Everyone has an inner critic. Some of us have a whole garage band full of them! Self kindness and care is fundamental to happiness and success in all areas of life, and we can’t take good care of ourselves without addressing and managing the way we talk to ourselves. We can tune our inner radios to stations that can either cheer us on or cut us down – and we get to choose.
According to meditation teacher Jeff Warren, using “humor and irreverence to good-naturedly undermine the authority of our inner critics” is one of the best ways to shush our internal negative self-talk—and give ourselves the space and courage to get on with it already, whatever ‘it’ is, without the running negative commentary that bums us out and hedges us in.
Here’s how to do it.
HOW TO UNDERMINE THE INNER CRITIC
1. NOTICE when the negative tape starts playing and your inner critic chimes in (my hair is too big and I’m going to fail at life today? Ohhhh-kay, wait a sec.)
2. NAME it / give it a funny persona (the possibliities are endless—some examples below!)
3. UNDERMINE it by good-naturedly imitating it in the voice of the funny persona, which softens its authority, allows you to stop taking it so seriously, and maybe even cracks you up, instead.
why this is useful:
– We train ourselves to NOTICE the inner critic instead of mindlessly listening to it all the time, and by noticing it we can choose to react differently to it.
– By using lightheartedness and humor, the critic’s AUTHORITY starts to collapse and we can see it for what it really is: a bossy and unhelpful voice in our head that makes us feel smaller and less capable than we actually are and can be or become.
– It can brighten the moment and our mood, and even make us laugh, giving us a little HAPPINESS BOOST instead of bumming us out – and we know from Positive Psychology that happiness actually opens us up and allows us to think more clearly, calmly, and creatively.
Jeff calls this process ‘The Swedish Chef Trick’ because when he notices his own inner critic chime in, he imitates it in the voice of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets (“Merndi shmerndi berndi…!”). I’ve tried this one and can attest to both its hilarity and its power. Another celebrated meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg, think of her inner critical voice as well-meaning but self-important Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon and, rather than imitating it per se, uses the refrain “Chill out, Lucy” whenever she notices the voice start fussing up.
I’ve always had a particular affection for the cheerful spirit and good-natured humor of the Muppets, so I’ve been thinking of my own inner critics as those two guys in the balcony—remember them? The tall one (Statler) and the short one (Waldorf) who are always wise-cracking each other and razzing everybody from their little perch up above the action?
That’s pretty much what our inner critics are doing if left unchecked. They hang out in the background with their popcorn and do this running critique of our show.
By putting my inner criticisms into the voices of Statler and Waldorf, shouting back and forth and heartily “ho-ho-ho!”ing at their own cheeky wit every time, I can see the nonsense of it all for what it is, and I can even laugh about it. These two ridiculous old fellows are hanging out in my head, uninvited, acting like they’re experts while trying to out-zinger each other and sometimes falling out of their seats? I think they’re in charge?! Give me a break. These guys are hilarious—and they aren’t even the real issue.
Give your inner critic(s) a name and persona.
Spend some time today trying to notice when your inner critics are piping up and then imitate their critique in this persona. Notice how you feel when their authority is undermined. You can also try Sharon’s brilliantly simple refrain, “Chill out, Lucy” (or Waldorf, or whomever).
Next, see if you can add someone else into the mix: an inner cheerleader.
Make a list of 3-5 characters, real or imagined, who you love and admire, and who you’re 100% certain do or would have your back. (Some of my inner cheerleaders are: my very favorite teacher from my 21 years of school, writer Toni Mirosevich; Gandalf, from The Lord of The Rings; the inimitable Jonathan Van Ness of Queer Eye; and my cherished-from-afar Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh).
Once you’ve subverted the authority of your inner critic, invite your inner cheerleader to have a go.
What would this character say in this circumstance to cheer you on? Picture their face and hear their voice. Trust them and listen to them. As you move into your next moment and the ones that follow it, bring that voice along instead of your inner Debbie Downer’s. Notice the often big difference this little shift can make.
…AND THIS (FOR CREATIVES):
Next time you’re working (painting, writing, music-making, photographing, imagining, designing, etc., etc.) have a quick check-in with one of your inner cheerleaders, then get to work and turn all the voices down but that one. Two of my favorite personal sayings for my own work are START WILD and FOLLOW THE WEIRD. Work without censoring yourself whatsoever. Some weird path unfurling? Great! Let’s follow it to see where it goes.
Want to mix those two weird colors? Do it, use it. Do it again.
Want to take your protagonist into a closet that turns out to be a portal to a parallel dimension? In you both go. Close the door behind you. Keep going.
Sing nonsense. Resuscitate a bug. Play all the wrong notes on purpose, or everything at once. Take eleven pictures with your eyes closed. Put a square thing on top of a round thing. Levitate it. Knock the whole thing over.
Start small and experiment and don’t think about what you’re doing – if you keep your inner cheerleader cheering in the background and just keep doing instead of thinking, your inner critic won’t have any space to shut things down by trying to clean things up.
Make a mess and enjoy it. Creativity is fun, that’s why you do it! You can pick through it later to see what treasures you got. For now, just do and keep the right tape rolling in the background. It’s probably impossible to turn the inner critic off completely, but with practice, we can at least turn the volume down some and find our groove in peace.
Breathe, love, be well, and stay tuned for more! xo, ali
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