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5 Immediate and Easy Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ~William Shakespeare

I love to paint. I’m not a professional artist. I have no technique, and I am not trained. But I love how the brush feels as it dips into color and moves across a white page.

Painting allows me to be free, to have fun and play. It also does something else: It shows me how I judge myself and how I can get in my own way. It reveals what I believe about myself that stops me from creating whatever I want.

Even as I take joy in the process of painting I still hear the inner-critic in my head:

“This flower is not pretty enough. It should be purple, not red.”

“Make this face look good so others can recognize what a good painter you are.”

“You can’t paint just for the sheer joy of it—you need to be doing more productive things with your time.”

“It’s ugly, and when people see it, they’re going to think you’re weird.”

The judge inside me likes to tell me how bad I am. He mocks me, teases me, and pushes me around. He’s mean, insensitive, and determined to hold me back.

When we engage in a project, whether it is the beginning, the middle, or the end, the judge loves to get involved. Although the judge is very unoriginal and speaks to each of us very much the same, his judgments take on hundreds of forms.

The judge is most definitely a thief, robbing us of our innate goodness, worth, talent, values, and ability. He makes us believe in illusions, wreaks havoc on our spirit, and causes chaos in our mind.

He likes to break our ego and tell us we are not enough and bad. He likes to tell us we are not loved and not cared about—that we don’t matter.

He even likes to stroke our ego and puff us up, telling us how good we are, how special and how unique. “Look how beautiful that purple flower is. Look how very talented you are. When people see this, they’re going to find you very special.”

He loves to break us and stroke us. He loves to seduce us and tempt us. He loves to make us doubt ourselves.

So how do we silence this inner critic and put him in his place?

The first and most important step is to identify the judge. Much of the time we have become so accustomed to his woven web in our mind, we aren’t even aware when he’s speaking.

If you’re working on something and all of a sudden you start questioning yourself, if you feel your energy decreasing, if you’re getting stuck, bored, or tired, recognize the judge is speaking to you.

Listen, but don’t take his words to heart. See him so that he doesn’t hang out in a distant corner manipulating you from above.

Identify him with presence rather than pushing him way. Because what we resist will persist!

Once you see him, here are 5 immediate and easy ways to respond to your inner critic. It’s so simple that it may seem unrealistic, but it works. Memorize it and keep it close like a mantra.

When your inner critic acts out, say:

1. So what?

So what if you think that? That doesn’t mean it’s true.

2. Who cares?

You think your judgments means something to me? They don’t!

3. Big deal!

Oh seriously, big deal! Really, big f’n deal!

4. Why not?

Why shouldn’t I do this? You’re telling me I can’t? I won’t? I’m not worthy of it? Why not? I’m going to continue doing this anyway, because I can! No matter what you say, I’m going to just keep diving in.

5. What if it doesn’t matter if I am __________________ or not?

Fill in the critic’s judgment here. For example, what if it doesn’t matter if it’s good enough or not? If it’s weird and people might find me strange?

What if it doesn’t matter if it shows my talent and I will be recognized by others for it or not?

And even, “What if it doesn’t matter if it’s beautiful or not, because I’m going to keep giving myself permission to keep on painting anyway no matter what you say!”

Feel how these questions empower you, and whatever you are doing, keep doing it anyway. Keep meeting the dream, the project, your creative expression.

Keep going, forging ahead, building one block at a time.

The inner judge rarely goes away. As long as we have minds, he will continue to find ways to torture us. But we can identify him and say: “I see you, judge!”

When we identify the inner critic like this, we take away his power and regain our own.

