Six Simple Mindset Tools to Make Peace With Your Inner-Critic So You Can Thrive

Life With an Inner-Critic

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We all have an inner-critic that if left to its own devices will constantly judge and negatively comment on the way we live our lives. If we pay attention, it's easy to notice that the voice of the inner-critic never shuts up! From the moment we wake up, the voice immediately starts spewing opinions and commentary:

"I'm so tired! Why did I go to bed so late again? Why don't I ever learn that I need to get to bed earlier?!"

"Did I get any comments on my Instagram while I was asleep? Only two likes...I guess people didn't like my post? Or maybe they just didn't care."

"Oh God, I just remembered I have to work late tonight! Ugh! I'm going to be so exhausted! I'll never make it through without coffee! I guess I won't be putting the kids to bed again tonight!"

To make matters worse, the inner voice also criticizes us for every mistake big or small:
"I can't believe I ate all those cookies! I have no self control! No wonder my pants are so tight!"

"I have no idea what to say in this meeting and people keep looking at me! They're probably wondering why I'm even in this position. I'm wondering that myself. Sometimes I'm so incompetent! "

"I'm so awkward! Why do all the other moms seem to get along great together and I never know what to say? They must think I'm so weird!"

And on and on it goes all day. We live our lives and the inner-voice (our inner-critic) criticizes, judges, and puts us down every chance it gets. If you're a highly sensitive woman, you can probably relate to the concept of the inner-critic because highly sensitive women tend to be very hard on themselves, perfectionistic, and also very sensitive to perceived judgment from others.

The Problem With the Inner-Critic

Take some time today to write down some of the thoughts you have that are mean, judgmental, critical, or hurtful toward yourself. You will probably be surprised by the sheer number of negative thoughts you have about yourself as well as what those thoughts are actually saying: things you would never say to your worst enemy, let alone someone you love. 

You might argue that though the thoughts aren't nice, they're true or that you won't make any positive changes in your life if you don't think "realistically" about your shortcomings and flaws.

I beg to differ. I've yet to see a woman shame herself into making a positive change in her life. And that's what the inner-critic is: the voice of shame whose core fear is that there is something wrong and unfixable within us, and if it's found out, we will be will be rejected, unloved, or will (metaphorically) cease to exist at all.

Though the inner-critic tries to convince us that it's just reporting the truth to us and that it's helping us to get to the life we want to live, the reality is just the opposite: the inner-critic robs us of living lives that are in integrity with our most authentic, highest selves.

The inner-critic tries to convince us that it's just telling us the truth, that we should feel bad about whatever it's jabbering on about at any given moment, but that's simply not true. 

We all have painful feelings in life: fear, anger, sadness, guilt, jealousy, and confusion, just to name a few. Those feelings are normal and an important part of the experience of being human. The inner-critic has the power to extend those feelings outside of the moment they occur to any time and any place in our lives. Thinking about an incident of missing a winning goal in 9th grade soccer can be just as painful in the moment as it is 20 years later as it replays in your mind. 

To make matters worse, the inner-critic can cause us to feel pain even on the happiest days of our lives.

For example, the day I graduated from my master's program at NYU, I put on my cap and gown as I got ready to leave for the ceremony only to realize I had ordered the gown too long. It was dragging on the ground and I couldn't walk in it without tripping and so with time running out before I was expected to gather with the rest of the graduates at Lincoln Center, I had to hastily pin it up with safety pins. I immediately felt frumpy and conspicuous in my poorly pinned graduation gown and couldn't stop berating myself for making such a stupid mistake in ordering the wrong length.

The moment I walked on stage to collect my diploma and shake the hands of the highest faculty in my graduate program, I wasn't thinking about the enormity of my achievement, I was thinking about whether the audience could see the safety pins. As I watched other graduates collect their diplomas, I noted that many had gowns that stopped several inches above their ankles and continued to silently obsess and criticize myself for my gown mishap. It got to the point where I realized that I felt jealous of my graduating colleagues who, with correctly sized gowns, could fully enjoy the day.

