How to REALLY Conquer the Critical Voice Inside Your Head

We all have it. That nagging, whining—sometimes yelling—voice in our head that tells us we’re not good enough, we’re doing it all wrong, and we’ll never get it right. I’m willing to bet that even Einstein heard that voice from time to time.

Because if you’re a human who is trying to achieve something cool, that critical little voice will definitely show up.

What makes the critical voice so challenging to deal with is the way we confront it. Most of us adopt one of two stances when the voice starts talking. We either try to beat it (with counter-arguments) or join it (by helping it in the process of tearing us down). Neither approach works.

If you have begun working toward the practice of self-love and self-acceptance, you most likely will try to beat the voice by resisting it. You might try to convince that critical voice that it’s wrong, or you might try plugging your ears and ignoring it. Both are forms of active resistance, and active resistance only feeds it.

It’s like when someone tells you not to think about a white elephant. What’s the first thing you’re going to think about? And what’s going to play in the background of your thoughts for the next hour while you try to think about other things?

What you can do is move outside of the beat-it-or-join-it mindset and bring in a really cool new perspective that can be incredibly helpful in silencing the critical inner voice.

The key is to gently redirect the flow of your thoughts.

The next time your critical inner voice shows up and starts haranguing you with: “You can’t do that. You’re not good enough. You won’t be successful.” You can listen to the voice respectfully and then respond with: “That’s an interesting viewpoint. I’d like to find out for myself though. I’m going to try it just to see what happens.”

The trick is to treat your inner critical voice as if it were a four-year-old child having a temper tantrum. Because the truth is that the critical voice just doesn’t have the tools or the knowledge to understand that there is a more effective way to go about things. It honestly believes that its job is to protect you from getting hurt—and that means it has to block you from taking creative risks.

If you want to take this exercise even further, you can listen closely to the critical voice and try to identify whose voice it is. Sometimes it’s a parent or an aunt or uncle we felt never accepted us. Sometimes it’s an old teacher we clashed with in school. And sometimes it uses our own voice as a mask.

However your inner critical voice shows up, take the time to thank it for trying to protect you and then gently redirect the flow of your thoughts into a more playful, open mind space. This is a constant practice and it will get easier over time. It’s also part of being human, we all go through it.

You can start today. When your critical inner voice shows up, give it a pat on the head and then—gently—show it the door.

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13 Comments

  • Reply Catherine North 20 March, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks for this, Lauren – my critical voice has been having a real go at me today, so your post showed up just at the right moment! It’s a relief to know we all experience this. 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 20 March, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      It seems like it’s been having a go at everyone the past few days! I actually had a different post slated for this morning and then something told me: “Nope. You’ve got to write about that critical voice today.” So I wrote this one on the fly and went with it. So happy to hear it resonated with you. 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca Vance 20 March, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks, Lauren! I really needed to hear this today! Just last night, I was overcome with doubt, this small voice that you speak of. It was telling me that I could never do it. I asked for advice and didn’t really like what I received. I wondered if my entire plot had failed once again. I was feeling so down. I didn’t really talk it down or defeat it–since it was late, I went to bed–taking the Scarlett O’Hara approach. I am still not sure. Many in the WU thread, told me that my story idea was actually two different plots and should probably be two separate books. I feel that the other story (subplot?) was central to my story. Have I been so wrong? Sorry, if I am confusing here. I will try to condense what I am speaking about. My story is a paranormal mystery. It is about a 37 year old woman who is helping her uncle renovate an old parlor house to its old splendor. He sends her there to help her get away from the press, since new evidence comes to light about her parents’ murder/disappearance from 30 years previously. While at the old parlor house, my MC encounters the ghost of the madam who owned it and wants my MC to assist her in solving her murder from 1871. Sorry for the long description. I still have to learn how to do taglines more succinctly. Well, it does contain a lot of back-story. My question was at what point do you decide whether to do one stand alone book, or a series. That was when I was told that I should to two books and weave the childhood events into the present story and do the ghost separately. My issue is the ghost is supposed to be helping the MC grow by the end of the story, so I thought it was important. Now I am more confused than ever. It is so apparent that I am a newbie, isn’t it? LOL Thanks for your help and for reading all this. 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 20 March, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      Hi Rebecca, I think it really depends on how far along you are in the manuscript. If you’re only halfway through writing the first sloppy draft, I don’t think you’re going to know until you write ALL of it down. When you have a finished sloppy first draft–and it doesn’t matter HOW sloppy it is, as long as you have all the pieces of the story down on the physical page–you will then be able to see the whole thing and make the call on whether it should be split up into two novels or trimmed down into one.

