There’s something special about seeing a fat person running.
I don’t say that to be funny or derogatory either. There’s something inspiring to me about seeing someone clearly overweight out in the world trying to better themselves. In a country rampant with obesity I believe we see this special sight less and less.
With the advent of social media more and more people have a voice. This means truly great lesser known people have a voice to spread their wisdom and positive attitude. It also means garbage people (no offense to trash collectors) have a voice to spread their hate and bigotry.
One negative impact I see on the rise is fat shaming. Not to say being overweight is healthy or should be glamorized but in the past few years, we have seen the rise of people posting pictures or videos of overweight people at the gym or out running (unbeknownst to them) and ridiculing them for doing so. This has rightfully created gym anxiety for many people which if you click that last link or look around you’ll find countless articles and videos about it.
People are afraid of going to the gym or getting out in the world to go for a walk or jog because they fear people will criticize or make fun of them. Maybe they are afraid of looking stupid because they are learning. Or perhaps they fear being made fun of because of the way they look. No matter the reason this spike in external forces of criticism has definitely given way to a rise of internal criticism as well.
People are afraid to do things. Say the wrong things. Put themselves out there. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting more than 40 million adults every year.
I use fat shaming and gym anxiety as an example many people can understand or even relate to at some point in their life. However, this is just one area of life where it’s easy to let our inner critic hold us hostage. We all have it. Some more than others. That little voice that tells you you’re not good looking enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not qualified to teach this or talk about ‘X’ topic.
Hell, I have it right now while writing this article. Thoughts of “who I am to write this article?” Or “Why would anyone care what I think?”
Which is in part why I am writing this article and why I chose for it to be my second article (really my first) on this blog. I am writing this because I want to write about things that interest me, might interest you (whoever you are), and most of the time because it affects me directly.
That’s right. I struggle with my inner critic. Quite often in fact.
So after that lengthy intro now I am going to get into the meat of this article which is a “How To” guide for overcoming your inner critic.
Defining Inner Critic
Wikipedia describes the inner critic, or critical inner voice, as a concept used in popular psychology to refer to a sub-personality that judges and demeans a person. The inner critic is typically experienced as an inner voice attacking a person, saying that they are wrong, bad, inadequate, guilty, worthless, and so on.
These negative experiences over an extended period of time produce feelings of low self-esteem, shame, deficiency, and even depression.
Writing this article, I set out to defeat my inner critic or at the very least learn to silence it more often. Along the way I found the following three approaches to be helpful:
1. Daily Meditation
Meditation has been something I have dabbled in for many years. I would do it for a few days or weeks then not do it for months. Recently I started to take it more seriously. I do it every day pretty religiously. The results have been nothing short of amazing for me. I meditate for 10 minutes each morning typically before I go into work or shortly after my workout.
While it may seem to be an unusual practice to most, it has become much more mainstream in the past several years. In fact, Silicon Valley and the tech startup scene has become obsessed with meditation and its long list of benefits such as:
- Lowering our cortisol levels to combat stress
- Enhancements to our ability to focus
- Decrease in anxiety and depression
In the book Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, he interviews over 200 executives, leaders, and other world-class performers and found that over 80% had some form of guided mindfulness practice.
My favorite meditation technique that I have learned so far to help battle my inner critic is called noting. When meditating, or even going about your day, you often find your mind wander off and start thinking. Sometimes it’s pleasant thoughts, but often they can be negative. No matter what you are thinking, they are just thoughts.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Noting helps you start labeling these distractions as thinking or feeling. As simple as it sounds, it really helps me realize just how often my mind wanders off and at the same time gives less weight to the opinion or voice of my inner critic. The Noting Technique, in theory, is very simple. However, making it a daily habit can be a bit more challenging.
I use an app on my phone called Headspace where you can start for free with a “Take 10” session which are ten free days that introduce meditation. I have since upgraded to the paid version which gives you a lot more freedom and functionality to explore other types of meditation or tackle specific topics. The practice is easy because all you do is hit play on the app, sit in a comfortable chair with your headphones in, and listen to Andy guide you through your ten-minute session. Here’s a two-minute video explaining how Headspace works:
If you’re interested here is the link for iOS and here is the link for Android to try it yourself. Also, if you are going to upgrade to the paid version make sure you look around for a promo code. They almost always have one running.
2. Mindfulness Through Daily Journaling
While there are countless writing prompts for challenging your inner critic through journaling and writing I found a more simple approach:
In short, the Five Minute Journal is a morning and nightly ritual where you take 5 minutes or less and fill out the following journal pages.
While I find all of the journal prompts useful, the one that brings about the greatest introspection is the section about gratefulness.
Each morning I am forced to think of 3 things I am grateful for. Some mornings this flows naturally and some mornings I have to really think (mostly because I want to be original and not too repetitive). This simple act of taking a few moments to realize just how great my life really is each morning does wonders for silencing negative self-talk.
I’m not getting shot at today, I’m not skipping meals because I can’t afford groceries, I have a roof over my head, the love of my wife, my friends, my family, my dog. Life is good and my trivial self-talk isn’t worth entertaining today.
I highly recommend building a morning journaling habit that includes gratitude.
3. Looking To Others For Inspiration
My inner critic tends to show up even more when I am taking on a task that’s outside my skill set or if I’m stepping out of my comfort zone.
Overcoming your inner critic can sometimes be as simple as knowing what you are about to do is even in the realm of possibility. Sure athletes, savants, and those outliers can do what you’ve set out to do but can you do it?
These moments when I need an extra boost I often find myself turning to others successes for inspiration. Some people’s stories can be flat out excuse eliminators.
Like Kyle Maynard, the quadruple amputee who basically army crawled the nearly 20,000-foot climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Or Jordan Romero, the 13-year-old kid who became the youngest climber to reach the top of Mount Everest. Or yet again, Min Bahadur who at the age of 76 became the oldest climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest also. In fact, the number of people who have climbed Mount Everest since Sir Edmund Hillary first reached its summit in 1953 has recently reached 4,000 people. The top of Everest looks like this now:
Now I may not be ready to tackle my first mountain climb just yet, but knowing these people can do it gives me hope and inspiration that I could do it also. But maybe climbing a mountain isn’t on your list of to-dos. My point is that you can find inspiration in others in just about every goal or task you are about to take on:
Writing A Novel
Jake Marcionette – At only 12 years old he becomes the youngest New York Times bestselling author.
Oldest Person to Run A Marathon
Harriette Thompson – At the young age of 92 years and 93 days became the oldest women to ever finish a marathon.
Losing 300 pounds
Rob Cooper who once weighed 475 pounds and lost 300 pounds in 2 years. That’s 150 pounds a year! Hearing that makes the 20 pounds I want to lose not sound so bad.
The internet is riddled with prime examples of people who have likely overcome much more difficult obstacles than you or I have. I find it to be a gold mine when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed about my goals or simply taking on what life throws at me.
If you tend to be overly critical of yourself, just know that you are not alone. Many, if not most people experience self-doubt and have harsh reflections about themselves. The good news is you don’t have to keep entertaining these thoughts.
My hope is that the strategies I’ve outlined above such as meditation, journaling, and looking to others may help you as they’ve helped me.
These days my inner critic is becoming much less like an overzealous friend who delivers never-ending criticism without considering my feelings and more like a finely tuned curator who delivers genuinely constructive criticism. One who, similar to an inspiring mentor, urges me to do my best and not to accept anything less.