A sad man trying to silence his inner critic, with thought bubble of himself pointing at him.

Do you bounce back from criticism? How much do you trust yourself? Do you laugh at (or at least learn from) failure?

Dr. Julie Smith writes that your mental health will significantly improve when you silence your inner critic. To do so, she recommends you learn to tolerate negative feedback, build your confidence, become comfortable with failure, and strive to accept yourself unconditionally.

Continue reading to get Smith’s four-part guidance on how to silence your inner critic.

#1: Be OK With Negative Feedback

Smith’s first piece of advice on how to silence your inner critic is to take negative feedback. Everyone experiences criticism and disapproval from others, so it’s important to build the skills to tolerate it. This doesn’t mean we should force ourselves not to care what others think. That would be an unrealistic goal, as we evolved as social animals—rejection threatened our survival for most of human history, so criticism can still bring up strong feelings.

When other people’s criticism focuses on something we did, we may feel guilt, prompting us to reflect and change our behavior. When criticism focuses on who we are, we feel shame.

Shame is a painful experience, and Smith explains that the key to staying calm in the face of negative feedback is to build shame resilience. Shame resilience helps us stay calm, assess feedback, incorporate it if it aligns with our values, and move on without it harming our sense of worthiness. 

To build shame resilience, Smith first recommends reflecting on what causes you shame the most—your appearance or intelligence, for example. If someone’s negative feedback hits you hard and you find yourself ruminating about it, try to interrupt the repetitive thoughts by redirecting your attention.

If you can stay calm after receiving negative feedback, you may see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. To take criticism productively and use it to your advantage, Smith encourages you to stay on your own side and not kick yourself when you’re down. It’s also essential to assess whether the feedback is relevant to you—does the opinion of the person who criticized you matter to you? If not, try to let it roll off your back.

#2: Build Confidence in Yourself

Smith’s second piece of advice on how to silence your inner critic is to build self-confidence. Having confidence doesn’t mean feeling completely fearless in new situations—it means trusting yourself and pushing beyond your comfort zone. To do this, you need to be courageous but avoid overwhelming yourself. 

To build trust and confidence in yourself, Smith recommends you get familiar with what kinds of things are in your safe zone, your danger zone, and your growth zone (where you’re challenged but not overwhelmed). Then, commit to doing things in your growth zone. Try to embrace discomfort and have faith in your improvement over time. Be kind to yourself, even when mistakes or anxiety arise, and take breaks to recharge when facing daunting tasks. 

(Shortform note: Smith recommends a gentle and gradual approach to building confidence by taking actions in your growth zone, but in The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman recommend a different approach: Take risks and expect to fail. They call this approach “failing fast” and argue that it will help you release perfectionism and even cultivate kindness and compassion for yourself because when you fail often, you can acknowledge that no one is perfect and failure happens to everyone.)

#3: Change Your Relationship to Failure

Smith’s third piece of advice on how to silence your inner critic is to look at failure differently. When we fear failure and believe we shouldn’t make mistakes, our inner critics can get loud and harsh. This is because failing can seem like evidence that we aren’t good enough, so we berate ourselves, thinking this will motivate us to improve. In reality, being harsh with ourselves isn’t motivating, and failing is a part of growing and learning. However, it’s not easy to simply decide to feel OK with failure. Smith recommends we instead commit to being kind and compassionate to ourselves as we take risks and do things we aren’t familiar or comfortable with yet.

You can start changing your relationship to failure by noticing and shifting how you view other people, their efforts, and their mistakes. Do you make other people feel bad about themselves when they fail? If so, how can you be kind to yourself when you inevitably fail at something?

Perfectionism and the Fear of Failure

The belief that, in order to be good enough, we can never make mistakes or fail is one of the core characteristics of perfectionism. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown explains that we adopt a perfectionist attitude because we think it will protect us from being blamed, judged, and ashamed. Brown says that perfectionism isn’t healthy because it’s based on unrealistic expectations that you’ll never live up to.

Perfectionism can negatively impact your life in many ways, including inducing what she calls  “life-paralysis,” where the fear of doing things imperfectly becomes so overwhelming that you avoid taking risks altogether. Life-paralysis will inevitably cause you to miss many opportunities and experiences.

In addition to cultivating kindness and compassion for yourself, as Smith recommends, Brown says you can also combat perfectionism by developing shame resilience.

#4: Cultivate Self-Acceptance

Smith’s last piece of advice on how to silence your inner critic is to learn to accept yourself. Self-acceptance can seem like a form of complacency—if you believe you have nothing left to learn or improve about yourself, you’ll stop setting goals or striving to accomplish them. But research suggests that those with high levels of self-acceptance and self-compassion have less fear of failure and, therefore, are more willing to take risks to achieve their goals.

How do you begin to accept yourself? Smith explains that the first step is to get to know yourself by doing things like journaling, going to therapy, and talking to loved ones. As you develop self-awareness, you’ll encounter parts of yourself you’re not proud of and want to change. You must try to embrace all the parts of yourself with kindness, even the ones that frighten, confuse, and embarrass you. 

Once you have cultivated self-awareness, you can work on turning down the volume on your inner critic’s voice. Start by getting to know what your inner critic sounds like—what words it uses and what it focuses on. Next, imagine what that inner voice would be like if it were a separate person. What would they look like? What’s their intention? Is this person trying to protect you from something?

How to Silence Your Inner Critic: 4 Strategies From Julie Smith

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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