Silencing Your Inner Critic: Tips From a Psychologist

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Chatter" by Ethan Kross. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you silence your “inner critic”—that denigrating voice in your head that always judges and puts you down? How can you reframe a bad situation?

According to neuroscientist and psychologist Ethan Kross, one way you can quiet your inner critic is by adopting a new perspective. This allows you to get outside of your head, bringing you clarity and a break from your body’s threat response.

Keep reading for Kross’s tips for silencing your inner critic by adopting a new perspective.

Tip 1: Think of Your Problem as a Project

First, according to Kross, studies reveal that you can reduce your brain’s threat response by thinking of your problem as a project instead of a threat. When you approach your problem as a project that will develop your skills, you call upon your internal mentor, whose encouragement can drown out your inner critic. 

For instance, imagine you’re an organizer for housing justice and you’re feeling discouraged by your city’s lack of affordable housing. Instead of framing this as a threat to your coalition’s goals, think of it as a project that’ll push you and your coalition to develop new skills and tactics.

(Shortform note: Experts on public speaking offer wisdom that may further explain why it’s effective to reframe your problem as a project. When preparing for a speech or performance, experts recommend channeling nervous energy into excitement because it’s easier than trying to achieve calmness. This is because nervousness and excitement are more similar feelings than nervousness and calmness. This advice overlaps with Kross’s: Reframing your nervousness as excitement and reframing your problem as a challenge both involve accepting and embracing your energy level instead of trying to alter it.)

Tip 2: Compare Your Present to the Past

Kross claims that you can also silence your inner critic by comparing your present situation to other challenges you’ve endured in the past. Remembering these past successes offers hope that you’re capable of persisting through your current challenge. These feelings of hope can transform your inner critic into an internal mentor.

For example, imagine you’re having trouble setting boundaries with a family member and your inner critic is chastising you for being a pushover. To counteract this negativity, remind yourself of times in the past when you’ve effectively set boundaries with other people.

(Shortform note: During stressful moments when your inner critic is reverberating in your mind and taking over your thoughts, it might be hard to focus enough to recall past challenges and follow Kross’s advice to compare them to your present. To make it easier to use Kross’s method in these difficult moments, start a list of your past challenges and accomplishments. Keep the list accessible so you don’t have to hunt it down next time you need it. For instance, keep the list at the top of your phone’s notes app or keep it in a small journal on your desk.)

Tip 3: Imagine How You’ll Feel in the Future

If comparing your current situation to the past doesn’t provide relief, look to the future instead. Kross claims that you can quiet your negative self-talk by imagining a positive future. Consider how you’ll feel about your current situation in one month, a year, and 10 years. Contextualizing your present in your future can trigger the hopeful realization that your current situation is temporary. As previously noted, hopefulness hushes your inner critic. 

(Shortform note: This strategy resembles one of the central tenets of Buddhist philosophy: that everything—including negative experiences—is impermanent. According to experts on Buddhist wisdom, remembering this tenet can help you endure difficult moments. Tell yourself, “These difficult emotions will pass.” The idea of impermanence also applies to positive experiences, which may feel disappointing: We often want positive moments to last forever. Buddhist leaders such as the Dalai Lama claim that you can deal with the impermanence of positive experiences by reminding yourself to savor them.)

Tip 4: Avoid Using the “I” Pronoun in Your Self-Talk

A final way to adopt a new perspective is to shift the pronouns your internal voice uses. Kross claims that the pronouns you use in your self-talk affect the power of your inner critic. People who address themselves using the first-person pronoun “I” experience more negative emotions than people who address themselves using different pronouns. Pronouns other than “I,” such as “he,” “she,” “they,” and “you,” give you distance from your current situation, preventing you from losing yourself in negative emotions that fuel your negative self-talk. When you use these other pronouns, your brain’s threat response is less activated.

(Shortform note: Kross’s suggestion that you shift the pronouns in your self-talk suggests that you have some degree of control over what your internal voice says and how it says it. However, as previously noted, some experts claim that we can’t control which thoughts arise in our minds. This suggests that you can’t prevent your internal voice from using the negative “I”  pronoun when the voice first arises. Therefore, think of Kross’s pronoun-replacing strategy as one you employ after your inner critic says something negative using the “I” pronoun.)

Combining Kross’s Pronoun-Replacing Strategy With His Other Strategies

Although Kross doesn’t say so in his book, it may work well to combine his pronoun-replacing strategy with his other perspective-adopting strategies. Since each strategy targets your inner in a slightly different way, combining them may increase your ability to quiet your inner critic. To try this, avoid using first-person pronouns when using Kross’s first three perspective-adopting strategies. We’ll illustrate how to do so using this scenario: You did poorly on your job’s first performance review.

– Use second-person pronouns to think of your problem as a project. Tell yourself, “You have a number of areas of growth, and making progress on these will both strengthen your skills and impress your superiors.”

– Use third-person pronouns to compare your present to the past. Tell yourself, “In her previous job, she also had a rocky start. She improved her skills in that job, so she can improve her skills in this one, too.”

– Use second-person pronouns to imagine how you’ll feel in the future. Tell yourself, “The embarrassment of receiving a negative review will eventually pass, and then you’ll be able to focus on making improvements based on your boss’s advice.”
Silencing Your Inner Critic: Tips From a Psychologist

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  • How negative self-talk interferes with your happiness, health, and success
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  • Four actionable tips for quieting your internal cynic

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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