Though this incident is ridiculous and even comical in retrospect, it is also sad and painful. My graduation ceremony for my master's degree was a moment that should have been filled with pride, joy, and a feeling of great accomplishment. It was the culmination of thirteen years of grade school, four years of college, and two very intense emotionally and academically challenging years of my master's program. And yet here I was obsessing about the length of my graduation gown. My inner-critic had robbed me of a precious moment in my life -- but only because I let it.

I wish I could say that this example is an extreme case but unfortunately, for most women it's the norm. No matter how good our quality of life, no matter how joyful our situation is on paper, all we need to do is listen to our inner-critic for a few second and instantly we're in pain.

Giving Peace a Chance

When we get stuck or tangled up in what our inner-critic is telling us, we wind up giving them more power and holding on more tightly. This is what happened in my graduation ceremony. The more I thought about my gown, the more power those negative thoughts had and the more they got stuck in the forefront of my mind, keeping me from being present on an important day. Here's what to do instead:

Get Present By Making Contact With the Moment

Making contact with the moment means being psychologically present: consciously engaging with whatever is happening. Our brains tend to find it very difficult to stay present. What happens most of the time instead is that we get caught up in our thoughts and lose touch with the world around us. Our inner-critic causes us to live in the past with our regrets and painful experiences or in the future with our worries and fears. 

We are usually not even aware that this is happening because we are going through our days on mental autopilot, going through the motions of interacting with whatever comes into our world without actually being present with it.

Making contact with the moment means actively engaging with both the world around us and our inner-world with openness, awareness, and non-judgmental presence. When we engage with whatever the present moment is bringing to us without judgment and without trying to change it, we can find peace in any situation and we can operate from a place of trusting that whatever happens, there is nothing we can't handle.

Watch Your Thinking

Making peace with your inner-critic means learning to separate yourself from your thoughts, mental images, and memories. This means that instead of getting caught up in your thoughts or even trying to determine if they're true, we step back and watch them go by like people walking down the street in front of our house or leaves floating down a stream. 

When we do this, we are able to see our negative thoughts for what they really are: just words and pictures in our minds.  This puts the power back in our hands.

Allow

Allowing means opening up and making room for all thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. The inner-critic's power comes from our judgment of parts of ourselves or our experience as bad, wrong, or unbearable. When we stop struggling against the painful or uncomfortable parts of life, running from them, resisting them, or trying to numb them, we can just let them be with openness and even curiosity. 

This doesn't mean we enjoy them or desire them. It just means we accept them so that we can also accept peace into our lives.

Become the Observer

In our everyday experience, we tend to forget that our minds are actually made up of two distinct aspects: the thinking self and the observing self. The inner-critic is part of the thinking self: the part of us that is constantly generating thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgments, fantasies, plans, and so on. Think of it like a fire hose of words and images always flooding your brain with information (which may or may not be factual). 

Th observing self, on the other hand, is the part of us that is purely aware of whatever we're thinking, feeling, sensing, or doing in any given moment. The observing self is the only part of us that stays constant throughout our lifetime. 

Think about it: as you go through life, your body changes, your thoughts,behaviors, and feelings change, but the "you" that's able to observe these things has been there your whole life. 

Making peace with your inner-critic requires switching your awareness from your thinking self to your observing self. In doing so, you recognize that your inner-critic is nothing more than words and images, not your true self -- who you really are at a deep, soul level. 

Get Clear on Your Values

Your values are what you deem to be most important in life: the standards of behavior that you believe would be a reflection of living your life as a reflection of your highest, truest self.

Your values are what you want your life to be about, what you want to stand for, and how you want to ideally spend your time here on Earth.

When we sit down and get very clear on our values, we are able to change our behaviors so that they match up with the call of our soul. The words of the inner-critic become less important and less impactful because we are living our lives according to what gives us meaning and fulfillment, not what the voice of fear is demanding or dictating we "should" do.

