The science behind why we fight so hard to start, only to self sabotage in the end.
You’ve read the books.
You know the science.
You’ve downloaded the ebooks, and ordered the books on Amazon.
Maybe your goal is weight loss, improved moods, more strength and muscle tone, or better focus and productivity…
Whatever the goal… this time you are going to smash through it.
This time you won’t fail.
But like all superheroes, you have a weakness, a kryptonite, if you will. Invariably, almost predictably, as you set out on a new goal, you will come across a familiar stumbling block.
A little voice in your head tells you…
Hey, you’ve been working so hard… why don’t you give yourself a little cheat meal. You deserve it.
So you cheat. Just a little.
Then the cheat meal turns into a cheat day.
Maybe now it spills over to the next day, too.
Your energy starts to sink, and along with it, your motivation. Your mood plummets, you feel bloated, gross, uncomfortable, and back to square one.
Like clockwork, up pops the troll in your mind (who told you to take the cheat meal in the first place) who says:
“AHA! I knew it! Look at how little willpower you have.
Don’t you know by now that you suck?
Why do you even try? It’s not like you’ll ever achieve your goals or anything”.
And off the bandwagon you fall.
Disappointed, and more disgruntled and less hopeful than ever before that you will be able to shed the weight you set out to.
And back the weight comes.
Meet Your Inner Critic.
“The more we refuse to buy into our inner critics — and our external ones too — the easier it will get to have confidence in our choices, and to feel comfortable with who we are.” — Arianna Huffington
This inner critic is the voice inside your head that tells you you are not good enough, worthy enough, pretty enough, smart enough, capable enough.
You are, somehow, in some way, not enough.
It is a story you have developed about yourself from childhood.
Think back to cartoons that had an angel on one shoulder, devil on the other shoulder. The critic is the devil on the one shoulder telling you to make the poor choice.
It will always reinforce the idea that you cannot, must not, should not.
If you disobey this inner critic, you will meet certain failure, rejection, embarrassment, or worse, death.
This pattern of thinking is imprinted in our nervous system as a child somewhere between three and five years old, from those closest to us: our mothers, fathers, teachers, and preachers.
These are the most important people in our lives growing up.
They shape us, inject us with our belief structures through rewards, punishments, discipline, teachings, and behaviour.
They infect us with their belief system of the world.
It unknowingly becomes our own belief system.
What they deem “right” and “wrong” becomes “right” and “wrong” for us.
They prime us to the normative values that are accepted in our culture, our society, our tribe.
When a parent says to a child she is being a “good” or “bad” girl, the parent is trying to mold the child’s behavior into what they deem as “right” as it pertains to their tribe.
While the intentions are pure, and done from a place of love (at least, one must assume so), this verbiage places a judgement on the PERSON rather than the BEHAVIOR.
A child who hears this type of language continuously will begin to develop a story about themselves that qualifies the type of person they are, rather than the expression of their mood through behavior.
In other words, THEY are bad, rather than the choice in behavior (which is distinct from self identity) is bad.
This is the how the inner critic begins its development.
Because we are dependent on our mothers, fathers, teacher, and preachers, these comments about us being “good” or “bad” stick.
We integrate it into our sense of self.
Ever hear comments like this growing up:
“What’s wrong with you?”
“What were you thinking?!”
“Why cant you be like your sister/brother?”
“Why did you only get 85%? What happened to the other 15%?”
All these questions, comments, and comparisons outside yourself begin to develop the idea that we are not worthy or enough in some way.
Once this pattern is established, our primitive brain seeks to replay it because that is what we (rightly or wrongly) deem to be safe, to be right.
It is what we know, and it shaped from the people who care for us.
We do not, as children, distinguish between these messages being right or wrong.
Our frontal lobe is involved in the ability to vet information as true or false, to make sound decisions. It also serves to control our emotions and inhibit our stress response via the sympathetic nervous system.
As a child, we don’t know any different than to listen to our mothers, fathers, teachers, and preachers because we assume, as little humans who rely on them for our survival, that what they say MUST be true.
