The Inner Critic Is Here to Stay

The email was pretty emphatic. “You still have an inner critic?” and “What kind of a coach admits to still having an inner critic?” A good one. An honest one.

The inner critic is part of our brain, the part that handles flight and fight. Or, updated to the modern era, lack and attack. The inner critic is not a weed that can be pulled out of our hearts and minds.

Taming the inner critic is a life-long habit, not a short-term goal. When my clients tell me that they are “working on” getting rid of their bad habits, I encourage them to stop. Bad habits are not stones to be picked out of lentils. Not ticks to be picked off our hide.

Bad habits are useful tools in a large, subtle spectrum of our emotions. Anger can be useful if it points out injustice, rails against inequality, points to wrongs. Anger can be destructive if it scars a soul, damages a heart, or crushes a spirit.

Bad habits are related to good habits. They are the opposite end of the same line. A person who focuses on details is an asset to a job. A person who over-focuses on details is a micro-manager who is not productive.

A multi-tasker is someone who can switch quickly between several tasks. Taken too far, the multi-tasker can’t focus on any one thing and winds up spinning around, not advancing any one project.

It’s easier to think of bad habits as a sound spectrum. Our good habits sound pleasant and comfortable. When they get too loud and jangly, they are bad habits. Pulling out the bad habits gets rid of the qualities you want. So don’t pull them out, tone them down.

Still, it is the work of a lifetime, trying to find that right sound level. And before you despair, have a seat. Take a deep breath. What else have you got to do, really, than work on yourself, a bit at a time, to keep in balance.

The top photo of the old grammar workbook shows something interesting. On the left side is a page marked “A” and on the right side is a page marked “C-” That’s a big difference. But it’s also very real. We do not travel at the same speed every day, we do not have the same impact.  One day we are skilled and sharp, the next day slow and dragging. There are “A” days and “C-” days, but they are still our days. And with the inner critic, we keep up the dance between believing and overcoming, between accepting who we are, and working to move that C- to an A, and watch it tremble and slip and we push it up again. It’s not despair we feel, it’s determination to keep in balance.

Quinn McDonald is writing a book on the inner critic. She spends a lot of time with him.