Is Your Inner Critic Really Your Friend?

Photo by John Price

Photo by John Price

Last fall, as I was getting ready to give a big presentation to a totally new audience, my inner critic was giving me a hard time.
You’ve never done this before.
You’re not good at this.
Who do you think you are?
I was stressed. The worst part was that I was stressing myself out.
I’d tried several techniques for quieting my negative thoughts, but nothing much worked.
At the time, I was reading Deepak Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. When Chopra shared what he’d told his kids when they were growing up, a new idea dawned on me.
Chopra’s advice to his kids was this:

“I don’t want you to focus on doing well in school. I don’t want you to focus on getting the best grades or going to the best colleges. What I really want you to focus on is asking yourself how you can serve humanity, and asking yourself what your unique talents are.”

I saw an unexpected connection between his words and my present distress.  
I’d wanted to do well in my presentation. I’d wanted to give the best talk and be the best regarded person in the room.
I heard Chopra’s words as if they were directed at me.
“What I really want you to focus on is asking yourself how you can serve humanity, and asking yourself what your unique talents are.”
I thought about what it would look like if I approached my talk simply in a spirit of service, offering the audience my experiences and perspective, in case it was helpful to them.
Instead of standing in front of everyone like an expert who had everything figured out (and feeling like a fraud).

Over the next few weeks, I embraced this new idea.

When my inner critic would pipe up with a judgment on me or my work as I prepared for my presentation, I’d just think, “It’s okay. This isn’t about me. I’m doing this to serve others.”
I felt a great amount of relief. This switch saved me so much stress.
It had also brought about a new awareness about my inner critic. I realized how rarely I questioned whether my inner critic was a force for good.

I’d always believed it could be relied on to tell me the plain truth, keep me in line, protect me, make sure I didn’t get too full of myself and make embarrassing mistakes in front of others.
Sometimes my inner critic did help me with this.

Yet when it took over, it caused me undue stress, suffering, and made me self-absorbed, even egocentric. Not a nice person to be around.

I'd thought I should listen to my inner critic to be a better person, but at times it seemed the opposite was true.
I also saw how my attention was like a beam of light. I could let my inner critic use my light to laser in on my faults and worries, or I could turn my light around and shine it out for others.
The latter felt so much better.
So I stood in front of my audience in a spirit of service, offering my experience as just one person. I felt nervous, and also genuine and strong. I spoke and then audience members responded with their own thoughts and questions. I loved connecting with them. It filled me with excitement and enthusiasm.  
My inner critic was quiet.
It was still there, but I wasn’t giving it the spotlight of my attention anymore.
I offer you this story, in case you can use it the next time you notice your own inner critic taking over.
Try this shift of perspective. Ask yourself: How I can serve others right now? How can I offer them something of my unique talents? (Whether in big ways or small.)
How does shifting your focus outward change things for you? I’d love to hear.