“You suck! You’re a failure! Why do you even try? All you do is make mistakes you loser! And you smell...”
How would you respond to someone if they said those things to you? You’d probably return fire or even start throwing dukes around. Those are fightin’ words!
So why the hell do we take that kind of crap from our internal critic?
The internal critic that occupies every single human mind is actually the biggest mass murderer...ever. The murderer of dreams, that is.
Most dreams are murdered in their infancy—before they’ve even been acted on. Let's just say the internal critic is a swift assassin and doesn’t jerk around. It goes for the jugular (not to be confused with this guy...)
If you’re able to beat your critic, you will remove a humongous roadblock that's stopping you from going after your dreams. It's also the roadblock that's stopping you from becoming the best you possible.
What exactly is an internal critic?
Mental cancer. It’s a reflection of our deepest, darkest doubts and fears. It’s the voice that tells us we're no good.
It’s the voice that attaches itself to your tiniest self-doubt and expands it into exaggerated, hyperbolic exaggeration (a BIG doubt).
Say you’ve been stressing about forgetting your entire speech. That’s your critic. Afterwards, when you do forget your entire speech, and you’re beating yourself for doing what you feared most, that’s also your critic.
A full-service critic!
What does the internal critic do?
The internal critic is intent on doing damage by infecting your mind with self-doubt. It knows all your weaknesses and it exploits them at every opportunity.
It is strongest when you confront challenging situations, like public speaking.
Going back to the example about forgetting your speech. As soon as that thought comes to mind, your internal critic will jab it’s talons into that thought and stretch. This intensifies the fear of public speaking.
Not only that, it loves when you make mistakes and it’s extremely hard to please. Nothing is ever good enough in the evil eyes of your internal critic.
For example, if you write out your speech word for word, and then memorize it word for word, you’ve now been chained to those words. Basically, you’ve set a goal for yourself come speech day.
But, if you stumble on your words, or leave something out because you forget, there is a sense of failure. And the critic likes to judge and bludgeon us into submission for such failures.
Well, let me tell you something about my judge: he was a raging maniac on steroids. He could turn a mispronounced “the” into Armageddon. No joke.
A judge heaving out criticism is hardly favorable for anyone who wants to improve at something, especially something that requires a “walk the plank” mentality each time you do it (public speaking!).
The most diabolical power the critic has over us is that it reinforces our doubts and fears. It first infects our minds with them. Then, after the self-fulfilling prophecies are fulfilled, the critic smirks back at us and says “I told ya so.” This strengthens our doubts and fears and makes them harder to shake the next time.
Don’t worry, it’s possible to defeat the critic.
How can you beat your internal critic?
We must stop the internal critic (our Judge Dread or however we view it). If we don’t, the judge will put its cold dry hands around our neck and keep us from our goals.
We'll go over two ways to do this. The first one is easier said than done, but it works.
1. Distance yourself from the negative thoughts
When you sense them poking at your consciousness, distance yourself from them.
So, say the thought “What if stumble over my words and look like a miserable moron?” enters your mind. As soon as you sense this thought, it’s time to file for divorce. The thoughts aren’t you, so separate them from you. Treat them as if you were merely observing them.
For example: “Oh, that’s interesting. Negative thoughts are present.” Try putting some “funny” in these observations as well such as, “Incredible, my inner critic is trying to put me down to make himself feel better. What a silly fellow.”
Turning these menacing thoughts into mere observations gives you a unique control over them...and over the critic. This technique can work both before and after you do that which you fear. [For more info on this topic check out my book The Perfectionist's Guide To Public Speaking.]
The next way to clobber the critic is simple:
Encouragement is the opposite of criticism. The internal critic hates this.
Let’s use public speaking once again because it’s a critic’s wet dream.
First off, after every speaking opportunity, remind yourself what a good job you did getting up there and doing it! If you made a mistake such as forgetting an important point, jumbling your words, or whatever, let it go.
Don’t beat yourself up.
The mere fact that you got up there to do it is a strong step and you shouldn’t let it go unnoticed. Make it a point to find the good out of any speaking experience, no matter how minuscule.
Our judge will find something to latch onto (a mistake) and try to slap us in the face with it.
Things such as, “I can’t believe I forgot to say that,” or “I’m so stupid for mispronouncing that word,” or “The audience hated it, they looked so bored,” or “Why can’t I just deliver my speech perfectly without making mistakes?” are hard to shake.
We must ignore that conniving bastard.
Each time you sense a negative thought arise, cover it by telling yourself something good that you did during your speech. You always have the comfort of knowing you at least showed up, right? That’s not always the easiest thing to do, so it's always worth noting!
You should also listen to the people that support you. Don’t fight their words of encouragement. When a friend tells you “Good job,” accept it and be grateful. Encouragement is important to keep you going forward, especially for something as nerve-racking as public speaking.
Use encouragement and shun your inner critic. Whether it’s “Good job,” or “You’re great,” or “Man, you’re awesome,” and all those other encouraging one-liners, use them as often as possible.
Wrap it up...
Now you know the dangers of letting your internal critic run your life. You learned what your internal critic actually is, what it does, and most importantly, how to put a muzzle on it.
It just takes a little bit of awareness. When you're in a pressure situation, you're critic will no doubt try to guide your ship...directly into the ground. It's up to you to keep your captaincy and steer the ship straight through the fog.
Aye aye, Captain!
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About this guy...
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life. In less than a year since, I’ve started this website, Tactical Talks, competed and won 3 separate public speaking contests, wrote a book, and spoke at one of the top universities in southern California (SDSU).
And look, I’m not telling you this to “show off.” My purpose is to show you that it’s possible to start doing the things that YOU want to do. And that’s my goal. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.
Great point about defending ourselves from the mean words of others, but choosing to become helpless victims to our own. Once we recognize this, it does become easier to distance ourselves and replace them with encouragement. Just as Smeagle focused on “the master” and told Gollum to get lost, we really can do the same — without even having to screech it out loud. Thanks for sharing!
Absolutely Bill. The unfortunate thing is that this requires our constant monitoring. It can creep back up at any time.
Indeed! Due diligence is always due. (Oo — can I get listed on a Great Quotes site with that one? Probably not.)