In this episode you will learn about the inner dialogue and self-criticism. We go over the pros and cons of self-criticism and how to identify if you are being too self-critical. We give you steps for how to become more self-compassionate.
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How To Turn Inner Dialogue & Self-Criticism Into Success
On this episode, you will learn about the inner dialogue and self-criticism. We go over the pros and cons of self-criticism and how to identify if you are being too self-critical. We give you steps for how to become more self-compassionate.
How much of the day do you think that you spend in your head in conversation with yourself?
I feel like I’m talking to myself not all day but a healthy amount of time with myself. You?
Same. I’m constantly in conversation with myself, but I think that that’s why it speaks to the importance of even paying attention to the inner dialogue that we have with ourselves and how it can influence our behavior.
Yes, but there are some people that don’t even have it in our dialogue.
It’s silent up there.
No, there totally is. This professor at UNLV, his name is Russell Hurlburt. He’s a Psychology professor at UNLV. He’s been studying this since the ’70s. He has learned that there are people who have no inner dialogue. There’s no voice up there, and I was like, “What the fuck?” It was interesting because I asked Matt and I was like, “How do you talk to yourself?” He’s like, “I don’t.” I was like, “This motherfucker is not talking to me about it.” That’s where I went. I was like, “Of course you do. Everybody has to have this.” It’s like, “No. There’s a good portion of people that do not have an inner dialogue. “
That’s insane to me. I know that there is an inner monologue and that’s different from the inner dialogue. The inner monologue is like the conversation that you have with yourself. If you stub your toe and you are like, “Fuck, that sucks.” The inner dialogue, can I tell you and this is like where I’m at all the time. Inner dialogue is when you are in dialogue with more than someone that’s other than yourself. It could be do this all the time with fights. I go back and I replay the fight in my head and I’m like, “This is what I should have said. This would have been the Hail Mary. This is what would have won me the argument.”
I have experienced that when you are like, “Damn it. I had to come back to what you’ve said.”
All the time.
Hours later because you’ve been stewing or remunerating on it because that’s part of what we do. Your inner dialogue is you going over things that have already happened.Your inner dialogue is you going over things that already happened. Click To Tweet
Not often, but I’m in dialogue with myself all the time about emails. How I can reframe them, conversations that I’m wanting to have maybe with parents or we talked about in previous episodes, boundaries. Even structuring how I would like to frame that conversation is almost like practicing. If you ever practice a presentation, it’s similar to that, but it’s all up in my head.
It’s interesting that some people can have none of it and some people, up to like 75% of the time, are in constant dialogue with themselves. Somewhere in between and what was interesting was that only about 20% is the median. It’s a pretty wide range of how much time you spend talking to yourself in your own tone of voice.
I don’t even hear myself in my own voice. It’s just talking. It’s like random chatter. Maybe that’s the ADHD. I don’t know. Just random chatter, but I think it’s so important to look at what our inner dialogue is consistent of. If you take a moment to think about where your mind goes when you let it wander? Is it affirming? Is it helping you think creatively, looking at reframing conversations or is it harmful? Are you replaying arguments? What’s unfortunate about that is if you are continuously replaying these arguments or breakups. It can prevent you from forgiving or forgetting, which can delay the healing process.
It can almost ensnare you into anxiety, depression, and other conditions where you can’t get out of it. It’s something to be very mindful of if you got that chatter, which seems like most of us do. Let’s agree that Matt’s weird. Again, he is. He doesn’t listen. He’s fine. As we go through this, just be mindful of that chatter because there is a line where it goes from being, “This is how I process information and that’s how I go through it.” “How do I rephrase this better? How do I write this email better, so I don’t sound like a bitch?” Those kinds of things versus constantly attaching your self-worth to the actions.
Once it starts to impact your value or your self-worth, I think that’s where it’s time to maybe even that’s like the flag or the sign to the, “This is time to flip the conversation to something more positive.”
What came to mind with me on this one because the other part of this conversation is being self-critical, and where does that voice come in? Most of us have that. The line for me that I wrote down was verbal abuse. When you are being verbally abusive to yourself, you need to check yourself on that because self-criticism is the number one block to self-compassion.
