5 Mindset Tricks to Make Peace with Your Inner Critic and Do Your Best Work
Updated: Jul 19
Bertrand Russell once complained, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.”
And since his time, many others have observed the same: intelligent, competent people who are paralyzed by self-doubt, often out-competed by people who aren’t intelligent enough to know the limits of their intelligence.
If you’re reading this, you probably know this problem in a personal way. You have dreams and goals. Or maybe you just have work to do. But there’s a little voice in your mind saying:
Who do you think you are?
You don’t have what it takes to do that.
Why don’t you just quit before you fail?
If you have an inner voice heckling you while you try to do your work, you’re not alone. I hear that voice too.
And–in the past–he really knew how to shut me down. Sometimes, I could literally feel the tension in my forehead and forearms and chills in my fingers as doubt swept up my imagination in all kinds of future worst-case scenarios.
Sometimes, that voice scared me so much that I’d even given up on my work for the day: go take a nap or have a snack or binge-watch something on Netflix.
But, after years of therapy, I’ve gained some tools to transform my relationship with my inner critic. In fact, the other day, I laughed at him. “You’re so funny,” I chuckled at his fearful narrative and kept it moving. And you can too! The big idea is to stop fighting your inner critic.
Instead, make peace with them. Get curious about them. Let it point you to the wounds that created them. Hear what it’s trying to tell you so you understand the inner obstacles you need to overcome.
Here are 5 mindset tricks I’ve learned in therapy that transformed my relationship with my inner critic from one of fear to friendship:
Say, “Thank you”
Sometimes, your inner critic is the voice of your younger self. They’re trying to protect you. If you endured a lot of criticism when you were young, you may have learned to make yourself small to avoid feelings of shame or failure.
Maybe you learned to limit your self-expression or to avoid taking on challenging activities. Defense mechanisms like those can help us gain and maintain a sense of safety. But they can become obstacles later in life because our best work involves risk and constructive feedback.
It’s important to respond to that fearful inner voice with compassion. Be the big sibling, parent, or best friend you never had to that young part of you. Thank them. Hug them. Then tell them, “We’ve got this.”
Return To The Facts
When limiting thoughts intrude on our mental space, it's important to return to what the evidence shows. Somebody hired you or referred you because they believe you’re capable. Your clientele, portfolio, or positions are evidence of your gifts and the quality of your work.
If you were incompetent, it’s not likely you’d be able to fool the many people who trust you to deliver the goods all this time. (And if you have been fooling the whole world all this time, that’d still be evidence of what you’re capable of.)
Focus on the facts. The doubts are distractions. It may be helpful to spend some time journaling. Write down the story of who you are, where you come from, and what you’ve overcome to get to where you are today. This can be a powerful exercise to feel your power in your body.
Take Control of Your Inner Narrative Through Affirmations
Our inner critic points us to wounds that need healing. They transform negative experiences into a script of limiting beliefs. We’re not often aware of the script because it works on the subconscious level. But we feel the effects of those limiting beliefs when we feel resistance to accomplishing our goals.
We can counteract the negative script by working on a positive script. A daily practice of reciting positive affirmations can change the story you think you’re living in and the type of character you think you are. A good place to mine some of those affirmations would be “the facts” I referred to earlier. You could distill your narrative into short truths about yourself.
Another way to come by affirmations: do some timed, stream-of-consciousness journaling. Go back through your journal entry and highlight all the limiting beliefs you can. Then write affirmations that counter those limiting beliefs.
If you get stuck on writing affirmations, return to the facts you wrote down before for inspiration. Write them on some Post-it notes and put them on your bathroom mirror, then use them to incorporate a little pep talk into your morning routine.
Create Space Between Yourself and Your Thoughts
You are not your thoughts. You experience thoughts. And every thought you experience isn’t worth your attention, energy, or even a reaction.
This truth will benefit you in life in general, not just professionally, because so much of our mental suffering comes from over-identifying with our thoughts. If we can learn to observe our thoughts, we can create more internal space to sit with discomfort and choose how we respond to our thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness practices like meditation or centering prayer help create that internal space. The late contemplative Thomas Keating wrote of our thoughts as debris floating down the river. In centering prayer, we allow all the thoughts to flow down the river without judgment or even inspection.
We just let them pass. With enough practice, we learn to live in that mindful state throughout the day, allowing limiting beliefs, criticisms, slights, fears, and offenses to flow down the river–unless we decide they are worth more attention.
Breathe and Push
Sometimes, the best way to deal with an inner critic is to prove it wrong. Whatever it is, it says you can’t do, do it. That’s easier said than done, for sure. But sometimes–and I hasten to emphasize some times–we have to accept the inevitable adversity of life and push through.
Sometimes, the most beautiful things in life are the hardest to do. My therapist introduced me to a phrase in our sessions: “Breathe and push.” As a mother, she was obviously alluding to the pain of birthing a child.
But I’ve come to appreciate her gifting me the metaphor. Sometimes, the best we can do is defy all the mental resistance to our work with an “Oh yeah? Watch me.” Then we breathe as much as we need to soothe our activated nervous systems, and we do the work.
I hope one–or all–of these tools come in handy for you. Maybe they’ll inspire some mindset tactics of your own.
Regardless, what’s most important is that you learn to treat yourself with compassion, which means learning to embrace every part of yourself–even the part that is sometimes afraid of doing great things.
And I hope you’ll remember that self-doubt is common among more intelligent, competent people then the fact that you question if you’ve got the stuff is a sign that you’re probably more qualified than you realize.
About The Author: Andre Henry is an award-winning writer with a knack for storytelling and making big ideas accessible based in Los Angeles, CA. He's also the founder of Common Good Copywriting, which helps mental health professionals grow their profiles and establish themselves as trusted voices with potential new clients.