Distracting Your Inner Critic

I don’t know what goes on in anybody else’s head but mine.

Having said that, I don’t think I’m alone in having a pretty fierce inner critic that resides over pretty much everything I think, say, or do. A malevolent force, it judges me tirelessly, all day building to a fever pitch, where it saturates me with all the reasons I am shit.

An inner critic like this can be annoying at the best of times, like trying to run a race with achey legs. At the worst, it’s completely debiliating. Like trying to run a race with a sumo wrestler sat on you.

But if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself constantly looking for ways to deal with this. “How do I shut this bastard up?” More dangerously, imagining some future utopia where it can’t get to you. “If I could just get rid of him once and for all, I could finally do all those things I’ve been wanting to do…”

You know, it’s not that I enjoy disabusing you of beautiful notions. I do it for your benefit. So please believe me, that shit is never going to happen. The first thing to realise about your inner critic is that – short of getting a lobotomy – you are never going to wake up oe day and be completely free of it. It’s a critter that keeps coming on. Plus, if you’ve seen One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, you’ll know that getting a lobotomy comes with its own troubles. I’d take the inner critic, personally.

Okay, so it’s never going to completely disappear. Then, I guess, that means it’s time to get the gloves on? If you’re going to have to fight it your whole life, might as well start now, right? Not so much, no.

Because the second thing to realise about your inner critic is that it’s like a wasp – the more you try to fight it, the angrier it gets, and the more havoc it wreaks. So stop fighting it. Stop struggling against it. Every ounce of effort you spend directly opposing your inner critic only serves to make you weaker, and it stronger.

But what then? Well, in my experience, there’s only one way to keep your inner critic at bay: Distract it. And I’ll give you an example of how I do it.

Every morning before I have my breakfast, I practice my Danish on my phone with the Duolingo app. And something I’ve come to realise is that if I don’t have the TV on, or a podcast, or some music, it takes roughly two minutes for me to want to give up and do something else.

By that time, my inner critic has piped up and is telling me there’s no point in studying Danish and I’m a fool to bother. It’s reminding me of all the things I forgot to get done yesterday – and making me feel guilty about them – and it’s reminding me of all the things I need to do today – and making me feel stressed about them. It is completely drowning out the part of me that is just trying to focus on that strange Nordic language.

And yet if I put something on in the background – it’s been Seinfeld, recently – I’ll happily work on my Danish for quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, sometimes more than half an hour will go by without me even realising. My inner critic has left the building. Or at least, it might as well have, because it’s not bothering me.

Now, I don’t care if this flies in the face of traditional productivity advice, or if it doesn’t square with your favourite theories about how the mind and the brain are supposed to work. All I care about is the results. And I’ve come to find that a lot of results come not as a function of trying really hard, or fighting my inner critic, but just distracting it for a while.

Think about it this way – shouting “Look over there!” at your enemy is a lot easier than trying to ignore them, or having a fight with them.

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