Contending with Our Inner Critic

I started my day, my week, in defeat. It’s a rainy Monday, and I’m tired from an active weekend. I was hoping that the yoga workout I did this morning would help me feel stretched out, energized, and renewed – but it was too advanced for me (Sorry, but four crows?! And a side plank where you hold the big toe of your top leg and extend your top leg straight?!) and left me feeling like a failed yogi. I got stuck at the car dealer getting an oil change that took two and a half hours, and left my snack in the car. The hanger was real, y’all. Not to mention I am on day two of my cycle so all I really want to do is ignore everyone and read books and nap all day. But I CAN’T. BOO.

Cue my inner critic. It was truly a perfect storm for her: I’m on my period, had a crappy workout, the weather sucks, and I got stuck at the car repair shop. Without snacks!

There are different ways to deal with negative self-talk, or your inner critic. You can invite her along for the ride, but make her sit in the backseat (a la Elizabeth Gilbert). Maisie Hill, in her book Period Power, has several recommended strategies including standing up to her, challenging her, and killing her with kindness. You don’t have to use the same approach every time. Today, because I was stuck at the car dealership, I couldn’t say “F off” and go hop on my Peloton bike or meditate or snuggle my dogs. I couldn’t even reach for a snack to quell my ever-increasing hanger. So, because I wasn’t poised to fight and I couldn’t kill her with the kindness of self-care, and perhaps because I was at the car dealer so the metaphor fit best anyway, I let her sit in the backseat.

Oh hi inner critic. Here you are again, rearing up when you know I’m stuck somewhere I don’t want to be on a rainy day, having just gotten my period, feeling tired from the weekend and acutely hungry and thirsty because I’ve been sitting here with no access to food and just my one water bottle for two hours. It’s Monday, there are two weeks of school left, I’m feeling tired from the weekend and overwhelmed by everything I have to do. So guess what: I’m not surprised that you decided to pop into my brain today. This is no sneak attack. You’re not that good.

Because I don’t have the ability to expel you from my brain, or meditate, stretch, snuggle, or snack you back into submission, please just have a seat – in the back, no shotgun for you. You can buckle yourself in.

Now, I am going to continue to go about my day. My car will be done at some point, and after that I am going to eat a snack and start ticking off the annoying errands and other to do’s that have to get done today so that I can clear my conscience and focus on the good stuff for the rest of the week.

And that’s what I did. And by the way, I had this conversation by typing out my words to her. But you can also speak to yourself, silently or out loud; dictate or type into your notes app; or write in a journal or even just on scrap paper. Just put the words out there somehow.

With my inner critic in the metaphorical backseat, once I got back behind the literal wheel, I was able to start all my irritating errands. And once I started, it became like a game. How many annoying errands can I do before I need to be home to let the dogs out? My gas tank is about 2/3 empty. I’ll fill it so I won’t have to think about gas the rest of the week! There’s a non-urgent prescription that is ready at the drug store. I’ll get it now! I also had to mail a letter at the post office (gas station, drug store, post office – I meant it when I said I was stacking irritating errands!). With each task I accomplished, I felt my mood lighten. Cheer started to replace the gloom that had dominated my morning. And while these errands plus the world’s longest oil change ate up most of my day, getting them done also relieved some pressure from my week’s packed calendar.

By the time I got home, I felt almost triumphant. What I realized is that my inner critic thrives when I feel stifled. But guess what: vice versa! As soon as I started to exude more gratitude and good cheer than doom and gloom, the air in our metaphorical car became too stifling for her. And that is a win I’ll carry with me into the rest of this crazy week.

When I was drinking, I would let days like today completely defeat me. Instead of sitting with the discomfort and directly addressing my inner critic, thoughts of my first glass of wine would eclipse anything else. Wine was my coping mechanism, my escape. Once I became a non-drinker, wine was no longer an option so I turned to food or social media scrolling instead. Now I am in the process of becoming an intuitive eater, and I am taking my power back from food in a way that is similar to what I did with wine. I also set time limits for Instagram and my News apps, to curtail my scrolling – and because I’m a rule follower, it’s working!

This is all to say that I am starting to be able to sit with the discomfort. To have my inner critic in the backseat without driving off the road. It’s hard. It’s not fun. It’s work. Icky work, not welcome work. But it’s WORKING. And that feels pretty great.

How do you face your inner critic? Do you struggle with staying present in discomfort? I’d love to hear your thoughts.