Take Values-Based Action

It's only when we live a life that's in integrity with our values that we begin to find inner-peace and self-love on a full, rich level. When we take action based on our values, we are likely to experience a wide range of thoughts and feelings both pleasant and unpleasant, both pleasurable and painful. It may require us to do things that are uncomfortable or that our inner-critic tells us we can't or shouldn't do because we won't be successful or because we're not good enough or because we don't deserve it.

Taking values-based action means the inner-critic is allowed to say what it wants about our choices (and it will!), but we stand firm in taking action anyway because we love ourselves enough to gift ourselves with a life that is full of meaning and congruence with our life's purpose(s). 

 

Our inner-critics can be demanding, shaming, hostile, and aggressive. They're there because our brains are designed to protect us and keep us safe from anything that might be painful. After all, for our ancestors, doing things that were difficult or outside their comfort zone had the potential to result in catastrophe. Our inner-critic doesn't want to see us hurt. It wants us to keep our walls up so that we can survive. It does so because it loves us in the only way it knows how -- by keeping us playing small in the game of life.

But connecting with your observing mind and your values allows you to live life in a different, more aligned place. Fear can have a voice, but your heart and your values will always be making the decisions.

 

And now I'd love to hear from you: what tools work for you in making peace with your inner-critic? What have you learned about life with your inner-critic that might help someone else? Feel free to comment below.

If you'd like to learn more about how to apply these tools with individual counseling, my teen group, or my women's group, please reach out and call or text at 973-769-2401 or email me at amy@amybethacker.com

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You Might Find You Get What You Need

There have been times in my life where I felt with every fiber of my being that I would only be happy with a specific outcome to a situation. I prayed for that outcome, visualized it, did everything in my power that I could do on a practical level to manifest that outcome and still it didn't happen.

The result was always anger, guilt, disappointment and shame. I questioned if there was more I could have done. I wondered if there was something wrong with me that made me unable to bring what I believed I needed into my life.  I was pissed at the universe. I was pissed at myself for failing myself. I had made my happiness contingent on an outcome and if that outcome didn't happen, I wasn't happy.

In other words, I was closing my heart at the exact moment I needed it to be open.

These moments of disappointment are as inevitable as our very breath. We are not in this life to have our every desire delivered with a sprig of parsley and an after dinner mint. We are here to grow, to expand, to become the freest, highest, most authentic version of ourselves. Unfortunately, our human brains are woefully inept at predicting how to make that happen.

We believe that the universe operates in simple, easily understood rules, and we believe our internal happiness is contingent on external events.

Basically, we want it all to make sense.

Our highest selves can be found not in thought, but in the experience of love. The more we love, the more we are in tune with our highest selves. The more angry and disappointed we are, the more disconnected we are - not just from the targets of those feelings, but also from ourselves.

The truth is that events can never block us from experiencing love; only our thoughts can do that. Our growth is about understanding this.

Life doesn't always give you what you want, but life always gives you what you really want, which is an abundance of opportunities to connect with unconditional love. No matter what happens, that can never be taken away because unconditional love is the essence of our being. So while we are not protected in our lives from anything bad ever happening to us, we are protected by life when they do happen because life has already infused us with all we need to handle it.

 

If you would like to learn more about infusing your life with unconditional love, call me at

973-769-2401 or email amy.beth.acker@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

How to Make Epic Progress on Your Goals Today

Goals are tricky things. They can feel overwhelming, terrifying, and even immobilizing. When we do manage to get started on them, we may find ourselves questioning whether putting in the time and effort to do something that feels hard or even painful is worth it.

