How a NLP Coach Taught Me to Deal with Inner Criticism and Build Self-Confidence

So you have a dream, and you are willing to give it a try, if only the voice inside your head stops barging in to remind you why you cannot do it.

A few years back, I took a group coaching course with a local accredited neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) teacher, which focused on creating a life of choice by manifestation, and not default. The premise of the course was the breakthrough realization that most of us go through life without actively having a definite say in what transpires around us. We find ourselves influenced by someone else’s intentions of what to be and do, be it parents, teachers, friends or preachers, and of course, the society and its conventions at large.

In truth, we assume other life stories because we believe we are not good enough to create our own. Thus, we are not manifesting the true powerful being of who we are. Ask yourself if you are living the life you want, doing what you enjoy, being at peace with whom you turned out to be in the world. Be ruthlessly honest.

One of the most important techniques around manifesting a truly happy and authentic life lies in recognizing and silencing the incessant negative chatter of the mind, which is the internal voice of self-doubt and criticism. Its sole selfish purpose is to keep you safe from failure, guilt, attack, isolation, or embarrassment. This voice is your Inner Critic.

By keeping you safe and sheltered from the real world, a very primitive basic function of your brain similar to the ‘flight or fight’ response, this inner voice develops a great influence on your self-esteem and your subsequent actions. It may keep you sheltered, but it is doing your life a major disservice. The Inner Critic keeps you trapped in your comfort zone. If you want to venture beyond the safe and the obvious and explore all that you can be, you have to silence the Inner Critic. But how is this even possible?

Meet Your Inner Critic aka the Gremlin

The NLP course teacher called this negative voice the Gremlin for an easy, fun reference. The Gremlin dwells in your subconscious or reactive mind, where a major percentage of your thinking, choices, feelings, impulses and behavioural patterns form. The Gremlin brings these buried thoughts from deep within your mind (the medulla and the cerebellum), to the surface known as the conscious and logical part of your mind (the cortex). When feelings trump logic, the Gremlin succeeds. It knows that feelings and impulses win over rationality and logic, and it feeds on this knowledge.

Most of your reactions to a particular thought or ideology stem from the internal dialogue you develop with this risk-adverse part of yourself. No wonder the judgement and harsh criticism expressed towards yourself. When the Gremlin’s incessant accusations infiltrate your world, you focus on the negativity. Your self-esteem takes a plunge, or worse; you feel depressed and undeserving of better things.

The Inner Critic is real, and it is an important part of your life, your choices, your actions. So what can you do about it? Can you silence the Gremlin, once and for all, to your advantage?

Let’s take for example the following dialogue inspired by a real-life scenario.

You: “I think I should become a novelist. I have always enjoyed writing.”

The Gremlin: “Are you serious? You know you are not good enough. You will never be the next James Patterson.”

You: “Go away! I could always enrol in a writing course to improve my writing skills.”

The Gremlin: “Nah. Forget about it. It will take time, and you can’t afford that luxury. You should focus on other things. Your family. They need you. Your job. You need the money, right? Be honest. Do you think you can earn money from writing? Only the best writers do. You’re not good enough.”

You: “Hmmm…stop it already! I could give it a try, start working on a novel in my spare time.”

The Gremlin: “Are you crazy? You don’t even have enough time for your family. When will you get the time actually to sit down and write?”

You: “I’ll make time. I could schedule one hour before going to work, or in the evenings after the kids go to bed.”

The Gremlin: “Dream on. I don’t see you doing it for more than a day or two. It’s too much, and you won’t be able to commit. Remember last time you wanted to take yoga classes?”

You: “You’re right, I skipped the yoga, but I could start small with the writing course then…”

The Gremlin: “You wish. You won’t have time for the assignments. Remember the yoga classes? Now go back to doing the laundry.”

You: “Oh, well, ok, I’ll think about it later.”

So you have a dream, and you are willing to give it a try, if only the voice inside your head stops barging in to remind you why you cannot do it. You have heard it before: you are not good enough; you do not have the time or the experience; you have more important things to do; you will not succeed; if you fail, it will be too embarrassing; no one will understand or support you; and the list goes on. How can you be positive and inspired to pursue your dream when your Inner Critic points towards a flawed you?

Understand the Gremlin

There are various ways to deter the judgmental Inner Critic and focus on empowering thoughts, which you can act upon to fulfil your goals.

Firstly, you have taken the first step and acknowledged your Inner Critic as the disheartening voice that plants doubt, guilt and negativity in your life narrative. Then you gave this voice an identity as a Gremlin, a little creature that is a constant nuisance and throws back at you nagging comments whenever you start thinking bigger and bolder.

You can now fully arm yourself against this Gremlin’s vicious attack sabotaging your thoughts, and prepare for battle, right?

Wrong.

Once I attended the coaching group sessions, it became clear that the way forward to address this critical inner voice was to understand it, and not to get rid of it completely. Instead, acknowledge and understand its protective role without any reaction.

You cannot escape the Gremlin. It will most likely show up in a form or another. While you may try to shut it up or respond in anger, the goal isn’t to get rid of your Inner Critic. The goal is to hear its harsh voice but not let that voice define your choices. Or worse, to try to win the argument with the Inner Critic. Imagine a never-ending self-guilt chat, who would sign up for that?

Eliminate the Gremlin

The NLP group coach suggested an exercise to eliminate the Gremlin’s stronghold on your life and silence its overcritical voice in three steps.

1. Separate Yourself from the Gremlin

Firstly, separate yourself from the negative hardship that the Gremlin puts you under. It is not YOU; it is just a reflection of your fears and doubts. Then face your Gremlin. Imagine this creature stands in front of you. Visualize what it looks like, and even give him or her a name if you have difficulty picturing it. Use play words for easier reference. What about Judge Jane or Skeptical Saul? You can picture a fantastical being, or simply draw from reality. It is no secret that most recognize a critical parent, boss or mother-in-law in the voice of their Inner Critic. Take your pick.