Avatar of Lynn Newman

About Lynn Newman

Lynn Newman’s (aka Lynn Zavaro) book and card deck set, The Game of You™- An Interactive Way To Know Yourself, Create The Life You Want offers a powerful, profound and FUN experience of self-discovery and transformation. Her board game, The Game of Insight comes out soon. She has currently finished her memoir. Visit her at gameofyou.com.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Anonymous

    I have been reading your site for a while but haven’t posted a comment as of yet and i just have to say that i love it! It’s so wonderful to wake up in the morning and read a post or two, its refreshing and goes great with my morning cup of coffee.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks so much, Miranda! I love running Tiny Buddha, and I always appreciate that so many inspiring writers share their stories and insights with the community. Lynn’s posts have really resonated with me, as it sounds like we have had some similar experiences. Incidentally, if you’d ever like to contribute to the blog, you are more than welcome! I have submissions guidelines here:

    http://tinybuddha.com/get-featured/

    Happy Tuesday =)

    Lori

  • Anonymous

    I am always amazed at what comes before me just when I need it.  Thank you for this post on a day I am in need of shutting up my inner critic!

  • Summer

    WOW - amazing!  Thanks for such great, inspiring, intellgent information!

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Excellent advice, Lynn. I thought everybody had an inner critic or judge, don’t they? always there in the background? I too am a casual painter and an inner critic. I have a suggestion to add to your list of ways to deal with my critic. Retraining!

    As an artist and writer, I have had to learn to deal with other people’s criticism. One way I deal is to seek the grains of truth in what the person is saying. I figure there’s always something to improve in my work, right? So instead of getting insulted or upset, I try to remember to seek that kernel of truth and then turn inward to see how it might contribute to my own improvement. It helps take the sting out of the criticism.

    So then I figured maybe I could get my internal critic to be just as helpful as external critics. I like how you described the first step: “Identify [her] with presence.” So I’m like, “OK, if you have something to say to me, please make it constructive.” Takes a while to cut through the surface thoughts, but behind my inner critic’s comments I can often find hints of a new direction I might take, or a change for the better, something to hone, or something to add to or subtract from my piece that might enhance it. Sometimes it’s that very critic who can help me get past a block or stuck place in my creativity — she gets me mad enough to stop what I’m doing and listen to something different.

    Funny thing is, when I try to put the inner critic to work constructively, quite often she’ll just shut up — perhaps she’s just too lazy to do the real kind (the good kind) of work, LOL!

  • Adele Uddo

    God knows I’ve wrestled with a pretty mean inner critic most of my life (I like to call him “Choid”). He’s always there reminding me of how defective and unworthy I am. And then, as you point out, on occasion he tries convincing me of how Brrrriliant I am! Welcome to my inner seesaw-psychology. I LOVE the mantra you recommend of “So What, You Cares, Big Deal, Why Not.” This is very helpful and practical advice I will take to heart next time Choid starts ranting about my flaws (or raving about how special I am).

  • Chiromanx

    Wow. Great advice.

  • Rashmie @ Gorgeous Karma

    Realistic article and rings true in my heart. Most of us have that detractor within us that’s bigger than the biggest naysayer outside. This detractor is always testing us and teasing us. Only way we can override this negative voice is to listen to the voice of our heart and soul with clarity and respect. The inner voice that emerges from the soul has the power to silence that negative force.

    What an amazing platform you have provided, dear Lori, for a writer to express his voice – no matter how famous or not she/he is. Thank you for the daily dose of inspiration.

  • http://medtopicwriter.com/ Samantha Gluck

    Really nice post! I’ve gotten better at discerning which critical thoughts truly need addressing (and there are plenty) and which are simply brain trash. That’s what my hubs calls unfounded self-criticism — brain trash. He says, “Just like you have to take out the trash every Monday and Thursday from your home, you’ve gotta take out the trash from your brain as well. Keep criticisms that are valid and burn the rest.”