I feel like I’m in that space all the time. I know that self-criticism. You went to a conference and you saw this firsthand.
I did. I saw this great presenter who I thought was the best presenter of everybody who I observed that weekend. End of it, he was telling his brother and I was cleaning up my stuff. If you guys know me, I travel not light. I always have multiple bags with me. There’s a food bag, a drink bag, and the bag of the things I might need.
I’m here, packing up all my shit, and I overhear him being like, “This presentation wasn’t as good. I need a change of this and that.” Now I can think was like, “You are being hard on yourself and I thought you were the best one here. Take it down a notch. You are good.” It got me thinking about this question of when is self-criticism a good thing and when is it a bad thing.
Even that has a spectrum, but self-criticism is helping you improve and helping you achieve the things that you want to achieve and motivates you to do it, that’s fine. If you are using self-criticism in a way that is harmful to you, and it is that verbal abuse with you comparing yourself to others or not living up to your own personal ideals. It’s this tone of like, “Of course, you didn’t get that right, like you are such a piece of shit because you miss the comma.”
Are we bringing up Oxford again? I’m still up at night. When you talk about self-critic or self-criticism, for me, it’s seen as a negative thing, and then I was thinking, “Self-criticism isn’t self-deprecation.” Self-deprecation, we often use humor. We probably all engage in it at some point where it’s like, “Why do I do that?” It’s because I’m weird and I have no friends. In statements like that, you often try to use humor, but even though you are using humor, it’s coming from a place of doubt and insecurity. You obviously don’t want to spend too much time in self-deprecation. I know sometimes we make. You and I never do that. We never make jokes to lighten situations at all.
Never. Not a coping mechanism of ours at all.
Self-criticism for me, I have used it as a roadmap to help me identify problematic either behaviors or things I would have liked to change about the past to help improve myself, whether it’s in my personal life or through relationships. We have talked about that inner dialogue where I’m replaying arguments and I’m thinking, “How I said that came off wrong,” or, “My tone was off.”
You are coming to what you are saying, though, too much of it absolutely can prevent you from taking risks because you are always blaming yourself like you are the reason why you didn’t get that proposal. You are the reason why that relationship failed. You are finding yourself as the culprit in this scenario that you are replaying in your head.
The main distinction is, “How are you being there?” That’s why I’m like, “If this feels abusive.” If you are being abusive to yourself to the point where you are not taking risks. You are like, “No. I’m not going to do that. No. I’m not going to apply for that job.” You self-select out beforehand because like, “I wouldn’t get it anyways because look at all of my failings.”
The crazy part is that our self-talk is by and large negative because of how we evolved as humans and needing to survive from the sabertooth tigers and whatnot and all that craziness. That’s a big part of evolution because we have to be able to look at our mistakes to survive. We are not running away from bears and sabertooth tigers anymore. That’s not a thing, but our brain is still wired that way.Our self-talk is by and large negative. That's a big part of evolution because we have to be able to look at our mistakes to survive. Click To Tweet
About 2/3 of our thoughts are going to be negative, with a third positive. That seems to be what the research is showing. It’s what are you saying in those negative thoughts and are they being so abusive towards yourself that you are internalizing it as I’m bad versus it was a mistake? That’s going to be a key distinction for you when you are thinking, “I am being self-critical.” There are many ways that you can determine, “Am I being too self-critical?”
Psychology has twenty signs. I’m going to go through them very quickly because I feel like there’s a lot of overlap, but you blame yourself for every negative situation. You are down on yourself as a whole person as opposed to the specific mistake, which is what we have been talking about. You avoid taking mistakes. You avoid expressing your own opinion. You often compare yourself to someone else and usually come up short because you are never going to meet up. You are never satisfied with your achievements. You get an A minus and you are like, “I’m so stupid.” I should have gotten that A.
It’s probably that damn comma.
Exactly. You have impossibly high standards. You worry. What if scenarios are a lot? You may have body image issues. You’ll never ask for help because people will see you are weak. You do not assert your needs and desires. You have thoughts of self-harm. You have chronically criticizing parents or caregivers, which a lot of this stems from early childhood and your attachments development.
