There are often discussions on how to tame your ‘Inner Critic’, or ‘Negative Voice’, sometimes referred to as stamping out the ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’ or ‘ANTs’, which seem to race around some peoples’ brains and multiply at speed.

Side Effects of ANTs

Having an inner critic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are an impulsive individual who may make rash decisions and take too many risks.  Our ancestors relied on their ‘Inner Judge’ to identify whether they were strong enough to ‘fight’ the woolly mammoth or whether they needed to take ‘flight’ and get to safety.  Unfortunately nowadays with a more complex life the Inner Critic has so much more to comment on and so many more comparisons to make with other people’s lives, jobs, even holidays, as many recent studies have shown regarding the negative reactions some friends have to other’s happy postings on Facebook and the associated Fear of Missing Out!

These ‘ANTs’ or false beliefs are a pattern of destructive thoughts towards others and ourselves.  They are often the cause of certain types of behaviours that inhibit a person’s ability to adjust to particular situations and relationships; they may breed more inward thinking, distrust, self-denial, addictions, more self-criticism and often prevent us from achieving our goals.

In order to coach your Inner Critic it is necessary to improve one’s self-awareness, self-belief and self-esteem.  This isn’t easy as negative messages travel from a certain part of the brain and reach our conscious mind very quickly.  The left side of the brain is associated with positive emotions like happiness, joy, pleasure and the control of emotions. The right side of the brain is associated with negative emotions, such as anger, sorrow, being moody and bad-tempered, and the expression of emotion.

Unfortunately some of these negative messages originated in childhood when sometimes inadvertently a parent, guardian, school teacher or peer may have made a hasty comment such as ‘You’re so bad at Maths’, which made you doubt your ability, made you nervous before the Maths lesson or exam, and as a result you acted out the belief and got a low mark, reinforcing the negative beliefs and sometimes even creating phobias and superstitions.  If the negative thoughts are overwhelming and someone is suffering from clinical depression it is advisable to seek professional help and engage in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

When to listen to your inner critic?

Our attitudes determine our thoughts, behaviour and influence perceptions and feelings which in turn affect our behaviour. Often our perceptions of ourselves are based on what we tell ourselves and we tend to act out our attitudes, such as thinking we can’t cook then burning a meal. Listening to the inner critic leads to self-limiting behaviour and reinforcing negative consequences, as people often make their actions correspond to their mental attacks on themselves.

In addition we tend to focus on situations that have gone badly wrong, often over dramatize these situations, and become very worried about them recurring. Self-deprecation is part of the British sense of humour and culture and only serves to reinforce negative thoughts, whereas in the US people tend to be quicker to praise.

Ahead of an important meeting, presentation or interview, negative head chatter can lead to a downward spiral or a ‘disabling attitude’ with confidence levels decreasing, which in turn negatively affects our body language and leads to ‘body language leakage’ such as blushing, palms becoming sweaty, hands shaking and even losing one’s voice completely.  The Inner Voice saying ‘You always make a mess of things’ positively reinforces the message and derails attempts to do a better job.  Even if you try to give yourself positive messages you don’t believe it and lose perspective on the facts and reality of the situation.

To silence your inner critic use this practical 12-point plan on a regular basis:

1. Identify situations and people who may contribute to your negative thoughts and develop a SMART action plan to deal with each of them

2. Make a list of all your qualities, interests and activities you enjoy which make you unique; refer back to the list in difficult times

3. Write down your negative thoughts and counter them with a more realistic or factual view of yourself.  ‘Just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true.’

4. Ask yourself often:  ‘What is really important and what really matters?’  Chances are it’s not what your jealous neighbour, colleague or sibling thinks!

5. Remember that you wouldn’t criticise a friend as much as you criticise yourself!

6. Ask yourself: ‘What would your best friend or Coach say or do?’

7. Embrace your imperfections and stop trying to be a Perfectionist

8. Replace inner negative messages with positive statements such as: ‘I used to be rubbish at presentations but since the course I’ve become good at them.’

9. Build up a list of positive statements and experiences to repeat often: ‘I have a right to present to these people because I have excellent knowledge to share.’

10. Make a list of all the positive feedback and references you have received from friends, clients, and your boss

11. Banish from your Vocabulary: CAN’T, DON’T, WON’T, SHOULDN’T, COULDN’T, WOULDN’T and remember the words of Henry Ford: ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right’

12. Write down your all your Achievements and Accomplishments, either in or outside work and refer to them often

Remember that we have 100% responsibility for our own behaviour, reactions and choices, so if we breathe more slowly, take our time, and give ourselves positive messages, we can improve the way we present, lead, manage, negotiate and deal with key decisions, difficult people and situations, at the same time improving stress levels.

Coaching Negative Head Chatter is an important part of many Coaching Sessions and Behavioural Change Programmes dealing with the development of a wide range of skills from Assertiveness, Conflict Resolution, Decision Making, Negotiating and Influencing, Presenting, and Stress and Lifestyle Management