As a kid, I had the wildest imagination. Nothing was impossible in my head.

I had this entire storyline running during the dull moments of my life (yes, that included school—my poor English teacher) for years, building on itself and growing as I grew. The bad guys changed but they were always the same.

What on earth does that mean?

They looked different, had different jobs, and played different parts, but they all told me I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, I shouldn’t. I couldn’t stand up for myself let alone anyone else. I wouldn’t make it out alive, I shouldn’t even try; it would just make things worse.

Is this just another psycho-clinical counselor telling weird childhood stories, or do we all struggle with this antagonist in our lives?

It’s our inner critic.

When was the last time your inner critic came out fists swinging? Was it while you were struggling at work? 

“You’re not good enough.” 

Was it at the grocery store when someone with fewer items waited impatiently behind you? 

“You’re not worth anyone’s time.”

 Was it at home? 

“What a loser”.

Wherever it pops up, remember the role antagonists play in a protagonist’s life: the catalyst for growth.

Here are three free, evidence-based psychology tips for making sure you grow with your inner critic instead of falling victim to it.

1. Develop S.M.A.R.T. goals

Is your inner critic the first to speak when you’re working on something? 

“Look how little progress you made” or “You’re just floundering—pathetic.”

Well, a great way to combat these thoughts is to make goals that are S.M.A.R.TThis acronym sets the rules for setting your goals. They need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. You can read articles on just these for days, but here are two bad examples and how to make them better.

Bad goal: I want to make a book.

SMART goal: I will outline my novella by the end of this week.

Bad goal: I need to clean my house.

SMART goal: I will vacuum the living room and do one load of dishes after work this evening.

                              I will sweep and mop the kitchen by Sunday night.

                              I will…wait, am I just writing out my chores list for you right now?

Can you see how these are specificmeasurableachievablerelevant to the overarching goal, and time-bound?

2. Focus on your strengths

A couple of weeks ago, Alli talked about imposter syndrome. In new jobs or relationships, imposter syndrome is especially common. If you relate to that lurking feeling that you’re not the person for the task, focus on your strengths.

This sounds kind of like “Just stop it,” doesn’t it? Not exactly. We call that a “dead man’s goal” because it’s not actionable.

So, how do we turn it into an action?

When that inner critic starts sounding like imposter syndrome, look up a list of strengths. There are hundreds of lists out there. Circle at least five strengths you possess and answer the question “How can these strengths add to this task?”.

3. Accept the thoughts

Ok, I’m not telling you to lie down and let the thoughts beat you to death. Instead of clashing with your inner critic like a head-on collision, roll with the resistance. Use the energy to your advantage. But how on earth are you supposed to actively accept your inner critic’s pestering?

This is a skill called “thought diffusion” or “cognitive diffusion,” and one such exercise is dubbed “leaves on a stream.”

Find a comfortable position, soften your gaze, and take several deep, full breaths. 

Imagine your stream. Maybe it’s a warm summer day in a green pasture where the grass sways as if tides pushed and pulled beneath, or maybe it’s a crisp fall in the mountains far above the clouds rolling through valleys below. Notice what it looks like… feels like… sounds like. When you have a good sense of this peaceful place, turn your attention to the stream running its course.

You may find thoughts or feelings distracting you from the stream. Notice them without judgment. Accept that they’ve come into your mind. 

Imagine embedding these thoughts into a leaf, whether by writing, printing, or even magic. Whatever your method, lay your leaf on the stream, and watch the thought float down the stream and out of your mindscape. Your inner critic may retaliate with the same thoughts or others. Keep noticing them as thoughts on a leaf, floating down an ever-flowing stream.

You can practice this for thirty seconds or thirty minutes. The more you practice the better you’ll get. It’s an amazing exercise if you’re walking—even better if there’s a stream you can go to!

Whether you’re developing S.M.A.R.T. goals, focusing on your strengths, or accepting the thoughts and letting them flow downstream, you chart the course to success. 

The power your inner critic has is the power you give it. Stop living a tragedy and start overcoming the monster.

C.K. Slorra is an author from South Carolina with a passion for clinical psychology, philosophy, and fantasy. She enjoys spending time in the great outdoors with her husband, Sam, and her three rambunctious dogs. As an author, C.K. Slorra seeks to reshape the industry standard for YA Action Fantasy by providing something deeper than erotica and cliches: truth, depth, and experiential fight scenes. Follow C.K. Slorra at her website or instagram!

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