You persist in analyzing your mistakes like overanalyzing. You don’t easily forgive and don’t give yourself compliments. You get defensive in the face of feedback. You can’t accept compliments and think that within a system of Black and White values. Finally, your achievements in life have chronically fallen beneath your capabilities. I love what it says here. A classic sign of chronic self-criticism is underperformance. After years of doing less than your best, you may look around and be disappointed at how far you’ve gotten in life. If this isn’t a call to deal with your tendency to self-criticize, nothing is.
I’m feeling personally attacked by what you said.
I read what Psychology Today said.
I came across that one too, and I was like, “This is like me and I don’t want to read it,” so then I promptly closed the tab. I agree with you. I think that your thoughts have such power and it’s hard because if you think about how many thoughts go through your head a day, for Matt, I guess none. For most people, I have thousands of thoughts that go through my day. What I choose to give attention to will grow.
Being mindful of, “What thoughts am I feeding here? What am I giving attention to?” Those are going to grow. If I keep telling myself that I’m not deserving of that job, I’m not going to apply for it. Your thoughts affect how you feel and how you behave and the way you think has the power to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Yes, which is the main gateway to you being more self-compassionate and learning to maybe not be so verbally abusive to yourself is the thinking in the brain.
The thinking and the things that it does. You’ve shared twenty signs of self-criticism.
I mean, too overly self-critical.
What do you do to manage your inner dialogue?
Thank you so much for asking. We have steps.
Did you come with steps?
I came with steps. The number one thing is you have to choose to try to think nicer things about yourself. This is where people get the eye-rolling. It’s like, “Really? Do you want me to talk nicer to myself?” “Yes. I do.” That is, you have to choose to do that to at least take that step. It’s going to feel awkward in the beginning because you don’t necessarily believe it yet and you are fighting all of these years of harsh self-criticism. Step one is to choose to try to do that and then choose to meet the criticism with kindness.
To give yourself that grace and that break that you may deserve. Oftentimes the mistakes that we are making are opportunities for us to learn. If you are treating it as you as a complete failure and the whole thing will going to be very difficult for you to get out of this. The most important thing you need to do to try to get out of this self-criticism and more into self-compassion is to make a conscious effort to recognize the difference in how you feel. You are like, “I beat myself up all day because I missed that deadline or I missed that comma,” since that’s what we are going with now. If that’s what you are doing, or if you go, “I will do better next time.”
What was your number one step again?
Number one is to choose to try to think nicer things.
I even think that there’s even a step even before that, which was this awareness that we are talking about. If you don’t know that you are having negative thoughts, part of these studies looking into how the brain works and the thoughts, they talk about how there’s a variant because you can’t tell what people are thinking. You might ask them, but they may not be completely honest with you, or that might not be what they were thinking about in the moment.
That level of awareness is key. I think that’s even number one before yours, which is like, “Where does your inner dialogue go when you let it wander?” If you let your mind wander, because I know some people do this through meditation. I’m not a meditation person. If you can get there through meditation great, sometimes it’s sitting outside and focusing on the sound of water, for me.
You’re like, “Melissa, you live in the desert. Where’s the water? That’s my pool.” My pool makes a water sound. It’s like when you do let it go, are your thoughts positive or are they negative? Where do your thoughts spend the most time? Are they in the past where it’s like those what-ifs that you were talking about? Should have, could have, and would have. Are in the present or in the future? You should try to focus on the present.
If you are doing what-ifs, you are spending all this time on things that you didn’t do. If you are looking too far ahead into the future, you are spending so much time and energy on things. It’s also what if. What if I applied for that job? What if I did this? Focus on the moment and be present and giving yourself some grace.
I think that being present and having that awareness for sure. That’s true with anything. As soon as you start seeing it and being like, “I’m being harsh on myself right now. Why am I being so harsh on myself?” Once you are able to make that shift with doing that thought work like that’s the beginning piece, then you can start to make these choices of, “I’d rather give myself a break on this one. I’d rather be nicer to myself. I will find that mistake next time. I will learn from it and move on.” Instead of being like, “Shit.” It’s like the analogy of if you get one flat tire. You don’t go and flatten all the rest of your tires. You fix the one thing and then you move on with your day. That’s the idea of not then saying, “This car is a complete piece of shit and I’m going to get rid of it.”
