How to Quiet a Negative Inner Voice
Our inner critic can prevent us from being productive. Here are ideas to help.
Posted March 7, 2019
This past weekend I taught a memoir-writing workshop. Many of the participants had a memoir-in-progress and needed direction about one of the most difficult aspects of writing such as work—that is, determining the memoir’s focus and finding the best structure. While we covered these subjects and more, the one topic that kept rising to the surface was how to handle the negative self-talk or inner critic that tries to stop us from doing what our hearts are calling us to do.
The negative inner voice can be thought of as the voice in the back of our minds that feeds off our insecurities and anxieties. Some of the inner critic’s favorite sayings are: “I can’t do this,” “I should...,” “What’s wrong with you?” "Why didn’t you?” Sometimes these comments might give the speaker a sense of control, but other times it just feels as if it’s an annoying and persistent voice. Unless we have someone to tell us to silence that voice, it can be overwhelming and prevents us from achieving certain goals, such as writing a book.
Most of us are good at putting ourselves down, pushing away positive comments from others and accentuating the negative. That inner critic just seems to jump in uninvited. But thankfully, once in a while there’s a nagging voice that tells us to simply forge ahead with what our hearts are telling us to do. Writer Natalie Goldberg calls it “the monkey voice,” or the one that reminds us of all the things we ought to be doing other than writing. Others, such as author Danny Gregory, use the metaphor of a monkey on your shoulder who pushes you to worry about everything. The idea is that if you do so, then you’re prepared for every and any possible disaster. In her article “Silence Your Inner Critic,” Jena Pincott says, “The paradox of the inner critic is that it attacks and undermines you in order to protect you from shame.”
Many believe that regular meditation practice can help silence the inner critic and inspire us to be attentive to the messages of our hearts. Woven into that practice is self-love. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, in her book Real Love, reminds us that meditation is one way to remember our innate goodness, with the idea that when we reflect on our positive traits, we build a bridge to a place of self-compassion and caring.
During your meditation practice, it’s a good idea to focus on the idea of joyfulness. Remember that those who practice love for themselves and others are more likely to be happy. Salzberg advocates that if the critic emerges during meditation, allow it to evaporate like the clouds in the sky, and try to overpower it with positive thoughts and musings. The idea is to refrain from self-criticism. Engaging in this type of meditation over a period of time has its rewards, but like anything else, it takes practice to put the inner critic aside and focus on self-compassion and all the good things in your life.
The inner critic might have been with you since childhood when an adult told you that you weren’t good at something, and you’ve just been unable to get that voice out of your head. The first step in silencing the inner critic is becoming aware of its presence.
In the end, engaging in negative self-talk is counterproductive and unhelpful, so it’s vital that you continually remind yourself of your wonder and your worth.
Gregory, D. (2016). Shut Your Monkey. New York, NY: How Books.
Pincott, J. (2019). “Silence Your Inner Critic.” Psychology Today. March/April.
Salzberg, S. (2017). Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection. New York, NY: Flatiron Books.