Each and every day, our brain is constantly producing thousands of thoughts. Most of them are subconscious and the negative tend to outnumber the positive. Learning how to overcome negative thoughts, in particular your inner critic, is a skill that takes continual practice. However, the benefits are immense.
We spend between half to three-quarters of our day in our minds time traveling between the past, present, and future.
Do these sound familiar?
- “I’m too fat.”
- “I look terrible in that outfit.”
- “I’ll never be successful.”
- “That person hates me.”
- “Why do I even try?”
- “I’ll never be able to get into a workout routine.”
- “I have to work until I’m exhausted or it doesn’t count.”
- “I’m not worthy of affection.”
- “They probably think I look huge in these colorful pants.”
And the list goes on.
And if you’re like me you could probably fill up a whole book of negative thoughts that you currently tell or have told yourself on a daily.
I’m here to say, friend, that I see you. You are loved and are worthy.
Meet Your Monkey/Chimp Brain Or Gremlin
Over the years, I’ve immersed myself in books related to brain research on a variety of topics. One of the main subjects that continues to intrigue me is all about our inner critic.
You may have heard this coined as your monkey/chimp brain or gremlin. Or maybe you’re more familiar with terms like negative thoughts, limiting beliefs, etc.
All of these boil down to one thing. Our brain. We all have a monkey/chimp brain or as some call it a gremlin residing inside of us.
And something that I feel as a person and health coach is important to share, right off the bat, is that negative thoughts do not define who you are. You have the power to take back the narrative and create a life filled with positivity, love, and light.
What Is Your Inner Critic?
In the world of brain research the inner critic is commonly referred to as system 1 or your limbic system. Your inner critic started developing from the day you were born. These inner voices come from our earliest experiences in life. You internalize and take these experiences in as a way you think about yourself and sometimes others as well.
All of the negative words spoken to you by loved ones and friends, and the negative words you observed spoken to others you love (things they said to themselves) created your inner critic. On top of behaviors you observed and interactions, you had with loved ones or in the environment around you.
Where Does Your Inner Critic Reside?
Besides the obvious, your brain, more specifically your inner critic lies in the amygdala which is part of the limbic system. This is where the fight, flight, or freeze response is housed.
The amygdala serves to keep us out of harm’s way. In general, the limbic system is also the oldest part of the brain. It is the first to go “online” and give you a response. Like the eager kid in school who was the first to raise their hand. But the answer given isn’t always the one you want to take.
The brain is extraordinary. It’s not only what sets us apart from every other species on this planet but it’s what stores our experiences. Your brain is constantly processing your environment. This 3-pound organ between your ears is what determines how you respond to external or internal stimuli.
Simply put your brain observes, interprets, stores, and responds to the world you live in.
What Purpose Does Your Inner Critic Serve?
Everything stored in the brain is used for a particular purpose. Your brain stores data it receives from external or internal stimuli. It uses this information to interpret the world around you and provide feedback when needed.
Overtime the words, phrases and sometimes unspoken language you observed got soaked in your brain like a sponge. Your brain was using this to understand your environment and determine threats.
And now when faced with decisions in life, you tap into your brain for the answers. Back to analogy of the eager kid sitting in the front row who shoots their arm straight in the air to answer the teacher’s question, your amygdala is the first to respond. However, it does not always provide the best or correct answer.
Its purpose is to protect us from our environment like the days of the caveman.
But when deciding on whether or not to wear a particular outfit or go to the newest hot yoga class, you’re not faced with a life or death situation like your amygdala wants you to think. This is when you might start hearing things like:
“You look fat in that outfit. You should probably change.”
“You’re going to look silly in that class. You aren’t a Yogi. You should stay home.”
Your amygdala is trying to keep you safe. It taps into your earlier life experiences with some of the negative words or behaviors you observed and took in and throws it back at you. Like a wild monkey throwing bananas until one sticks. More times than not it’s trying to keep you safe. Safe from experiencing the same emotions.
The problem is it can also keep you small, feeling paralyzed, powerless, and sad.
4 Ways To Overcome Negative Thoughts (Your Inner Critic)
Now that you understand a little more about what your inner critic is and where it resides you can start taking back the narrative. Below are four empowering techniques you can use today to calm these internal voices.
BECOME AN OBSERVER
The most important step is to become aware of your internal dialogue. Simply notice when it happens. Awareness will allow you to bring your prefrontal cortex online which is the logical, reasoning part of your brain. Don’t engage and believe what your inner critic is telling you, simply observe like a bystander. The first step to behavior change is awareness.
Until you make the unconscious, conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
BECOME A PERFORMER
As the negative thoughts begin pouring in, tap into your inner actor (we all have one) and say your thoughts out loud in a funny or unique voice. Maybe you choose to say your negative thoughts in your best British accent (if American) or in a high-pitched tone (think Elmo). Have fun with this one. The point is to say the thoughts out loud in a different voice than your own. This will allow you to detach from those thoughts.
Are negative thoughts still coming at you like mosquitos on a hot summer day? Use distraction. Have a favorite song you love? Start thinking of and singing the lyrics in your head or out loud. Have a favorite quote, bible verse, positive affirmation? Repeat it in your head or out loud. Even better, have it posted on your mirror or on your phone. Have a favorite place you like to visit? Envision you are there now and recall all of the wonderful memories you have of it.
The point is to find something positive to focus on and take away from focusing on the negative.
THE 3 QUESTION RULE
None of the above doing it? Or need an additional tool? When those voices start popping in your head, ask these three things:
- Is this thought really true?
- Is this thought kind?
- Is this thought necessary (helpful)?
Think of them as doors. If you can’t answer yes to the first one. Stop. Yes is the only way to be able to pass through the other two doors. Sometimes you may find it beneficial to walk through all three doors. More times than not, when you get to number 3- is it necessary/helpful, you’ll find no it’s not. If it doesn’t support the person you want to be nor how you would speak to others, then toss it out.
BONUS: The 3 question rule is also something I encourage you to use when talking with others. Personally, this has helped me more times than I can count to hold my tongue. If you feel the urge to share the latest gossip you heard about a loved one, colleague, or friend, stop and run it through the 3 questions. If you can’t come up with all 3 yeses then it’s not worthy of sharing. Keep it to yourself.
Your Individual Journey
You are uniquely you because of your individual journey through life. The culmination of experiences you have helps to create how you show up in the world. No one person on this planet will ever walk the same exact steps as you.
How you interpret things around you and in-turn respond to external or internal stimuli is driven by your own journey thus far. The places you’ve been, the people who are or were in your life, things you’ve done, words or phrases you’ve heard, behaviors you’ve seen, etc. The culmination of your experiences.
Each one of us is individually a gift to this earth. Coming from a place of faith, you’re here for a purpose. You are on an individual journey to become the best version of yourself and allow your light to shine.
Make space for positive thoughts and continue working to calm the inner critic that resides inside of you.
Turn Insight Into Action
Now it’s your turn to take what you’ve learned and share in the comments below what resonates the most with you? What other techniques have you used to help calm your inner critic? I’d love to hear from you.
Also, if you found this post insightful and helpful, be sure to share it with others. As always, be kind to yourself today and every day.
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