There’s one thing that my boss did at work one time. I made a huge mistake on email marketing. This was when I was a baby social media person. I remember I fucked up on the pricing.
Do you sell stuff on MySpace?
This was maybe a little after MySpace. This was when Facebook first came out you all. I priced it incorrectly by almost $1,000 on the registration. I went into my boss’s office. I’m crying. I’m beating myself up incessantly and my boss looked at me and she was like, “What did you learn and how would you do it differently next time?” I can guarantee you. She came at me with kindness when she could have reprimanded me. Even coming at me with kindness, though, did I learn and did I never do it again? This goes to show, “Yes, you can be self-critical, but you can do so in a way that’s appreciative and it will get the same result.”
Even that example right there is you were in pain. You were crying and you were probably in fear like, “Shit. She’s going to fire me. This is the worst thing. I’m the worst employee ever. Nobody’s ever made a mistake like this.” We have all been there. We have all done those things, and then you get that surprise of like, “You are not as mad?” Those are the moments that are surprising.
Sometimes you do get the people that are like, “You are right. You are a piece of shit.” Very rarely are people going to do that. One of the techniques, too, with trying to practice more self-compassion is the technique of how would you say this to your best friend. It’s fine. The sun is still going to come up tomorrow. You champion your friend. You are not going to be like, “You are right. That was a mistake. You are a piece of shit. I’m going to lose a ton of money.”
What I’m hearing is by even by giving ourselves some compassion and some grace, we can still learn from whatever that event is and grow from it.Even by giving ourselves some compassion and some grace, we can still learn from whatever that event is and grow from it. Click To Tweet
You can still learn and grow from them. You don’t necessarily want to be in it and going over it for weeks at a time. Give yourself the day. Give yourself some space, but the problem becomes when it can catch you and basically starts interfering with your productivity and has an impact on your body as well. They have done some studies that show that the negative thoughts activate areas of your brain known to be associated with social pains of ostracism and rejection and physical pain. You are literally causing yourself pain and your brain’s like lighting up. It’s very similar. It feels that real to us, which is why it hurts and we need to be nicer to ourselves, which I think we can be. What do you do to try to be nicer to yourself?
I take breaks because when we talk about being self-critical and stuff, sometimes I’m trying to push myself beyond what I’m capable of in that moment, staying in that present space. Sometimes stepping away allows me to either perform better at work if it’s a presentation. Sometimes I have done presentations and all I’m thinking about is the presentation and I have practiced in front of the mirror 1,000 times. My hand gestures and all this stuff. Sometimes I have to walk away. That’s what I do. I give myself time to walk away and recoup. In the end, I know that I have whatever it is that I’m working on because I have practiced. I’m honestly giving my best. I have to let it be. What happens will be what happens. What about you?
I have gotten to a place where I don’t over-prepare as much. It’s hard because a part of me is like, “What do you mean you are not preparing? What do you mean you are not spending days going over this deposition?” Part of what has changed with me is that my self-confidence in those skills has increased to such a point that I need a couple of key documents or key things to look at and I feel good and ready to go where I don’t have to spend all of that time making sure that I am asking every single specific question or have it written out.
I’m going to ask the questions that I need to ask, and then that’s coming more in the litigation sense. If I’m learning something else, I maybe go slower for a little bit and try not to get as frustrated that I didn’t get something right. Right now, I have got some Christmas cookies that are my first batch. I go on and off with the decorating depending on the Vegas weather because otherwise, it’s too damn hot in the house to have the oven on. With those skills, I will be good by the time to turn off the oven because it’s too fucking hot. Then when I get back to it, it’s like starting from ground zero, almost when it’s like, “That frosty looks stupid. That nomad looks stupid.” Matt’s over here like, “It’s still delicious. I’m going to eat it.” I’m like, “Okay.”
Readers, if you find that you are self-critical, I will return to the two questions my boss asked me. Ask yourself, what did you learn and how would you do it differently next time?
Those ones will give you that space to give yourself some grace and know that the mistake is neutral. It’s not you are a bad person. You made a mistake. As long as you are not wrapping it up in your whole identity and your whole way of being and understanding that it is separate and that we all make mistakes, I think you’ll be fine.
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