Want a Happier Life? Make Friends With Your Inner Critic

By Marilynn Preston

June 18, 2019 5 min read

Wherever you happen to be on the rewarding and rocky road to a healthier lifestyle, you'll travel more gently and feel more joy if you learn to make friends with your Inner Critic.

We all have one. Well, maybe not Donald Trump. He just says what he says, does what he does, amazingly free of self-doubt.

But in most of us, the Inner Critic is alive and kvetching, causing us to constantly question our behavior, our thoughts, our accomplishments: "How am I doing? Am I doing well enough — in my relationships, at work? Do others see what I'm doing? Do they approve?"

Psychologists call this critical voice the Standard Setter. (And you thought it was called Mom.) It's the part of the human psyche that sets the bar for us. It's a good thing in many ways, as a source of inspiration, as a spur to achievement.

It lets us know if we're measuring up.

But it has a dark side — the one that beat us up. And when we feel beaten up, we humans are much more likely to eat and drink too much, sleep too little, skip yoga class and otherwise ignore our own rules for living a healthier life.

So how do we silence our Inner Critic when it's leading us astray?

Here's the expert advice of Margaret Moore, author of the best-selling life-changing book "Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life." Moore is a force of nature in the evolving world of lifestyle coach training. She is co-founder of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard, and CEO and founder of Wellcoaches, an organization that's trained more than 9,000 health and wellness coaches in 45 countries. (Full disclosure: Including me.) To learn more about her work, visit www.coachmeg.com.

"To get out of the Inner Critic," Coach Meg teaches, "focus on the present moment."

Shift your attention to a flower, the sunshine. Stand up and stretch. Any of these mindful choices — conscious breathing is good, too — helps you shift your brain state to now, and from that place, you can be the more accepting, less judgmental person you want to be.

Here are a few more smart strategies and insights from Coach Meg:

ACCEPT YOURSELF. Meg has a favorite quote from Kristin Neff's book "Self-Compassion" that sets the tone for all the coaching strategies that follow: "Every cell is doing the best it can with the resources it has at hand."

Once you accept that, it's easier to shift your negative self-talk — "I'm not fast enough. I'm not thin enough." — to something more positive. "It's OK. This is the best I can do at this moment."

This accepting mindset helps calm the Inner Critic, says Coach Meg, making change more likely. A shame-and-blame mindset only creates suffering.

So does comparing yourself to others. When we go through life thinking he has more hair, more money, a cooler car, we fall into the black hole of envy, negativity and stress. "That makes it much harder to stay healthy," she explains.

LOWER THE BAR. When your Inner Critic says you're not good enough, and all your efforts to do better only deliver stress and frustration, Coach Meg encourages you to "let down the bar a little. ... It's a big lesson."

Accept failure as feedback and move on. That's resiliency. Shift out of judging mode and into accepting. Give yourself permission to move on to an activity that builds on your strengths and is more satisfying.

"Self-compassion is better than self-criticism," says Coach Meg, who bases her advice on the latest studies, especially in the area of neuroscience.

DON'T GRUMBLE. GROW. Next time your Inner Critic has you focused on failure, switch to a growth mindset, Coach Meg suggests. Inhale deeply, exhale slowly and ask yourself, "What's the lesson I can learn from all this?"

Gratitude trumps ineptitude. When your focus shifts from what you did wrong to being thankful for what you did right, the path to a healthier lifestyle lights up the sky, and suddenly, you're feeling a tremendous sense of well-being.

Take that, Inner Critic!

ENERGY EXPRESS-O! TRY THIS, TOO

"Close your eyes and imagine the best version of you possible. That's who you really are. Let go of any part of you that doesn't believe it." — C. Assaad

Marilynn Preston is the author of "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new Amazon best-seller "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being" is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

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