Step 1 is to consciously listen into your critical inner voice at the moments when you experience a stress trigger so your unconscious negative thoughts become conscious. Why? Because when you are aware of them you can change them and step free of the effect of your inner critic.
I’ll run you through an example using one of my trigger moments.
I return to my desk from a meeting and look at my screen. I have 21 newly arrived emails. They are in bold as they are ‘unread’. It’s a trigger.
I breathe in sharply. I feel a tightness in my chest, neck and shoulders. I feel panicky. My heart starts to beat faster. I feel stressed.
I think ‘oh god, I shouldn’t have all these new messages. I’ve only been away an hour. I can’t do all this. I can’t cope. It’s too much.’
I notice I can’t think straight. I can’t work as I can’t concentrate – my mind is too busy.
Yet, these are only the top few lines of what your inner critic is telling you. There are deeper, more vicious messages it’s whispering to you which you won’t notice until you learn to listen in.
How do you listen in?
Here’s a tool, which I learned from the personal development charity ‘More to Life’. You relive the moment of your stress reaction in your mind’s eye, which enables you to hear the unconscious talk of your inner critic.
Here’s how. Have a pen and paper ready.
Select a specific moment you had a stress reaction to. Close your eyes. Now go back in your memory to that moment and see yourself there again in your mind’s eye.
Imagine you are re-playing a video of how it was at the stress moment. Go back and forth in the video of your mind’s eye until you get to the video frame that is the ‘trigger moment’ – the precise moment when you were triggered and feel stress. Freeze that frame.
In my example, the trigger moment I freeze frame is when I looked at my screen, saw 21 bold emails, and felt panicky.
For you, it may be when you hear someone say something or you see a certain expression on someone’s face.
When you are at the ‘trigger moment’ and have it ‘freeze framed’, relive the moment again in your mind’s eye. Take time to re-experience your stress feelings. It can help to take some breaths to amplify your feelings.
Focus on your feelings at the trigger moment and now use your feelings as the doorway into your thoughts.
Tune into your thoughts. What can you hear your mind saying? Write down what you hear.
Ask yourself these questions as prompts:
What is it I’m telling myself I have to do?
How am I telling myself I have to be?
What is it I’m believing about myself?
When I listened in to my inner critic at the moment I looked at my screen, I discovered my thoughts predicted catastrophic events and harshly criticised my value as a human being. They ran like this:
‘I’ll have to do all this or else I’ll get into trouble. I’ll be sacked. I’ll have failed. I’ll be out on the streets. I’ll starve. I’ll die. I should die. I’m useless. I don’t deserve to be alive.”
Was it any wonder I felt stressed?
What are your inner critic thoughts?