How to Tell Your Inner Critic from Your Inner Wisdom

Today we are going to talk about reconnecting with your inner wisdom which is linked to your intuition and is something everyone has – even if they can’t always hear it. We’re also going to talk about your inner critic which fools a lot of people and can actually stop you from standing in your power and growing in a positive way.

This is an important topic for you to be aware of because both of these things go with you everywhere you go and they can influence every aspect of your life. The critic can rob you of your vibrancy; your confidence, poise and resiliency, while reconnecting with your inner wisdom can help you be a better mom, wife, daughter, employee, boss…while guiding you towards smarter decisions, and helping you avoid some major disasters.

I’m going to share ways to recognize the difference between these two messengers and share some ideas for getting your inner critic under control. All of my podcasts are about increasing your self-awareness which will automatically reconnect you with your inner wisdom, so I’ll share a couple ideas for that today, but understand that this piece is an ongoing process that we’ll continue to build on in each and every podcast.

My Story

It was a warm sunny day in Manitoba, Canada (where I live), although the weather had been cold up until then. Our teenage kids were on spring break and both my husband and I were on holidays. We decided it would be fun to head to our favorite ski hill which is almost 5 hours from our home and spend a few days enjoying what was left of the snow. I wondered if it was too warm and they’d close the hill before we got there, but when I phoned them they assured me they still had lots of powder and planned to stay open until the end of the week.

We made the plans, got everyone packed and loaded into the car. As we were getting set to leave I felt an urge to return to my room for one last scan of anything I might have missed – I was glad I did as my first aid box (filled with homeopathy and such) was still up there.

On the way to the hill the temperature shot up higher and higher and by the time we arrived it was a very slushy situation. Oh well – friends of ours had made the trip out there too and it was my husband’s birthday, so we decided to just tough it out and make the best of it.

I was wearing a hot pink rip zone jacket – waterproof and very light, but still much too warm. Halfway through the day I took my jacket off and tied it around my waist allowing it to flap out behind me as I raced down the ski hill.

On my last ride up the lift I was riding with my friend and her young son. We were watching the workers taking down snow fence and lamenting the fact that the lift operator had just told us they were closing the hill early. As we neared the top of the chair lift, my friend turned to her son and said, “We’re going that way and pointed to the right…so please don’t cut me off.

I made a decision to get out of their way as quickly as I could, so I stood up as soon as my skies hit the snow and veered sharp right. Whoops – my jacket had twisted around the arm of the chair when I did that, locking me in place.

“Stop the lift.” I said, quite calmly despite a very strong urge to yell. “Don’t panic,” was the thought that shouted in my mind, “You’ll look like a fool!” When the lift didn’t stop the urge to yell increased along with the words, “Say it again – louder.” So I raised my voice and shouted, “Stop the lift – I’m stuck.”

The lift kept moving. I pulled at my jacket trying to get it to either rip or let go – “You shouldn’t have tied your jacket around your waist – how stupid was that!” the voice in my head shouted as the chair took exception to my resistance and swung me high into the air, over the safety bar and back towards the ski run.

“OMG!” echoed in my mind – “they’re not stopping it and I’m going to be dragged over!” Stop pulling – went through my mind, but how ridiculous was that – the lift was dragging me towards the 20 foot drop, of course I needed to pull. As it dragged me to the end of the safety net I tried to brace my hip against the final bar between me and the earth below. Of course, I’m not strong enough to stop a lift and it just kept on going despite my efforts. “This can’t be happening – this is a nightmare – I’m going to die!”

Finally the lift stopped, about 15 feet past the safety of that net and only a few feet shy of where the drop becomes a 60 foot fall to a black diamond run. The chair was swinging wildly and I clung to it for dear life. “You can’t fall in ski boots or you’ll break your legs for sure… just hold on until they back up the lift! What’s taking them so long? I hope my kids aren’t watching… Somebody help me!” These thought were blasting in my mind. But deep inside of me I felt an urging to stay calm, breathe and hold on tight.

But hold on for what? It became apparent that there was no plan for this type of emergency…I would have to get myself down. “NO! This is stupid – it’s not fair”… these thoughts collided with thoughts like “everyone is watching you – what a spectacle you’re making of yourself… I can’t believe I’m going to die here in front of all these people!”

With my heart in my throat, I realized I really did have to get myself down and I couldn’t do it with all those negative thoughts racing through my mind. I closed my eyes and breathed – consciously quieting my mind in the process. I felt a calmness go through me and a plan quickly formed – kick off your skies, let go of the chair and trust that your jacket will hold. Lower yourself through your jacket – that’ll cut half the distance – then drop the rest of the way. Bend your knees deeply when you land.

I took a deep breath and followed my plan. “What if my jackets too tight?” zipped through my mind just before letting go – panic surged through me again. But I breathed deeply and decided I’d wiggle through it.

