Time to Shut Up Your Self-limiting Critic

Our worst critic is ourselves. If we had a boss who treated us and berated us like our mind does, we'd hand in our resignation in an instant. In this short educational story, I share a simple yet powerful way for you to keep that hyper critical self-talk under control. I really hope you enjoy it.

Harper was berating herself, “You’re such a moron, how could I stuff that up… again?”

Her mind was in overdrive. No matter how many times she tried to solve the problem at hand, she seemed to fail spectacularly short as her critical mind started pointing out all the reasons why she couldn’t do it.

“Hang on, Harps, you’re not a moron, you’re a tremendous moron,” quipped Declan from the corridor.

Declan’s attempt at humour didn’t have the desired effect.

“Piss off, O’Hennessey,” replied Harper angrily.

Realising he’d overstepped the line, Declan began to apologise.

“Errgh, sorry, Harper, I didn’t mean it. It’s just that you seemed to be beating yourself up a bit too much.”

“You have no idea how much I beat myself up when something’s not working out. Right now, I could beat myself with a baseball bat for being so dumb,” retorted Harper.

“Woah, Harps, go easy on the personal rage. Haven’t you heard of excessive critical reasoning before?”

Harper had just been on the verge of throwing her stapler at Declan when his words made her pause.

“What’s critical reasoning?”

“Well, if you remember me saying how I used to have a nervous stammer when speaking publicly and how I got some help on eliminating it, I also learnt how to make sure my self-talk was working for me versus against me.”

“Go on.”

“Well, one of the contributing factors to my stammer was excessive self-judgement; in short, I was being incredibly hard on myself and my self-talk was hyper critical and never ending. I was like an overcritical parent on steroids, picking up on every little mistake I was making.”

“Really, you seem like the person who doesn’t have a worry in the world, O’Hennessey,” Why had she called him by his surname again as if she hates him, when she actually really likes him, she thought.

“Maybe now, but I still have my ‘demons’, as the stars love to say. What I learnt was a way to catch myself if my self-talk was shifting to critical reasoning. If I found myself saying things to myself like, ‘You should be better than this, Declan’, or ‘You idiot, you’re smarter than this’, then I knew the self-talk was critical and not helpful. I’d then counter this with what’s called compassionate reasoning. This is a fancy pants psychological way of using words that are kinder and treat you as a human being. Think of how you might talk to a friend. Using this model enables me to 1, Be aware if my thinking is harming or limiting me, and then 2, enable me to switch view points to a more real human experience. If I was in the excessive critical reasoning space, I would say to myself ‘I’m on my own journey, I’ll get there when I get there. I’m doing the best I can’. I’d then follow it up with a big breath and move on to whatever I had to do next”, explained Declan.

Harper was amazed once again at Declan. Despite originally despising him when he came on board at their agency for winning all the good jobs, she had come to discover that he wasn’t a natural talent at his job. He had worked in his strengths, but also worked on his weaknesses. She couldn’t believe that, yet again, he was sharing some of the chinks in his armour. She started to flush. She found his vulnerability and openness attractive, and also inspiring at the same time.

Harper’s mind flew back through the last couple of years and realised how increasingly hard she’d been on herself. When exactly this excessive self-criticism or reasoning had begun, she wasn’t sure. She did remember that after missing out on a high-flying marketing job at Christie’s Auctions, she had vowed to work harder than ever, and yet all she seemed to do was be harder on herself rather than anything else.

“Earth to Harper, come in, Harper.”

“Ugh, what were you saying, Declan?”

Declan gave her a smile. “I thought I’d lost you there. What were you thinking?”

“I think you hit the nail on the head, Declan, I have been hard on myself and it doesn’t help. So, is that all I need to do, flick over to compassionate reasoning?”

“For most people, that can work, but you seem to be a bit of an over thinker like me. If you’re someone who finds thoughts within thoughts and is constantly looking at ways to ‘think yourself out of a situation’, then you might want another component to help you. The first step is about being aware – ‘am I being too critical of myself, or am I overthinking this?’

“Second, you want to be able to identify and categorise what‘s going on. For a situation at work, for example, you could ask yourself, is this criticism based on:

- Task

- Ability

- Consequence

‘Task’ is the activity at hand. For example, having to give a presentation

‘Ability’ is about your innate ability to learn and improve to execute an action/task or behave in a certain way. Say, you are doubting whether you have the skills to create a new campaign. Whilst ‘Consequence’ is ‘what’s at stake if I stuff this up? Will it cost me job, will I lose face, will we lose a client etc?’”

“So, by being able to identity which category it falls under, you can be more specific about what critical self-talk you can stop?” suggested Harper.

“Exactly. There’s a lot of self’s out there. Self-doubt, self-criticism, self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-belief, self-sabotage, self-confidence and selfishness. But, for you, my intuition reckons the only issue you’ve got going on is self-criticism, thanks to some over thinking,” declared Declan. “Am I right?”

Harper smiled. She had been hard on herself, way too hard. It was time to take the foot off the accelerator and appreciate what she had already achieved and how far she had come. She had the ability and a track record that she’d been improving in her business skills, innovative thinking and life skills. Rather than be the smart-Alec as always, Harper felt real gratitude and thought now was the time to share it.

“Thanks, Declan. I really appreciate it. Let’s go to lunch, my treat, before you tell me I’m selfish.”

Once a smart-Alec always a smart-Alec.



Founder of Ideas with Legs

Michelle Ignacio