like, we sort of “shut down” or “close”. This cut’s us off from that energy that is within us.
This is a natural instinct from our hunter gatherer days, as this “closing” is what happens when we need to protect ourselves. Think about it visually: when someone is in love or feeling confident, they likely stand straight, welcome people with open arms, and have their head up. But when someone is fearful, they tend to be in physical postures that literally protect their torso. For example they might make themselves small, cross their arms and legs, bring their shoulders forward, pull their chest back, lower their head and look at what is immediately around them for signs of danger.
The thing is, we rarely face the kinds of physical danger our ancestors faced, such as lions, tigers and bears. Nowadays, “closing” is unhelpful in most situations. “Closing” often makes things worse because this state of being tends to make us think short term, we think about surviving rather than thriving. We’re less likely to see the bigger picture, communicate openly or take intelligent risks.
When we feel this sensation of “closing" beginning to take place, we can practice staying “open” or, as Singer puts, simply don’t close, keep your heart open. This is the time to process and release unhelpful triggers and stuck emotions. If we continue to close and protect ourselves, we will get triggered by the same thing the next time a situation like that comes around and the time after that, and the time after that etc
But when we practice not closing or staying open, we essentially grow from that negative experience. The problem becomes an opportunity to develop resilience, strength and true freedom from within.
Think about this: if you’re spending your time and energy getting caught up with what’s going on inside, how much energy and focus do you have left to deal with what’s actually going on outside?
A brief note if you choose to begin this process:
This is simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. It requires sitting with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This can be momentarily painful. However, you will have far less pain in the long run as you continue to relax and release. You will fail many times, that’s OK, because you will have endless opportunities to try again.
As with many things, getting started is the hardest and you may feel (as I did) whether you’re even doing it “right”. But if you stay open to it (see what I did there), it will become more natural and you will begin to see the benefits.
Singer recommends to start with the small things first before trying to master the biggest challenges in your life. For example, try it when you start getting frustrated in traffic. Try it when the weather doesn’t please you. Try it when you’re waiting in line to get your coffee. Try it now.
The untethered soul by Michael A Singer
What Do You Really Want? - Michael A. Singer: New Harbinger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-9j3AjdO3E
Tony Robbins and Michael A Singer | Breaking Patterns and Finding Inner Peace: Sounds True