For example, I had a goal to build a website that would be a resource and source of support for women, but as soon as the idea came to me, I immediately built a solid case for why it wasn't a good idea for me to create it. Here were just some of the excellent points I made to myself:

  • I am not tech savvy and learning to build a website might be hard and frustrating.
  • It would take a lot of time and I don't have a lot of time.
  • I might feel overwhelmed and I don't like to feel overwhelmed.
  • It might take time away from other things that are important like my family or my self-care, or my time watching Orange is the New Black.
  • I like writing but people might not like what I have to say and that would be disappointing. Then I might not like writing anymore.
  • I might work really hard only to realize that the whole thing was not a good use of my time.

But in the end, I felt that a website would be a creative outlet and a way to connect with and support other women. In other words, it would be a means of expression for my most authentic self.

I decided to implement some mindset shifts to help my new project develop and two weeks later my imperfect but good enough website was live!

Getting Super Clear

The first thing I did was to get really clear on what my goal was and why it was important to me for that goal to happen. One aspect of this was to think about the tangible results I was looking to achieve: a place to give my clients information about my services, a place to provide support and encouragement to women through my writing, a platform for other future creative endeavors like a webinar.

The more important aspect of getting clear, however, meant articulating to myself what I was looking to feel as a result of my efforts. For me, the answer was that I wanted to feel expansive, creative, excited, connected, and joyful. These are feelings I am always looking to feel more of in my life, and they serve as great motivation for me to try things outside my comfort zone.

The Journey and the Destination are the Same

There is no path to peace. Peace is the path.
-Mahatma Gandhi

How could I guarantee that in the end my website would give me the feelings I was seeking? By making sure to acknowledge and appreciate the opportunities for those feelings that existed in the journey to get there. For example, working with my clients, writing, spending time with my family all give me the opportunity to feel expansive, creative, and joyful on a daily basis. The path to the completion of my website could be all about frustration and anxiety, or it could be all about creativity, being led by my passions and desires, and having new, life-enhancing experiences.  The choice was always mine and mine alone.

Take the Smallest Step

I decided what the smallest step I could take without feeling overwhelmed and then took that step only. So I started by writing one article for my blog. To be honest, just that step caused me to feel frustrated and overwhelmed repeatedly throughout the process and despite my desire to focus on enjoying the journey, I did question multiple times whether it was worth the effort.

But each time I asked myself that question, I had to answer that it was because even if there was no other positive outcome to my work, I do truly love to write. This quote was always helpful to come back to during that time:

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
-Rumi

And I did. I was so proud of myself for writing that article that I truly felt like if I stopped there and never created the website, I would still have achieved something big for myself. But at that point I had gained momentum and wanted even more of those feelings, so I kept going.

Go With the Flow of Life

I'm at my best when I'm at my most authentic and going with the flow of life. I'm not at my best when I'm fearful, anxious, and stuck. When something feels hard, I try to remember to give myself grace. What this typically looks like is to stop resisting the "hardness" of a task, and instead question with genuine curiosity what's really holding me back in that moment.

It's natural to feel resistance to doing something outside our comfort zone. The trick is to stop fighting it and instead examine what that resistance is really trying to tell us.

It's similar to situations where my three-year-old is having a meltdown. If I respond with frustration, anger, or attempt to shut her down by wanting her to feel instantly better, she usually feels the need to justify herself even more and escalates to epic proportions. If I calmly acknowledge that I can see she's upset and having a hard time and that it's okay to be as upset as she needs as long as she needs to be, she usually regains her composure pretty quickly.

When I'm not honoring my uniqueness, it's easy to get discouraged. When I'm feeling relief because I'm reminding myself that I am enough and have something of value to offer others, I know I'm on the right track. I also try to remember that no woman's value comes from doing, it comes from love and self worth, and I am in full control of those things.

As I write this, I'm so glad I followed my intuition and inner-wisdom and created this website and blog. The feelings I'm having are expansive, creative, excited, connected, and joyful, and so it is exactly as I thought it would be.  

If you would like to connect to learn more about how I can help you to reach your goals, I invite you to give me a call at 973-769-2401 or email at amy.beth.acker@gmail.com