Stuck in Your Head? Get Some Peace & Quiet in 2 Easy Steps.
Getting Stuck in Your Head
I would love to ask you a few questions before we move forward:
- Does it ever feel like your thoughts – especially your negative thoughts – are uncontrollable & have a life of their own?
- Do you ever wish for a moment’s peace from that harsh inner critic who lives inside of you?
- Do you constantly focus on the worst-case scenario?
- Do you ever stay awake at night thinking about all your mistakes?
If you said “yes” to any of these questions, I know how painful & overwhelming this can be.
It can also create a vicious cycle in which you feel overwhelmed but powerless to your thoughts which then makes you feel even worse about yourself which leads to more negative thoughts & so on. Do you relate?
Trapped in Your Mind
I know what it’s like to feel like your thoughts are a prison from which you cannot escape. For many years, I fantasized about escaping from my life because I was so sick of hearing my inner critic. I constantly heard all the reasons that were “proof” of my unlovability & that this is why my life was so lonely, boring, & bleak.
You may hear this voice too sadly. You may also, at times, feel powerless to this voice like I did. Or, you may also believe that your inner critic helps you & without it you’d be lazy & a total failure.
It’s a common (false) belief that the negative inner critic is actually a helpful coach that prevents a person from being lazy, unproductive & unsuccessful.
It should be unsurprising then that many perfectionists & “high-achievers” have a very loud, ongoing negative soundtrack.
Unfortunately, rather than supporting the highest version of success, the tactics of the inner critic actually prevent a person from reaching their full potential. Research shows being self-critical actually leads to less success & accomplishment.
Self-critics are more depressed than others & depression, by its very nature, drains a person’s energy. Therefore, the more we attack ourselves, the less we accomplish.
Key symptoms of depression are: a lack of motivation, feeling heavy all day long, being tired no matter how much you sleep, struggling to wake up in the morning, & difficulty focusing. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I encourage you to consider that you are not “lazy” but rather you may need professional support to get to the root of your struggles with energy & focus.
Furthermore, people who are self-critical procrastinate more often* than others. Self-critical people struggle with feelings of insecurity that tell them they aren’t enough. This is why procrastination is such an attractive scapegoat. If a self-critical person fails at something when they procrastinated, they can blame the procrastination rather than themselves. For example, a person can say “I failed that test because I didn’t study” instead of saying, “I failed that test because I wasn’t smart enough.”
Of course, this type of self-sabotage gets people stuck in unhelpful black and white thinking (a key trait of perfectionists). Failing a test you didn’t study for at all or for long enough doesn’t mean you aren’t smart enough. All human beings have to work at learning. Unfortunately, having to risk failure is terrifying to a self-critical person so they shoot themselves in the foot all the time. This, of course, impacts a self-critics ability to reach their goals. It’s a fact of the nature of time that the more you procrastinate, the less you are able to accomplish.
I know I did this again & again in my own life. I procrastinated to apply to begin my licensure process as a therapist (which takes years to complete) for a few years. This delayed the possibility of reaching my dream of having my own private practice for years. Luckily, with practice & commitment to improving my life with various skills, I healed.
If you relate to any of my examples, I deeply hope for healing for you too!
Getting Out of Your Head
Learning to be less self-critical requires multiple skills.
First, you must make the decision to work on this behavior & let go of the false belief that this is a helpful & motivating strategy. Then, you must learn to set boundaries with this critical voice.
Setting boundaries with this voice means that as soon as you notice you are being self-critical, you interrupt your thinking.
Most likely, this will feel very tedious at first. You may find you are interrupting your thoughts frequently. This is totally ok & normal. It’s super common to not even realize how often we are thinking critically about ourselves until we make the commitment to start intervening.
Saying “no” to the inner critic includes two major steps:
- Practicing mindfulness which simply means working on paying attention to your thoughts. You cannot silence the inner critic if you don’t hear them speaking after all.
- Making the decision to stop this critical stream of thought
Skills to Stop Your Thoughts
When you make the decision to stop your negative thoughts, you can use two primary strategies. The first is mindfulness & the next is using your mind creatively.
Firstly, you can choose to distract yourself with a variety of mindfulness skills such as deep breathing, counting how many yellow (or any color) items are in the room with you, coloring, or the 54321 skill.
The 54321 is a skill which utilizes your 5 senses to orient you back to the present moment & away from whatever your inner critic is obsessing about this time. The 54321 skill asks you to look at 5 different things around you, notice 4 different things you feel either externally like your clothes or internally such as feeling warm or your heart racing, notice 3 sounds you hear which can include your breath, notice 2 things you can smell (or imagine smelling two things you enjoy), & to notice 1 thing you can taste (or imagine 1 thing you enjoy tasting).
I encourage you to try it right now:
- What are 5 things you see?
- What are 4 things you feel?
- What are 3 sounds you hear?
- What are 2 things you smell (or enjoy smelling)?
- What is 1 thing you can taste (or enjoy tasting)?
Could you think about anything else while you were doing that? Probably not – this is why this skill is so helpful at stopping your negative thoughts dead in their tracks!
When it comes to thinking creatively, you can use your mind as a source of support and inspiration rather than as a bully.
Helpful thoughts you may choose instead include:
- Imagining what could go right (instead of wrong)
- Imagining a container to put your thoughts in i.e., at night imagine putting your fears about a project into a box
- Imagining how your best friend or the most loving, ideal parent would talk to you right now
- Listening to affirmations
- Imagining the most peaceful, relaxing place you can dream of
You CAN Silence the Inner Critic
You are doing such great work. I am SO proud of your willingness to silence your critic. You deserve the peace of being liberated from your self-critical thoughts.
You may want to bookmark this article to come. This is a process that is absolutely possible yet, silencing your inner critic takes practice. The more willing you are to take action, the faster you will silence this critic.
Action Step Invitation:
Pick one strategy listed in this article & keep practicing – you got this!
P.S. If you want to learn how to have healthier boundaries (which includes having boundaries with your own thoughts), my course, “Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing & Start Being True to Yourself” is here to support you!
Resource: Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff