Detaching yourself from the voice inside your head and reframing negative thoughts is crucial for wellbeing and success, writes Angela Cox.
If there is one person who knows you inside and out, it is the ever-present and often way too vocal, inner critic, the nagging voice inside your head that lies in wait for the opportunity to comment on every aspect of your being.
The inner critic is particularly prevalent when you're just about to step out of your comfort zone. You've plucked up the courage to share an idea in a meeting, and as you prepare to speak, the inner critic will kick in to convince you it is a crazy idea and everyone will think you’re stupid. You stay silent, and as you hear a colleague present a similar concept, you feel your self-esteem take a knock.
Get to know your inner critic
Everybody has an inner critic, even those flying high at the top of their game. Its role is to keep us safe and, while its intention is positive, its execution keeps us small and renders us feeling flat, fearful, and floundering. Training the inner critic to be there when you are in danger and to ‘butt out’ when you are taking a risk to help you grow, is crucial. This involves detaching yourself from the voice inside your head. Giving the inner critic a persona is useful as it means you can separate its opinion from yours.
I call my inner critic 'Miss Meddler' and she is just like Dorothy Cotton from EastEnders. I treat Miss Meddler with respect, like an old aunt who likes to provide well-meaning advice. I thank her for her opinion and file it in the ‘not required’ tray.
It has not always been this way for me, in fact for most of my adult life it was far from it. Miss. Meddler held me stuck in a perpetual cycle of self-loathing that led to disordered eating, obesity and many unhelpful behaviours which on the one hand brought career success and on the other delivered a constant feeling of inadequacy.
While flying high in a career sense could be deemed positive, I now recognise with hindsight and a whole heap of self-reflection, that the version of me who created the career success wore a mask. In removing the mask and learning to manage Miss Meddler, I have found much deeper level of fulfilment, a greater sense of wellbeing and ultimately a much higher level of success which is now defined through my own lens, rather than that of others. The tangibles around this include writing a best-selling book, pivoting my career, retraining, and building a business and losing weight which I have sustained for four years.
If you take a moment to tune into your own inner dialogue, you may hear anything from 'you look fat today' to 'your colleagues think you're useless.' The critique is usually fiercely cutting and with zero intervention, you accept it as your truth, after all the words are coming from you, aren't they?
Well, you would not speak to a friend in this way so, perhaps this voice is not yours after all. And herein lies the opportunity. You can decide to ignore what you hear. Yes, it is that simple. The inner-critic resides in the conscious mind; an anti-self that aims to stop you from acting in your best interest. Knowing this gives you the power to decide what to do with the critique.
Reframing it, is in my experience, even more prevailing than ignoring it. Saying the positive opposite, counters the inner-critic and builds your self-value. You hear ‘You’re so useless’ and by reframing and saying, ‘I am confident and credible,’ you change your state.
Identify your self-talk patterns
Honing your ability to do this ‘in the moment’ takes practice and it starts with getting to grips with your self-talk patterns. To do this initially, set an alarm in your phone to sound every couple of hours during the day. When you hear the alarm, think back over the previous period, and note down any negative jibes you have heard from the inner-critic.
This exercise will give you a good idea what your inner-critic likes to focus on and this will raise your awareness such that you will be more likely to hear the critique in the moment.
Steps to reframe your thoughts
Next, you can practice my STARS technique which I designed specifically to reframe thoughts. STARS is an acrostic which helps you remember five steps to work through when countering your Meddler:
- Step back
- Take a breath
- Acknowledge how you feel
- Reframe the thought
- Say it out loud
The first step when you hear a negative is to change your physiology. This is the part of the process I call the step back. One negative can easily spiral into a series of negatives and by moving your body, you switch on a different part of the brain which interrupts the spiral.
It is then important to calm down your internal system by taking a deep breath, stopping any fight or flight response which may have been triggered by the negative self-talk. The breath will bring calm and allow you to acknowledge how you feel about what you have heard. This is a key step in the process as it sends a signal to the subconscious that you are not accepting what you’ve heard and you are leaning in to how it makes you feel.
You are then primed to reframe the thought with the positive opposite of what you heard. So, for example, if Miss. Meddler says, ‘Your opinions don’t matter’ this can be reframed to ‘What I have to say is valid and people will want to hear it.’
To complete the process, you say the affirmational thought out loud and where this isn’t realistic (such as on a packed train) you can imagine shouting it out loud without the words actually leaving your mouth.
Once you make reframing a habit, and counter the ramblings of your inner-critic, it is remarkable how much quieter it becomes. Give it a go, what do you have to lose?