We depend on these adults for food, for shelter, for love, for a tribe to belong to, and to teach us about the world. Their opinion of us becomes our opinion of us.
This is particularly troubling for children of abusive parents — be it physical or emotional abuse.
The child will assume that there is something inherently wrong with them, and feed this inner critic with idea that they DESERVE this kind of behavior.
As adults, they will seek out to replay this pattern over and over again — even if it means marrying an abusive partner even though you came from an abusive upbringing, or marrying an alcoholic after growing up with one.
Our nervous system will seek to play out what is familiar, because what we know is deemed as “safe” by our primitive brain. Even if it is a negative pattern rendering a negative consequence.
When you are in a negative pattern, it becomes self destructive and you will self sabotage to stay in the pattern because leaving the pattern feels like death.
Which is why, without this awareness, you will never
-lose the weight you want
-be the awakened parent you want to be
-have the epic love relationship you desire
-have the supportive, loving friends or social circle you need
How Do We Manage Our Inner Critic?
“I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.” — Kobe Bryant
Well the reality is we are stuck with our inner critic — through thick and thin.
It is deep-rooted in our neurology as a survival mechanism.
When we were nomadic tribes, it would direct us to not leave the safety of the tribe. To blend in, to follow rules meant an increased likelihood of survival.
Leaving the tribe, going out on your own increased the likelihood of getting killed.
It used to be a literal life or death scenario.
Now in our modern world, it tells us not to change jobs, not to leave an unhealthy relationship — “because what else are you going to find/what else do you deserve?
It tells us not to move to a different city, or take a new dance class.
It gets in the way of the things you — meaning self actualized, fully whole you— want to achieve.
When you think of the voice in your head that tell you not to, you cannot, must not, or that you are not worthy — whose voice is this?
What is the first name that flies into your head.
Name your inner critic.
Thelma, meet Louise.
Now, instead of having your inner critic dominate all your conversations, and dictate your behavior, I prefer to acknowledge its presence, but not necessarily to follow its advice.
In other words, be the observer of the voice, rather than the recipient of the message.
So when s/he pops up to tell me I don’t know enough about something, or that I am not good enough, or that I am not worthy of something, and to stay safe…
Thank him for his input because we know our inner critic wants to keep us safe, but we are going to move ahead anyway, with choices and values that are in alignment with our highest self.
Recognizing there are always going to be two views:
- One from childhood — our inner critic,
- One that is aligned with who we truly are — our actualized, adult self.
The inner critic will always serve to protect and make you question things — which can be a good thing.
The inner critic has value — it will force you to critically look at the choices you want to make.
It will force you to look and ask if there is risk. If so, can the risk be hedged? Or, how can we minimize the risk or avoid it all together?
Your inner critic is there to keep you safe — its job is to keep you from dying.
It will try its best to keep you doing the status quo, to stay safe, to avoid growth, to avoid discomfort.
To your inner critic, anything other than nestled in the safety of the tribe is death.
Anything that is uncomfortable is the same as death.
But we know that all growth, all progress occurs outside our comfort zones.
The person, the dreams you have, the life you desire, these things will most often oppose the incessant nervous chatter of the inner critic.
Which is why if you choose to ONLY listen to your inner critic, you will create a cognitive and emotional dissonance.
This dissonance will create emotional misalignement.
“Trust your gut feeling about things, listen to what others are saying, and look at the results of your actions. Once you know the truth, you can set about taking action to improve. Everyone will be better for it.” — Jack Canfield
So often when we have emotional misalignment. Meaning we are listening exclusively to the inner critic and not following your gut, or your desires.
We listen to our brain’s ability to excuse away why we should be in a job we hate, go to social engagements we don’t want to, or be in a relationship that is not aligned.
Your body, however, is an emotional compass and will often tell you before your mind does that something is off, that something is out of alignment.
Our bodies are SO much more intelligent than we give them credit for!
As a practicing clinician, you see enough presentations of physical misalignment that are parading as emotional misalignment.
It is a predictable pattern.