  • Ahwongsifu

    This is exactly what happen when I sit down to meditate 5am in the morning. The judge is always there, sometimes stress build up, my  work come into picture, conflict at work, strong opinion on matters, unresolved problem. If I dwell into it, I will build up emotion from those judgement. I build anger, frustration, hate and even revenge. I will soon give up and forget about my precious morning meditation. If I can’t resolve this judgement, I will never get to meditate. I soon found some methods to resolve such judgement. What ever come to my mind it is always attached with some form of emotion such as anger, frustration, revenge, etc and most of the time it is very emotional. I will just let it go without further judgement, whether it is good or bad or ugly. I just let it go. Stop every thought, break up every emotion, find a way to let go. Come back to the now and don’t drift into the past. Soon you can just stop those judgement with a word, and that is how the guru(s) maintained their inner peace.
    Every morning I spend sometime on this blog because it has beautiful photos and usually these photos give me some form of inner peace. Example sunrise, those photos in this blog give me a true picture of sunrise and its so beautiful. One way of letting go is to have that image in your mind all the time. 
    But sometime the judgement will not go away. I may have to “look into the judgement”, “look at it as it is”. Without mental projection or imagining the problem to be worst than it should be, If we think bad about the problem, it becomes bad. If we think good about it, it becomes good. But most of the time we will tend to look at it from the bad angle. “It isn’t what happens to us that causes us to suffer; it’s what we say to ourselves about what happens.” ~Pema Chodron – You told me this. 
    To me, Meditation is to tame the judge. Once the judge is tame, you build up good karma (compassion, emptiness, mindfulness, serving others, etc), with years of taming and good karma you most probably have a good rebirth. This is how meditation link to your past, present and your future lives. Well, this is my personal view at Buddhism. This is a very important article.

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Yes! Try keeping your focus on the guarding point (your breath, heart or even a small nimita in the area of your upper lip) if your mind wanders off, lovingly remind yourself to return to the object of your attention. Then, as you continuously and compassionately return soon you will become absorbed! Light to your practice – xoxoxo Lynn

  • Apple

    AWESOME!

  • http://www.thegreatnessmind.com Parin Patel

    Nice post Lynn!

    Really like, and completely agree, with: “the first and most important step is to identify the judge”. We need to identify it before we can silence it!

    Personally, I find that the “criticism” from the inner “judge” seems to always be related to some sort of fear: Fear of Failure, Fear of Not Being Good Enough, Fear of Embarrassment, etc.

    But, it’s just a matter of identifying it like you mention, acknowledging the criticism, and making a conscious decision to move forward with what ultimately makes you happy, and connects with your inner self. :)

    PS: Not sure if you’re familiar with the work of Seth Godin, but he also speaks of the “inner voice” we have. He calls it “The Lizard Brain” – the voice of “the resistance”. I’ve posted a great video of him demonstrating and giving tips on how to face our “Lizard Brain” here – I think you’ll enjoy it! :)

    http://www.thegreatnessmind.com/2010/12/19/seth-godin-quiets-the-lizard-brain/

  • Mellymutton

    Thank you!!!!!

  • Oroboros

    At the same time, having an inner critic also fortifies you from potential criticism of others. Being hard on yourself is no excuse to stop working.

    I mean, I am a graphic novel creator and nobody is a better or more harsh or incisive than I am of my work. I know what looks good, or what works, and what doesn’t. Once I am satisfied with what I’ve done, then anybody’s critique has no more bite than mere opinion.

  • http://www.wiseatwork.net Susie @ WiseAtWork

    Lynn, I like that the entire post was about the Inner Critic and appreciate your perceptions!

    Two things come to mind as I deal with a rather rowdy Inner Bully.

    One, is that I don’t need to “put him in his place” because this is the part of me that feels so unworthy, unlovable, and disregarded.This Inner Bully just wants my attention. “Ahh, there you are — the Inner Bully.”

    Two, the Inner Bully seems to be the part of me really wants my nurturing — to identify the painful emotions, sensations, and thoughts and step through them. With the offer of reassurance and wholesome soothing that I am OK, the Inner Bully just steps aside.

