We all have an inner critic, even the happy Buddha had to fend off the demon Mara, the embodiment of unwanted emotions from greed to mockery. A quick Google search of ‘inner critic’ throws up millions of results from psychologists to Forbes Magazine, because that negative inner voice is something that challenges us all even if we’re outwardly confident or successful at work.
The inner critic is that voice in our heads that is less than kind and bombards us with negative chatter, not giving us a moments peace. Mo Gawdat, Rituals happiness ambassador, brilliantly sums up the essence of the inner critic when he says, ‘It worries us about what is yet to come; it belittles us; it disciplines us; it argues, fights, debates, criticises, compares, and rarely ever stops to take a breath’.
In psychology, this inner critic is known as negativity bias and, believe it or not, it’s there to keep us safe and well. Evolution has taught us to be far more aware of the dangers around us and to live cautiously, because that is how we survive. The hangover of this thought-process in the modern world is that, without so many literal life-threatening dangers, this negativity bias has transferred to things like the way we look, our relationships, and our job. “[Negativity bias is]one of the most basic and far-reaching psychological principles,” wrote Baumeister et al in the 2001 study Bad Is Stronger Than Good.
We’re hardwired to think more negatively than positively, and from a really young age. One study looked at the early onset of negativity bias, finding that the potential onset of this bias could start as young as 7 months. Little wonder then, that our inner critic is so hard to shake. This strong pull towards negative thoughts means we have to actively work on our happiness muscle to ensure that our positive thoughts prevail.
THE VOICE IS NOT YOU
Your inner critic is not you. That’s one of the most important things to recognise. Unfortunately, unlike an overprotective parent or older sibling, that voice has evolved and can say some pretty harsh things that go beyond a need to keep you safe. In Jay Earley’s book Freedom From Your Inner Critic, he identifies 7 types of voice:
- The Perfectionist strives to ensure you do everything perfectly.
- The Inner Controller tries to stop your more impulsive side.
- The Taskmaster wants you to work hard to be successful.
- The Underminer is there to assault your self-esteem so you won’t take risks where you could fail.
- The Destroyer chips away at your self-worth.
- The Guilt Tripper attacks you for things you did.
- The Molder tries to ensure you fit into family or cultural expectations.
It’s likely that we have encountered each of these voices before, but you might find you identify more with some types than others. Really try to identify which voices speak to you most often and which ones you tend to listen to and take to heart. Once identify these voices, realise they are not you, and understand that this inner critic has evolved from a tool to keep you safe to a voice that puts you down, you can start to change the way it talks to you.
BRING ME A BETTER THOUGHT
Mo suggests giving your inner critic a name, he calls his Becky. By naming the voice it further solidifies the fact that this voice is not you. The voice will never go away, so the best thing you can do is learn to demand more from your inner critic, whatever you decide to call them. Often what's being said isn’t productive, so every time they say something cruel ask them for a better, kinder, or more useful thought. Be demanding! Train yourself every day to demand each negative thought be replaced with at least two positive ones. It takes practice to chip away at the negativity bias that is ingrained in us all, but over time you will be amazed by the impact this can have on your emotional well-being.
Want more exercises to help you work your happiness muscle? Mo Gawdat, former Chief Business Officer at Google [X] and author of Solve for Happy, and Rituals are on a mutual mission to make #1MillionHappy. Join us on a 14-day interactive journey that will transform your life and help you find true, long-lasting happiness. Sign up for the Happiness Challenge here.
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