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Silence your Inner Critic and Boost your Confidence!

inner critic self-confidence Feb 17, 2022

You’re ugly. You’re fat. You’re stupid. Your teeth are yellow and you have a huge pimple on your face. You’re not smart enough to figure this out. Your butt is HUUUGE!!!

Would we EVER say these things to our child, or to our best friend?
I hope not.

Yet, this is how we speak to ourselves way too often. About a year ago, when I was doing a business coaching program, one of the coaches once told me that beating ourselves up is probably our favourite pastime. I laughed, and in a way it was reassuring to know I wasn’t the only one, but on the other hand I felt alarmed that it's so widespread and that so many people suffer from this. This negative self-talk keeps us stuck, keeping us in our comfort zone.

Before jumping into solutions, let's understand why this is happening - and to so many of us- in the first place.

I have been reading up and researching this for the past two years, and here is my summary:

There are 3 main reasons.

1. Our archaic (limbic) brain.

Our brain is teflon for positivity and velcro for negativity. Why on earth would Mother Nature have created us this way?

For survival.

Imagine you’re in the savannah, millions of years ago (I haven’t checked my dates). As a hominid, and like any animal, your senses are on high alert, your highly anxious self jumps at every little movement of the grass, ready to fight or flight. Your limbic brain constantly scans for danger and detects the slightest change in your environment so you are ready for action: fight an animal (hunting) flee for your life, or freeze so no one notices you. This is called our negativity bias. 

Imagine, on the other hand, a very calm, happy-go-lucky hominid, who sees the grass move and relaxes into the soft breeze of the wind. Boom. The lion leaps out and our dear little hominid has no time to say bye to anyone. Oh well.

The problem is, while this archaic brain was useful thousands of years ago, it makes us miserable today, as it still does its job of constantly scanning for danger to keep us safe; it creates anxiety and lowers our self-confidence. 


2. Our need to belong.

Ever feel ashamed of yourself? It feels so awful we can genuinely wonder what the purpose of this emotion is. Yet there is one. The purpose is to keep us aligned with the group. Let me explain.

Our success as a species is also due to our social relationships and the groups we formed. We would NEVER, ever have made it on our own, and the protection of the group was an absolute necessity to survive.

Just like the function of pain is to prevent us from damaging our bodies, the function of shame is to prevent us from damaging our social relationships and remain part of the group.

Throughout history, societies everywhere have used shame to enforce expectations for how their members ought to behave toward one another. These shared expectations made it possible for human beings to live together, cooperate, and thrive. By defining the rules subject to shame and then shunning those who transgress, we define shared values that bring us together as a people. For example, honesty is  two trait heavily enforced by shame. Those who betray this value are encouraged to change if they want to reintegrate the group.

3. Our map of our inner world.

The third reason is linked to our experiences since we were born.

By age 7, our personality and the beliefs we have about ourselves are already formed. Let’s call this the map of your inner world.

When we are small, we draw conclusions from the way our carers respond to our needs. Put quite simply, if a baby’s needs are consistently ignored or responded to with screams, an angry face, reluctance, etc… the baby will develop a negative image of herself and draw conclusions like “I’m not worth anyone’s time, I am annoying, etc…” Her map of the world is dominated with anger and negativity, and she forms self-beliefs and an image of herself based on her carer’s response to her.

Now please be aware that as a parent, it’s impossible to respond adequately to every single need of our children, so please don’t start beating yourself up, especially if you tend to tell yourself you’re a bad mum. But that’s another topic.

If the carers respond adequately and with love most of the time, the map of the world she builds is one where love, appreciation and acceptance dominate. She will develop a positive image of herself, feel competent, accepted, and validated.

Now of course this is very black and white and it’s rarely all one or the other, but you get the picture.

So to summarise: our self-critic stems from our limbic brain, our need to belong, and our childhood experiences, from which you create your map of your inner world to navigate the outer world.

So, how do we change that?