      I realize that it entails a lot of writing, and that it seems like it would be shorter and easier to decide right from the start and then only write that story. But writing a novel is messy business. And even if you do “only write one” that second story is still going to be boiling up inside you trying to get out.

      So to answer to your question: At what point do you decide whether to do one stand alone book, or a series?

      You decide when you’re finished writing and you’re ready to move onto editing.

      Does that make sense?

  • Reply Rebecca Vance 20 March, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Thanks, yes that does make sense. My problem is I haven’t even started writing it yet! I have been trying to plot it first, and it wasn’t coming together. I was trying to make them connect, but all I was getting is a lot of back-story, which is not a good thing! Thanks for your response. 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 20 March, 2014 at 3:57 pm

      Yes, definitely write first and then start asking questions later. That’s one of the number one difficulties I see writers come up against. They feel they have to plot out the entire novel before they even start writing. I know it can feel very uncertain and risky, but just start writing. Trust your characters and trust yourself. Your characters know what they’re doing–they chose YOU to tell their story for a good reason.

  • Reply Carolyn Menke 20 March, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Great post ! My WIP is giving me all kinds of problems. I know the story I want to tell, but it’s so close to me that I can’t figure out the best way to do it justice. I keep trying to forge ahead, but then I end up off on tangents and need to stop and rewrite. I typically write scene by scene, perfecting as I go, rather than a complete first draft. Any advice? thanks.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 20 March, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Hi Carolyn, my advice is to stop rewriting as you go and trying to perfect things. It will be most helpful if you let your creativity loose in all its sloppy, messy, colorful glory and really ride that wave of creativity to the end of the sloppy first draft. We call it a “sloppy first draft” for a reason. It’s supposed to be sloppy. When you have a complete sloppy first draft, that will be the time that you can go back and bring in the rational, nit-picky, careful energy of editing. Writing and editing are two opposite energies and when you switch back and forth rapidly between them, more often than not, your creative muscle gets drained and gives up.

      • Reply Carolyn Menke 20 March, 2014 at 9:18 pm

        so true. You describe it so well! Okay, something is clicking here and I’m on a roll. I am feeling really free ! I hate outlining, but thought that if I did it this time, this one would be easier, but you are absolutely right. I have to muddle through just like I did before and trust myself. I think i feel pressure to have each chapter as well edited as possible for my critique group each time I submit… oh well ! Thank you for the great advice!!

        • Reply Lauren Sapala 21 March, 2014 at 9:36 am

          You are so very welcome Carolyn! Critique groups can be really great–when you’ve reached the editing stage. But when you’re still in the writing stage it’s most helpful to keep your work close to you so you can nurture it through those first rough stages. It’s kind of like having a baby and then immediately trying to give it piano lessons. Babies are just not there yet. Instead of piano lessons, they need to be cuddled and held, and also for someone to be there to change their diapers! Think of your fledgling manuscript as a baby that you’re either still carrying or you’re giving birth to.

          We’ll cross all the future bridges when we come to them! 😉

  • Reply Amy 20 March, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Perfect timing! Just this afternoon my inner voice was telling me “You see how this person writes, why would you ever think you could write this good?” Your reminder of how to deal is just what I needed! Thank you

  • Reply Robyn LaRue 22 March, 2014 at 11:02 am

    That nasty little voice gets louder if I let myself get too tired or hungry or overwhelmed. Managing those things helps. Otherwise, it’s busy pointing out others and comparing me, so I often tell it “that’s okay, they are great role models.” Great post and something we all need to work on. 🙂

  • Reply Glynis Jolly 22 March, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    I believe that critical voice is mine. I’ve been encouraged to do what I want to the best of my ability most of my life. And when I wasn’t getting this support, I wasn’t getting anything. Those voices were silent.

    When I’m telling myself that I’m not going to be able to do it, no matter what it is, I will add ‘right now’, even if I have to force myself to say these two little words. When you put the whole thing together, ‘I’m not going to be able to do it right now’, it opens up the future.

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