I kicked off my skies, forced my fingers to let go of the chair, wiggled through my still tied jacket and fell to the earth below. As I slammed into the ground I bent my knees deeply which saved my legs, but also propelled me forwards smashing my helmeted head into the slushy, yet frozen, earth.
Recovering from this accident was not easy. I had a major concussion and severe whiplash, but I was relieved to have gotten myself down alive and without breaking my legs.  I’ve learned a lot from this experience and like to use what I’ve learned to help people rebuild their own lives after a traumatic event occurs. I share it here though, because I think it nicely illustrates the difference between the inner critic who I now call Naggy and my inner wisdom – which was there and trying to guide me throughout the process.

Your inner critic provides thoughts that make you afraid and keep you playing small. They are intended to help, but because they are fear based are also aimed at holding you back. Some people have a really nasty inner critic which puts them down, reminds them of all their short-fallings and sets them up for failure.

In this situation, my inner critic, Naggy, supplied the thoughts about how other people might be seeing me and the panicked voice about how I was going to die once the story progressed. In truth Naggy came out many times that day – any time my ski would grab in the icy snow or I’d lose my balance.

Your inner critic wants to keep you safe, but it would like to do it by keeping you locked in a padded room where you can’t get hurt, and you also can’t experience life. 

The good news is, your inner critic can be trained to be more supportive and I’m happy to report Naggy has come a long way since that day.

My inner wisdom, on the other hand, is much quieter than the critic and arises from down in my core (belly really). 

In my story, it was inner wisdom that sent me back to my room to find my first aid box (which it turns out I definitely needed) and also told me it was going to be too warm for the snow. I didn’t listen to that second piece of advice and instead phoned the ski hill to check if they planned to stay open. They said they’d be open all week…so we went.

I also ignored my inner wisdom when it told me to shout at the attendants (who turned out to be out of the shack in the safety net trying to fix something)…Notice – my inner wisdom didn’t shout at me to shout – it just firmly suggested I shout that I was stuck. It

was also my inner wisdom that told me how to get down without dying or breaking my legs and it was even my inner wisdom that answered my inner critic’s panicked idea that I might get stuck in my jacket.

Boiling it down

Your inner critic tends to be judgmental, fearful, loud or critical when it pipes up. In fact, I often suggest people write out the guidance they receive in their mind and if they would give their thoughts exclamation points, bolding, italics, or make it stand out in some other way, it’s likely their critic talking.

Inner wisdom, on the other hand, simply suggests. It’s guiding you, but like a lighthouse on the shore of the land, it doesn’t get brighter, or start flashing if you don’t listen. It simply shines to show you the way and then allows you to use your free will and choose to listen to it or not. I ignored mine several times that day, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there providing the guidance.

It told me to stop pulling – that seemed ludicrous at the time, but in the end, I really wished I had listened. It might not have made a huge difference because I did hang there for quite a few minutes, but I’m guessing had I not pulled so much I wouldn’t have suffered so much damage to my elbows and shoulders due to over-extension.

I also remember hearing the thought – “Be very careful.” When I tied my jacket around my waist. My critic responded to that one with the thought, “Don’t be silly – just do it!” Because the critic is so loud (bossy) it’s not as easy to ignore.

Becoming aware of the inner critic is the first step towards taking back your power from this invisible force and reconnecting to your natural guidance system.

I challenge you to notice your thoughts…

Choose a few to write down throughout the day…notice when it’s just a nudge and when it feels like a shout, command or insult. Notice when it keeps repeating (I’ve learned my Wisdom rarely repeats) or when the thought has emotion attached.

Give this loud voice a name.

Steer clear of naming your inner critic after someone you know (even if your inner critic does sound like them) as this gives that person more power than they deserve and can also create resentment towards this person that is not warranted. 

If you can’t hear your inner wisdom yet…in other words it all feels loud, derogatory or mean… that’s okay…focus your attention on training your inner critic and as you quiet that you’ll allow your inner wisdom to surface more and more.

Quieting your inner critic can take a while and is really quite specific to you. I used to teach people how to debate, minimize and even send their inner critic packing (in fact I give ideas for how to do this in my book Standing in Your Power), but I’ve changed my mind on this idea a little as I’ve learned to work with my inner critic.

Instead now I like to teach that she’s kind of like your eccentric old aunt – she has the best of intentions, but she tends to say it as she sees it (which is from  a very limited perspective) plus she’s way too protective (especially of your reputation) and some of her ideas are slightly warped. You don’t want to take what she’s saying to heart, but you do want to learn how to work with her.

Your inner wisdom on the other hand, is like the wise elder in your life – she is very connected, knowledgeable, loving and understanding…you definitely want to get to know her better.

How to apply this information to your life…

Step 1: Become aware of your inner critic if you aren’t already and start to set boundaries with her

Step 2: Notice your inner wisdom and especially what happens when you don’t listen to it…this will give you proof that she gives good advice [hint: this can be identified by those moments when you say or feel like you just knew this was going to happen…]

Step 3: Allow your inner critic to build you up – train it to provide positive, supportive thoughts and choose your inner wisdom to be your guide in life. It’s a rare person who can do this all the time, but the more you practice it the easier it will become.