First of all, we need to realise that the identity you built by the time you were 7 is no longer accurate. It was built based on specific set of circumstances that belong to the past. Those circumstances have changed, yet you keep navigating the world as though nothing had changed. You keep using the same map, and it's no longer accurate. 

Yet, the way we think, react and behave recreates the reality of our younger self on a daily basis. And that's why we remain stuck.

Here’s how I see it.

Imagine that you’re going to Paris, and the map you take with you is one your great grandfather had in 1930. It is now 2022 and there are entire suburbs that don’t exist on that map. And as a result, you don't go there, because you don’t know these suburbs  exist.

We do the same with our life: we navigate it with an outdated map and beliefs about ourselves that are not only outdated, but that most likely weren’t true in the first place. And then we stay stuck where we are, unaware that there are other ways to think and behave, and that they are entirely accessible to us... if only we knew how.

Well, here's how. At least it's a good starting point.

In my 3 three months "Confident and Empowered" coaching program, I have developed the PARC tool, and this acronym stands for Pause Aware Reflect Choose.

Here it goes.

Let’s imagine your boss is asking you to do something you have never done before, and you feel incompetent.

First step is P for Pause.
It’s important to pause the second you become aware of this feeling.
Why? So that you don’t go on auto-pilot believing what your mind tells you. The purpose of this step is to stop you in your tracks so you can choose a different response than the one that has kept you stuck until now. By pausing, you disrupt your usual metal pattern.

A is for AWARE:

Become fully aware of this negative thinking. Separate yourself by giving this voice a name. A student of mine called hers Negative Nancy. (I liked it so much I am calling mine the same!) So when she has negative and limiting thoughts, she pauses, and then says, “Oh here’s negative Nancy again” Thanks for your advice, but I’m trying something different now.

This step enables you to see that this thought is not part of who you are. It allows you to disengage from the thought and observe it as an external object. Plus, it allows you to really understand the power of your thoughts on your mental state. In psychology, this technique is called cognitive defusion.

R is for reflection.
This step is crucial, and that’s when many of my students have had interesting self-discoveries..

The more often you pause, the more you become aware of your thought pattern. Once you become aware of your patterns, allow yourself some mental space to reflect, and ask yourself: is this really my voice? Have I ever heard someone else say those things to me? If not my own voice, then whose voice is it?

Most of the time, these words are not ours. They were told  to us when we were too young to be able to reject these inaccurate comments. When we’re young, we think that we’re the ones at fault and we internalise everything. We haven’t developed the emotional and psychological resources to discern what is our fault and what isn’t.

Depending on what comes up, this stage can be difficult as very strong emotions and painful memories can resurface, and you may need external help.

C is for Choose.
Choose a more resourceful response.

You could say, well, I don’t know how to do this particular task, but I can learn. Let me find the resources I need (either ask someone, find YouTube videos, get trained, etc…). The most important part here is that you don’t get stuck in the “I can’t do this” self-talk (un-resourceful) but shift your thinking to “I can learn to do it” (resourceful).

Consciously CHOOSE to think this new, resourceful way.

At the beginning, this process can require you to sit down and write, and it’s actually a great way to go about it. Another great way to do it is to do it with a trusted friend, or a coach, in case the process brings back traumatic memories.

But when you become more comfortable with the PARC process, which happens in a matter of days, the four steps only take a couple of seconds and you can apply them in your everyday life easily.

The more you practice it, the easier it becomes, and eventually this way of thinking becomes second nature.

I’m not saying that your negative self-talk will disappear forever…. But negative Nancy - or whatever name you gave your inner voice- will speak less often, and won’t be as loud. Sometimes she might even make you laugh with all her negativity. But she will no longer keep you stuck.

So, from today, I am asking you to stop beating yourself up for all the things you are not.

Instead, pause, and observe these thoughts with curiosity and self-compassion.

When you observe your thoughts, you are changing your relationship with these thoughts.

When you give a name to that inner voice instead of believing it, and treat yourself with self-compassion, you are changing your relationship with yourself.

Both of these need to happen in order to raise your self-confidence, and it takes repetition, time and practice.