It is far easier to face the Gremlin when you visualize it. Take a good look at this Gremlin, and imagine it as a living, breathing thing. It does not have to be a scary monster, but it does feel like one. Notice everything you can about it, from clothing to hairstyle to facial expressions. Laugh at it. Put it in his place. Tame the Gremlin’s voice by imagining that you are talking to a small lost child. Turn the monster into a caricature of itself. Do not give it more importance than it deserves.

In her book “Playing Big — Find your vision, your voice, and make things happen”, author Tara Mohr dedicates the first chapter to the inner voice of self-doubt and criticism, which she calls “the voice of not-me” and for good reason. Although her book focuses on what holds women back from playing bigger, the burden of having the irrational, harsh voice of criticism is universal. Mohr too recommends to label and notice the Inner Critic, and then to acknowledge that it simply one of the voices inside you, but not your core.

Furthermore, she encourages personifying this voice and assigning it a character as discussed above. This way it is possible to have a sense of humour about the critic and refer to the voice as funny or absurd. “Call it names and laugh at it if that’s going to help you move on, but don’t engage in a blood battle,” she says.

2. Validate Your Gremlin

Next, resist the urge to fight back by validating the Gremlin in a sensitive and loving manner. Whatever you resist, persist, so do not engage in war. If you fight the Gremlin harder, it will sabotage you every time, and force its way deeper into the conversation.

You have to step away from the self-doubting inner dialogue and listen to the Gremlin in a sensitive manner. Acknowledge what it says that you don’t like. The coach suggested to use cues like “I understand what you want,” “I know what you are thinking,” “I hear what you are saying,” to disarm the Gremlin’s sabotage. When the Gremlin feels heard and validated, it will relax its negative bombardment. Similarly, saying “Thank you, but I have this one covered,” a phrase Mohr frequently uses to cast away her critic, should do the trick.

Step away from the ineffective and angry conversation you have with your Gremlin. Do not expect for the negative thoughts to cease completely. Instead, be prepared to acknowledge whatever you don’t like to hear in your narrative, and be one step closer to silencing the torrent of self-depreciating words that ensues. You cannot eliminate all the negative propaganda, but you can tone it down with sensitivity and tact, like dialling down a volume button. Hear its objections, validate it, and move on.

3. Finally, Silence the Gremlin with a Mantra

When the Gremlin relaxes its strong hold on you, it is time to remove the negative energy by adding empowering phrases to your inner dialogue. First, acknowledge the Gremlin’s attack, and always counteract with a positive statement:

“I sense that you are trying to control me, and I have the power to accomplish anything I want/I can easily achieve my dreams/I am unstoppable/I know exactly what I want.”

Use a positive statement/verb focused on you, e.g., “I am unstoppable” but not “You can’t stop me.” This way it will reaffirm you and your power to control the story of your life, shifting the power from the Gremlin back to you. The negative energy will turn into a positive one, and its harsh voice will stay subdued. You have silenced the Gremlin.

Now picture the previous dialogue differently, employing the positive statements above in your conversation with the Inner Critic. For the sake of the example, I kept the Gremlin’s voice the same, however with practice, you should be able to cut short on its nagging and resume your will.

You: “I think I should become a novelist. I have always enjoyed writing.”

The Gremlin: “Are you serious? You know you are not good enough. You will never be the next James Patterson.”

You: “I know what you are thinking, and I will do something about it. I could always enroll in a writing course to improve my writing skills.”

The Gremlin: “Nah. Forget about it. It will take time, and you can’t afford that luxury. You should focus on other things. Your family. They need you. Your job. You need the money, right? Be honest. Do you think you can earn money from writing? Only the best writers do. You’re not good enough.”

You: “I know you are concerned about my family and my work, but I need this. I could give it a try, start working on a novel in my spare time.”

The Gremlin: “Are you crazy? You don’t even have enough time for your family. When will you get the time actually to sit down and write?”

You: “I sense that you are trying to control me, and I made up my mind. I will make time. I will schedule one hour before going to work, or in the evenings after the kids go to bed.”

The Gremlin: “Dream on. I don’t see you doing it for more than a day or two. It’s too much, and you won’t be able to commit. Remember last time you wanted to take yoga classes?”

You: “You’re right, I skipped the yoga, thank you for your reminder, but this writing thing is happening. I know I can do it. I will enrol in the writing course.”

The Gremlin: “You wish. You won’t have time for the assignments. Remember the yoga classes? Now go back to doing the laundry.”

You: “I hear what you are saying, and I thank you for your concern, but I have this covered. I have the power to make it happen. I can create anything I want. I will do the writing course and start working on a novel. In fact, I am going to enrol right now.”

It is a major difference once you shift from your place of defensiveness and anger to one of empowerment and possibilities. Although you cannot kill the Gremlin completely, neither should you want to. It will always be there to protect you, which is not entirely a bad thing. But if you aim for fulfilment and adventure, you have no choice but to eliminate this safety net from the conversation.

The more you do this exercise, the easier it will become to cast your negative Gremlin aside. And the faster you will realize that, for all its protective role, the Gremlin can be quite empowering at the same time, if only you know how to deal with its disruption. Do not fear the Gremlin.

Once in a positive state without the Gremlin’s bickering, your conscious mind frees itself to clarity and calmness. Your self-esteem will rocket. You will trust your choices. Your decisions will arise more effective and authentic. You are ready to live with a sense of great freedom and higher aspirations. You are finally ready to express your voice and manifest the life you want.

Go ahead and design your life.

This article was published on www.positivityguides.net. 

 

 

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