This one little task is a huge part of the human experience and will start you on the path towards standing in your power on a regular basis.
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Learning Through Awkwardness

Anytime we learn something new there is a predictable cycle we will go through. This cycle starts with awkwardness which can immediately awaken feelings like self-doubt, fear, guilt or even our inner critic. When we are aware of how this cycle works we can move through it quite easily…when we are not aware, the extra pressures it puts on us can feel like quite a burden. Watch this brief video from the Bringing Out The Best in Yourself & Others series and see what a difference it can make in your life. Feel free to leave comments here on on Youbube.

Trouble watching the video? Watch it directly on Youtube

Video, 5 Patterns of Self-Destruction

The BIG 5 are patterns of self-destruction that start with common thoughts or feelings like; self-doubt, uncertainty, worry, fear or guilt then lead us to a point of total despair. They decrease our ability to perform, drain our energy and make it hard for us to move out of our comfort zone. Becoming aware of how these patterns appear in your life is the first step to taking back your power.

Trouble viewing the video? Click here to watch it on Youtube

Why Parenting Can Be So Hard

Parenting is like the ULTIMATE course in personal development!  In many communities we are led to believe this job is natural and something every person should be able to do effectively.  When we struggle (because it is NOT natural!) we feel embarrassed and concerned that we – and our lack of knowledge – are the problem. 

Learning something new always follows a cycle, making us feel awkward and then phony (fraudulent) for the first while.  In parenting, new challenges are constantly coming to the surface, meaning we are continually required to learn and try new things.  This makes us feel awkward – A LOT – which opens the door to the BIG 5 (self-doubt, uncertainty, worry, fear, guilt) and our Inner Critic.

The first step to dealing with this unnecessary stress is to recognize, parenting is not natural.  It requires learning that changes constantly and is different for every child.  It is not a task that any of us are born equipped to handle (except the reproduction part) and every parent will benefit from support at some point in their parenting journey.  You are the perfect person to parent your child – believe it!

Learning to Get Past Awkwardness

Any time we try learning something new we are faced with a sense of awkwardness.  This in itself is not a problem as there is a natural cycle involved in learning new things and awkwardness is step one of that cycle.  What is a problem however is the fact that this awkwardness often opens the door for what I call the Big 5, which makes learning harder and increases our chance of quitting before moving out of the awkward stage.

The Big 5 refer to the following:

  1. Self-doubt – wondering if we are doing it right, feeling like we are the only one who doesn’t get it, sure people will ridicule us for not knowing something “obvious”.
  2. Uncertainty – this type of uncertainty is when we are not sure if we are good enough, questioning if we have what it takes to really succeed or if maybe we are just fooling ourselves by trying.
  3. Worry – wondering if our behaviour and inability to do things well might hurt other people, like our kids, our spouses, our clients…as well as worry that we might never get it, that we are one of the few who are destined to fail.
  4. Fear – this is really the underlying factor for all of the above; fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of ridicule. A main problem with fear is it resides in the very same place as trust so the two cannot comfortably co-exist.  Trust is exactly what you need to get past fear, but fear is pretty pushy.
  5.  Guilt – this feeling arises as a result of all the others; if only I was better, smarter, quicker…if only I had tried harder…if only I had more patience…

The problem with the Big 5 is that they are drainers.  They are often an “all or nothing deal” that strive to take our full attention when they are around.  They rob energy from us and make it impossible for us to do our best work.  This means that right when we are trying to learn something new and should be cutting ourselves some extra slack, these things interfere and make us less capable and less understanding.

They also like to awaken their friends—inner critic and limiting beliefs. The inner critic is the voice that plays in your head and reminds you of all your “apparent” shortcomings, while your limiting beliefs are ideas you have inherited and think you must follow to be safe. Both of these things get in the way, protecting you from really growing and reaching your potential.

An interesting thing about the Big 5 is that unlike the natural cycle of learning, they are a human-made product.  They are not a natural part of learning, but a by-product of a society that judges people on what they do or don’t do well.  This type of society points fingers of blame when things go wrong causing people to shirk responsibility for their actions and minimize or justify their mistakes.  It is one where criticism and comparison are the norm causing people to feel that if they don’t measure up to society standards they are failures.

I bring this up because it’s important for all of us to recognize that the Big 5 are not a natural part of our world, but one we have created.  Blaming society will not do anything except increase the problem we already have.  Awareness is the key.  If people are aware of the Big 5 they can begin to take steps to rid themselves of these draining energies – or at the very least know these feelings come in through a doorway only they can close.

When we refuse to allow these feelings to determine our actions and learn ways to stop them in their tracks, we are putting ourselves in the driver’s seat of our lives and are ready to really benefit from all that we learn. 

Learning something will always be awkward, but with practice and determination will eventually lead to authentic and even automatic behaviour.  With the Big 5 getting in our way, our learning struggles to even get off the ground.  

Which one do you think offers a better journey?