Goodbye, Inner Critic—Hello, Inner Coach

Recently, I received some unexpected news—the lovely condo I rent is being put up for sale. The fact that I have to move has me questioning whether I want to pack up my life on the West Coast and head back East.

When I’m faced with making major life decisions, it’s not pretty. I ruminate over every possible choice countless times, ask all my friends what they think I should do because I don’t trust my gut, and, after I finally make a decision, I can’t stop wondering if it was the wrong choice. In short, I drive myself crazy—or the voice in my head does.

Lately, the voice is saying, “Leaving Los Angeles is copping out. You haven’t given it enough time. You’re weak. You’re lazy. You’re going to regret it.” Meet my Inner Critic. She’s hell on wheels.

Kripalu invited presenter Jane Shure knows this voice well. A psychotherapist, leadership coach, and cofounder of the Resilience Group, Jane says, “The Inner Critic blames and shames and reminds us that we’re falling short. It’s the voice that says, ‘That was stupid. You should have done it differently.’”

This confidence-undermining voice develops over time. “When we live with disapproving parents, teachers, or friends, we internalize their harsh messages,” says Shure’s Resilience Group cofounder, licensed psychologist and leadership coach Beth Weinstock. “Our brains literally develop patterns that repeat their negativity in the form of critical self-talk.”

To quiet the Inner Critic, Jane and Beth say we need to build our Inner Coach. That may mean training ourselves to tolerate the discomfort that comes when we refrain from self-criticism and use more encouraging language with ourselves. They have a few recommendations for bringing your Inner Coach to the forefront.

Step 1: Become aware of the Inner Critic’s voice. “Become mindful,” says Beth. “Start writing down what it’s saying.” I’ve tried it, and I’m amazed at how self-sabotaging my Inner Critic is. “If you had been wiser, you would have done X, and then Y wouldn’t have happened. If you were stronger, you would do this, not that.” It goes on and on.

Step 2: Counter the Inner Critic’s voice. Jane suggests talking back to the voice—on paper or out loud—as a caring friend might, saying things like, “What was so foolish about that decision? You did the best you could with the information you had at the time,” or “Why do you think you aren’t strong? You showed a lot of strength when you (fill in the blank).”

Jane especially likes countering the voice out loud. “When we hear ourselves,” she says, “we gain more clarity about our inner thought processes, and we’re more able to step away from the assumption that our self-criticism is correct. We can celebrate our ability to come to our own defense.”

Step 3: Practice the voice of the Inner Coach. “Begin saying supportive and encouraging things to yourself,” Beth says, “like, ‘You’re smart and talented enough.  Perfection doesn’t exist—you did a fine job. You have nothing to apologize for.’”

Change doesn't happen overnight, of course, but Jane says that one of the effects of quieting the Inner Critic is a greater feeling of peace. “When we come from a positive framework,” she explains, “the neural circuitry of the brain activates calming neurochemicals that make it easier to cope, and then the whole body-mind system can be more understanding and compassionate.”

I’m not quite ready to start talking to myself out loud, but I’ve been writing in a journal, practicing countering my Inner Critic with my Inner Coach. I think it’s going to take some time for my Inner Coach to become my habitual voice, but I like what she’s saying to me: “You’re not weak; you’re brave. It took a lot of courage to move to the West Coast on your own. But, if you’re feeling like you don’t want to stay, you’re not running away. You’re honoring who you are and what you need in order to thrive.” When I hear that voice, I can breathe.

Portland Helmich is the creator, host, and producer of the Kripalu Perspectives podcast series. She has been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer for more than 15 years.

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Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

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