When someone comes in to my office with signs of physical misalignment, most often if we dig a little deeper, there are also issues of emotional misalignment too.
A job that stresses them out.
A poor social circle.
Feeling alone and hopeless.
A relationship that is not supportive.
Poor sleep from worrying about the next day.
And a lack of skills at how to handle the worry, the anxiety, and the stress.
The problem is most of us have become so numb and mistrusting of our bodies that we don’t listen to the signals it uses to tell us that we are not calibrated properly.
Our brains can “rationalize” things away with never ending reasons, logic, algorithms, and we ignore our heart, our soul, and what intuitively feels right.
“Maybe I just slept the wrong way and woke up with this crick in my neck.”
“I always get a headache in the evening, but have no idea why.”
“My sleep is normal, I just wake up a few times over night.”
“Back pain runs in my family.”
Initially, when we are out of alignment your body will give you tiny whispers, like headaches, or back pain.
Your soul, your intuition will send those small whispers to you to make that change… if you ignore the whispers, it will start yelling for you to acknowledge her wishes.
If you continue to ignore her wishes, she will find ways to make you pay attention.
It may escalate and start manifesting as chronic neck tension and headaches, depression, or panic attacks.
And your body will continue to tell you something is wrong.
So often, we let our hearts, and our souls suffer because we are so deathly afraid of change.
And that is really what we are talking about here…the death of an older version of you.
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”— Marcus Aurelius
In order to be someone different, there has to be a death of the old, and a birth of a new person.
And we are so afraid of the unknown, to shed the skin, to start over, to decide.
The meaning of decide is to literally kill off all other options.
“De-” comes from the Latin word for “off” and “-cide” from the Latin word “caedere” meaning to kill.
Deciding to move forward is to kill off all other options.
When you begin to listen to those body signals, you begin to honor yourself, the highest version of yourself.
The person you want to become more of.
You honor your life and your desires, and there is no greater gift we can give ourselves than honoring who we really are at our core.
Your Beliefs Determine Your Behaviors
“You have to let fear go. Another lesson is you just have to believe in yourself; you just have to. There’s no way around it. No matter how things are stacked against you, you just have to every time.” — Venus Williams
Your state determines the story you are telling yourself.
Your beliefs determine your behaviors.
An easy example to illustrate how different beliefs create different behaviors is a fever.
If you believe fevers are a bad thing, you will immediately seek out ways to reduce the fever, perhaps with antipyretic medication.
If you believe fevers are a good thing, and a normal, healthy response from the body, you will let it run its course. Perhaps you will sleep, drink liquids and wait it out.
The exact same stimulus — the fever — is present, but with different belief systems, the behavioral outcomes will be quite different.
Similarly, if you have a belief that you are not worthy of having a healthy, fit body, you will find unique ways to self sabotage your efforts when you start to get close to obtaining results.
For example, you might
- Start but not follow through, on a new diet.
- Tell yourself you do not have time to cook, no time to workout, or money for groceries
- “Reward” yourself with a sugary meal under the guise that you have been so good and you deserve it
- Blame and shame yourself for not succeeding,
- Convince yourself there is something is inherently wrong with you
Contrast that with the belief you ARE worthy of a healthy body.
You might then:
- Follow through on meal plans
- Engage in a supportive community or find an accountability partner
- Not beat yourself up when you mess up
- Forgive yourself and know that you can get back up and back on track
- Prioritize exercise
- Effortlessly reject bad food
- Consistently follow rituals
See the difference?
The stimulus is the same — starting the weight loss regimen — but it is the belief structure that will determine the outcome.
Strategies On How To Deal With Your Inner Critic
“How long you can continue to be good at something is how much you believe in yourself and how much hard work you do with the training.” — Jason Statham
- Understand its role in keeping you safe
- Accept it is part of your neurology and it isn’t going anywhere
- Be the observer of its voice, not the recipient of its message
- Understand that your state of mind is going to determine the story you tell yourself.
- The lower your state and mood, the more likely your inner critic is running the show
- Make choices that align with the highest version of yourself.
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