  • Megan

    I can’t tell you how true this article is. For a couple of years now, singing (my passion and future career) has become a chore and something that I don’t look forward to, and now I understand why! I am my worst critic and that little judge inside my head that seems to know my every mistake keeps telling me I’m not good enough-distracting me from enjoying the music. After every concert and recital, family members, friends, and even strangers used to tell me how much they enjoyed watching  how much I enjoyed what I did. I rarely receive that compliment any more. Thank you, I can’t wait to get back to my passion and silencing that little voice inside my head.

  • Lynn Zavaro

    This rings music to my ears!!! Brava Megan! Go girl go!!!

  • Lynn Zavaro

    Beautiful wisdom – yes!!!

  • Lynn Zavaro

    I understand your point:)

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  • Anya

    How utterly unbelievable that I can read a post on a topic when I need it the most.  My inner critic is running rampant and reading the article and ensuing  
    replies is just what I need to have a good night sleep. I can use these strategies to shut out the inner critic, redirect the negativity and even use it to find the kernel of truth that can help me improve and move forward in even just a small way. 
    Thank you all so much for sharing – an amazing community to which I feel bonded and privileged to be a part of.

  • honey

    I think it is good not to “fight” the judge. Instead just realize that the judge is your mind and not you. The problem comes when we begin to almost merge the judge with our own identity, especially when the judge is being critical.

  • KateGladstone

    These 5 things don’t silence my inner critics, who just laugh and sneer at them, and even grow stronger from them. Then they laugh and sneer at me for supposing that anything I could try against them would ever work.

  • john barbieri

    To counter the inner critic dialog, I often reply to it using the internal phrase – “Compared to what?” That helps quiet it down.

  • http://www.owoos.com/ Ejaz Karim

    Great post Lynn.

    I know I’m professional in my skills and when I do start I do what I should do BUT the problem is the judgment or product_not_process mindset before even I start. I just can’t start anything for example it took many hours to start reading this post I had opened this in the browser tab and I was just staring it before I could start. However, I read the post.

    If something is new to learn or to do, I can’t wait to start. I always have great motivation for new things but when I live with it for sometime motivation fades away and I resist myself to restart that process. This is one of the habits I don’t want to live by. Do you have any tips for me? I would highly appreciate anything like Post, Book or any course.

    Regards.

  • Nick Carilli

    I feel so very lost when it comes to this subject. I feel like I need professional help, but I am between jobs and simply cannot afford to pay for a therapist. I am, and have always been, very harsh and self-critical. Growing up, I always wanted to be the good child in my family (one boy out of 4 siblings, my sisters all being younger), so I always did my best to show humility and gratitude to my parents.

    We grew up very poor, my dad had a self-start up golf business that struggled to keep food on the table, and my mom subsidized this by running an in-home daycare for 12 years while I was growing up. Times were rough, but for the most part, I never wanted for anything important in life as my parents busted their asses to keep us afloat. It wasn’t uncommon for us to get food and support from the church, and I learned recently that we came very close to becoming homeless on a few occasions.

    Oh yeah, I should mention that I grew up in a fairly strict Catholic household. Not so much the, “do 10 Hail Marys to absolve your sins” kind, but the views and beliefs of the household were decidedly Conservative. I guess I understand that when you’re close to or at rock-bottom, faith is the only thing that will keep you going. But I also remember being shamed as a teen when my parents discovered that I masturbate, and I never felt comfortable sharing details of my personal, and especially sex, life with them.

    I was a fat kid, and now I’m a fat man. I have struggled with my self image since I was fairly young. Everyone assumed I couldn’t control my eating habits and reminded me of it constantly. I think they did so out of concern, but now I feel disgusted with myself every time I lose control and let myself go. Diabetes runs in my dad’s side of the family, so I am in fear that I am ending my life, something so precious and rare that this may be my one and only shot to live it, sooner than necessary, and that thought alone terrifies and crushes me every time I fail to do the right thing.

