Do you have a voice inside your head that never shuts up? Does this voice have an opinion on EVERY little thing? I can imagine you’re nodding yes. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. You and the rest of the world have what Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, refers to as an “inner roommate.” You may know it as your Inner Critic.
The voice will try to protect you (Did I remember to turn off the stove?) and will narrate mundane events (Was that a squirrel that just ran by? I wonder where it came from.)
Note: you are not the other person who is communicating with your inner roommate- your inner roommate is in there talking to itself! You’re just the one who is observing your thoughts, i.e., listening to a chatty person go on all day.
The most disruptive thing your inner voice does is give you negative feedback and advice—which of course, you try hard to ignore. When it jumps to the conclusion that your bae is cheating and it turns out she/he’s was secretly planning a surprise birthday party for you, you’ll be glad you had the good sense not to act on its “advice” to key their car.
There’s a lot the voice gets wrong but the best response is not to silence it, as many people recommend. Because despite being so terrible at it, your inner voice is really trying to help you. What you want to do instead is to try and understand its motivation, then retrain it to be a better friend to you.
In this post, we are going to look at a 3-step process I use to help clients make the switch.
Step 1: Personify Your Inner Critic
You do this to remind yourself that you are not your mind—you are entirely separate. The mind can be described as the perspective a person has of his or herself—your thoughts, emotions, memories, desires, beliefs, fears, etc.
By personifying your inner critic, you stop identifying and believing the things your mind projects onto you that may trick you into thinking the negative thoughts are real.
It may sound silly, but giving your inner critic a different name is going to help you a lot! It will help you to differentiate who you are from who your inner voice perceives you to be.
Try using a positive or neutral-sounding name! Need help coming up with one? No problem! A Google search for “adjective-sounding names” brought me to this list. If you didn’t find one you like on that list, try different searches like mystical female names, god/goddess names, or whatever it is you’re looking for.
Step 2: Learn What Motivates Your Inner Critic
In The Untethered Soul, Singer shares a 12-step path to spiritual awakening. For step 2, he tells us to “realize that you are not okay in there.”
“If you want to understand why you’ve done everything you have ever done, if you want to see what’s really going on, just observe your mind and emotions — just experience your inner state.”
What’s happening, says Singer, is that your mind has taken on the responsibility of figuring out how everything needs to be in order for you to be okay.
Your work now is to experience (observe, not engage) the incessant chatter as you try to figure out what its underlying message (or fear) is. It could be trying to tell you:
“Help… I want to stop procrastinating but I don’t know how to.”
“I never got over being locked in the closet when I was 7.”
“I’m always tired and I get easily overwhelmed.”
“My mother’s unkind words keep playing in my head.”
“I’m afraid I’ll be lonely forever.”
Your inner critic’s main motivation is to protect you from what could happen if you continue to ignore that you’re not okay. With constant criticisms is how it tries to grab your attention. Much like a child throwing a tantrum, any attention—negative or positive—is good attention.
To help you figure out your inner critic’s motivation, there are two tools I highly recommend: Journaling and meditation.
Meditation helps the mind become calm and keeps us grounded, centered, and clear. Something we all need, am I right? Journaling is a way to record the many obstacles that may interrupt your daily life. Write down the things that stress you out, bother you, or hurt you, and in a short time, you should be able to see a pattern.
Step 3: Retrain Your Mind
Although the process of completely retraining your mind can take a long time, some of you will turn your inner critic into a friend in as little as a few weeks or months. Like other personal growth work, it comes down to how much time you put into it and (ahem) how stubborn you are at letting go.
Here are six great tools to retrain your brain:
- Subliminal reprogramming software and affirmations.
- Activities that put you in a state of flow- such as dancing, playing the drums, exercising, writing, and reading.
- Some forms of talk therapy, like counseling, peer-to-peer support, and journaling. These options provide a healthy outlet for your emotions and thoughts (both positive and negative).
- Getting your needs met- starting the work of healing trauma and working on underlying issues.
- Respond to your inner critic in a healthy, caring, and friendly way.
In time, you will notice yourself becoming calmer and the voice becoming less critical. The criticism will turn into gentle reminders, encouragement, and helpful messages when you’ve successfully turned your inner critic into a friend.
Your inner voice will become more supportive because it’s no longer scared shitless by the problems you’ve been avoiding. The incessant chatter will subside because you have other avenues to share your thoughts (journaling, therapy, and support groups) and more joyful experiences that put you in a state of flow so you will be thinking less.
Christine is a Life Strategist and Emotional Health Coach living in Los Angeles. She's big on meditation and believes in systems and routines, and in personalizing everything you do to help you get where you want to be.