    I have tried on so many occasions to change my lifestyle, my eating habits, to be cleaner and healthier, but I have failed every time. The only time I had any measurable success was when I tried to save a very close friend who was like a sister to me. Her kidneys failed when she was only 24 shortly after we began college together, and I watched her suffer for 6 years on dialysis before she could no longer continue her struggle. I tried to give her a kidney, but I knew the hospital wouldn’t let me past the screening process unless I was healthier. I busted my ass for a year sticking to a clean eating schedule (sort of) and mostly getting to the gym. I went from 285 with 31% body fat to 256 with 26%. I knew that there was a chance that our blood types would be incompatible, thus nullifying my ability to donate, so I didn’t care find out what mine was until I absolutely had to, because I knew that if we weren’t compatible, I would give up. One day, she became so depressed and hopeless that she tried to kill herself, so I quickly got tested, praying for some good news to give her, but she could only receive very specific matches due to complications with her health and her body rejecting foreign tissue, and I was decidedly not a match.

    A few years have passed and I am easily above 300 pounds now. I feel like a complete and total failure. I hate how uncommitted I am to ANYTHING, and the fact that I give up so easily and crumble when I know I’ll have to make an effort sickens me. I hate that I have so little control, and that even though I am screaming at myself to do better so I can live into my 90s and enjoy this life to the fullest, but all my vigor dies instantly the minute I have to put forth any effort.

    I am fortunate(?) to have been born talented and “gifted”. I was put into advanced programs when I was young, and I generally loved learning, but I am one of the absolute worst procrastinators I have ever known. What’s worse is, I never had to put efforts into my studies. I never had to become engaged and thus, I became a master of putting things off and doing the bare minimum to get by. I always hoped that one day I would finally grow up and become invested in something I love, and while the Music program allowed me to express myself, I never practiced my instrument, I never worked to become a better player. I just did what I needed, and yet somehow still got relatively high marks. Fixed what I had to in rehearsal, and fucked off the rest of the time. Miraculously, I made it all the way through college and have a Bachelors degree in Music, but I still feel incredibly mediocre as a player and as a person. I’m also supposed to have a second degree in Italian, but there were complications and I never bothered checking back to actually get the degree. I just gave up, like I always do.

    Mediocre is the word that keeps circulating in my head. I’m so fucking lazy, and I hate myself so much for it. If I could find a goddamn motivation pill, I would sell my fucking soul for it! Depression runs hard on my Mom’s side, and when I’m at that point in the cycle of emotions, there are days where all I can do is sleep. I remember growing up how my Dad used to constantly tell us how his children were lazy and spoiled, how selfish we were, and how we didn’t do anything to help around the house. And it was true! My mom has a bit of a martyr streak that I adopt on occasion, and generally she would do all the house work, then passively comment how all she does is work here, and how it would be nice if someone would step up once in a while like she always does, but none of us ever did.

    Oh, and my greatest weakness, I am way too laid-back to the point that I give myself way too much slack, and I constantly underachieve because of it. I forget things so. goddamn. easily. all the time. For instance, I was tasked with taking care of the cat at my parents house while they were gone for a week on vacation. In the course of 7 days, I literally would drive out to their house (only about 5 miles) only to find that I completely forgot their house keys back at my place, thus having me drive back wasting more time and gas to run in, grab the keys, and run back out, on THREE SEPARATE OCCASIONS. I know this probably sounds really dumb and petty, but I get so goddamn frustrated with myself forgetting so many simple details so often.

    I constantly hear my dad in the back of my head when it happens, just like all throughout my childhood, “You’re not detail-oriented. You don’t pay attention. You have to double check. Measure twice, cut once. You don’t understand.” If I could never hear the phrase “detail-oriented” in my life ever again, I could probably die in peace, but the sad fact of the matter is that I have proven him right every single time. I don’t pay attention. My head is always in the fucking clouds, and so far there hasn’t been shit I can do to fix it. The worst part? I put other people in danger, because of my incompetence. Since I started driving, I have been in 6 accidents, 4 for following too closely, one where I pulled out into oncoming traffic WITHOUT LOOKING, and one that miraculously wasn’t my fault. My ineptitude is costing me money, but thank Christ I haven’t seriously hurt anyone yet. All because I didn’t pay any attention to my surroundings. I assumed everything was ok and acted recklessly while not giving proper attention to the road. And yet, have I learned shit from it? NO! I keep making the same goddamn senseless, rookie mistakes over and over. It’s just a matter of time.

    It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know what to do with my rage sometimes. Right after my last accident, in which I finally totaled my poor car (had it coming), my girlfriend and I were on the way to have dinner at her family’s house. I stayed as strong as I could and fought my tears with my damnedest as I watch my destroyed car which served me so well for 8 years get dragged up on the tow truck. And why? Because I didn’t pay any fucking attention! We got to her parents house where we had now kept them waiting (I was in a hurry and missed my turn, which is why I made a bad U-turn and did something so stupid to begin with), but I was still about to lose control of my anguish, so I excused myself to the bathroom and broke down silently.

    Then out of nowhere, I became PISSED. I fucking hated myself for being so careless. I hated myself for putting an innocent driver and the love of my life in danger, all because I wasn’t paying any fucking attention. I hated myself for this being the 3RD TIME IN 3 MONTHS that I had crashed my car into something. I hated that I just put in my two weeks notice at my job and then proceeded to ruin my main mode of transportation and independence. I had to punch something (I’ve never been that violent before to my recollection), but I dared not damage anything and burden my grilfriend’s parents even more. So I turned my rage on myself. I walloped my skull as hard as I could with my fists about 7 or 8 times right there on the toilet. Pathetic. Don’t worry, I hit like a fucking pussy, so the worst I did was give myself a very small bump on the head and made my temples pretty sore. Eventually I calmed down for a brief moment, but it would come in waves. I found a belt hanging in the bathroom and beat myself in the face and arms with it a few times for good measure. I tried to clean up after so as not to concern anyone, and as far as I saw her parents couldn’t tell. She noticed though, and being amazing like she is, she stayed with me all night to try and keep my spirits up.

    I just don’t understand.. Why can’t I focus on my surroundings? Why am I so terrible at holding on to details for more than 5 seconds? Why can’t I function like a regular human being?!

    Sure, there are some benefits being me: my blood pressure is low, I don’t get outwardly upset very easily at all, and I very approachable and easy to talk to. Oh I’m also a white, heterosexual male, so that also makes me extremely privileged, or so I’m told, so what right do I really have to bitch when my life is already on the easiest setting? I’ve been told many times that I’m very charismatic and witty, and I do know that I am very good with words and languages. I can see some of that.

    The problem is, this has only translated into me becoming an expert bull-shitter. I feel like I have no real skills. I’m all talk. When it comes time to get results or achieve something substantial, I fold like a bad hand in poker. This reflects in my current job of the past year in which I have worked daily to pester people over the phone to buy things that they don’t fucking need. I feel like the limited “skills” I have are being put to evil, but I needed the money to get out of debt and a year of office experience for anyone to even look at my resume.

    Thankfully, I’m leaving to pursue a dream of mine teaching English overseas, which I’m fairly proud of, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m a huge fraud! And it’s not like I don’t have a litany of examples in my life to prove this. I recognize that I’m so horribly cruel to myself, but I just don’t see myself any other way when the worst of my fears kick in. I know I’m not a total failure. I’m young, debt-free, and I have a resume that should give me the chance to land a job anywhere I want, but I realize that I don’t believe in myself. I have never believed in myself, but dammit I just want to get better..

    For those of you (if any) who have stuck with this ridiculous litany this whole time, I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart. No, really. You’re an amazing person. Even if I can’t fix my broken pieces, at least someone out there knows about my perceived suffering, and dammit, maybe they’ll know where to point me. So many things I’ve read say that I have to actively silence that inner voice, but I don’t know what to do when my whole fucking life PROVES that he’s right!

    Please help (If you can. I more than understand that I probably have more than a few things that require something stronger than friendly advice. Haha)