How To Handle Your Inner Critic

We all have a voice in our head that tells us we’re not good enough, smart enough, or simply don’t have what it takes to succeed.
For entrepreneurs, that voice can be deafening—stopping them from taking action or achieving their potential even before they get started.
How can we stop our inner critics from sabotaging our success?

Businessman sitting at his desk, dealing with negative thoughts from his inner critic.

Self-awareness is widely considered to be the most important quality for successful leaders, according to the authors of How To Become a Better Leader. After all, if you don’t know your own strengths and weaknesses, how can you hope to lead others effectively?

But what happens when you’re too aware? What you think is self-awareness could actually be self-sabotage.

As a business owner, chances are you have an inner critic. It’s the voice inside your head that tells you that you can’t succeed, that you don’t deserve what you have, that you haven’t done enough in life, or that you look stupid. The one that tells you to slow down when you should be speeding up, and tries to reel you in when your spirits should be soaring.

For some, this inner critic is a constant presence, undermining their confidence and making it difficult to do the things they know they should. This often leads to indecision and inaction, both of which are major roadblocks to success.

If your inner critic has had you second-guessing yourself, overthinking your decisions, or slowing down when you should be speeding up, the good news is that you’re not alone.

This voice can be hard to silence, but the better news is that it is possible. 

Here, we are going to look at what your inner critic actually is, and how you stop it from holding you back.

Where do our inner critics come from?

Believe it or not, we have our early ancestors to thank for that.

Experts believe that our ancestors’ tendency to exaggerate the negative and assume the worst helped them to survive in their environment. 

Business coach Shirzad Chamine writes about this in his bestseller Positive Intelligence

“If you’re in the jungle and see the leaves in a nearby tree begin to shake, you would be better off assuming you are in grave danger, even though this assumption would be based on very little information,” he explains. “It is true that ninety-nine out of a hundred times, this exaggerated negative bias would have proven wrong for one of our distant ancestors, but the one time it was right would have saved his or her life. Those without the negative-leaning inner critic, those who waited to gather more complete and unbiased information before taking action, didn’t survive long enough to pass on their genes.” 

Chamine also goes on to suggest that each person’s inner critic (or “Judge” as he calls it) develops its own particular characteristics in response to that individual’s specific needs for survival. While it may be full of flaws and negative biases, it is often what we use in our early lives to help us make sense of our experiences. 

He gives his own childhood experience as an example, recalling how he often lacked care and attention from his family. He explains that the more rational and accurate assumption—in his case, that he was being raised by flawed parents who weren’t able to provide the care and attention he needed—doesn’t always solve the problem in our minds. 

“This would have forced a terrifying realization and made my emotional survival more difficult. I depended on my parents for my life. Instead, the Judge came to the rescue,” he says. “The Judge’s solution was that I was deeply flawed and unworthy of my perfect parents’ time: Why should they show any more affection for someone so undeserving?”

So if it’s us who made our inner critics, then we also have the power to unmake them—or at least, to tame them. But more on this later…

Professional woman sitting at her desk, dealing with negative thoughts from her inner critic.

What does it mean for business owners?

For many people, their inner enemy might have a much more subtle and soothing voice. It might try to convince you “Things are fine the way they are now—why take the risk?”. Instead of a harsh critic, this is the voice of a saboteur. It threatens your self-actualization and self-fulfillment by keeping you from leaving your comfort zone. ​​

So whether this voice is critical or soothing, it can have a serious impact on many areas of your life. It can stop you from reaching your full potential and achieving the results you deserve in your business.

Luckily, there are some handy tricks to help you hush that little voice whenever it opens its mouth to speak.

Techniques for overcoming your inner critic

You have listened to your inner critic so much, that it can be challenging to shut it down completely. The trick is to know how to manage your inner critic so that it doesn’t sabotage you or your progress. We have three methods that will help you do just that.


Arguably what makes our inner critics so destructive is that it’s easy to mistake them for our own thoughts. We accept their insults as facts.  

However, it’s crucial to remember that our inner critic is not our true self. Rather, it’s simply a voice of fear and insecurity. If we can learn to recognize our critic for what it truly is, we can start to break free from its harmful influence.

Experts agree that the most effective step is to be mindful of each time your critic makes an appearance. Single them out, and clearly distinguish their negative statements from your own thoughts and opinions. 

“By their very nature, (inner critics) do far greater damage when they do their work while hiding under the radar, pretending they are your friend or that they are you. Observing and labeling them blows their cover and discredits their voice,” Shirzad Chamine explains. “Notice the difference between saying ‘I don’t think I am capable’ and ‘the (critic) doesn’t think I am capable.’”

Write a job description

This is another useful technique if you struggle to separate your inner critic from your own internal voice or conscience. It allows us to take a more observational stance and look at our inner critic from an outsider’s perspective. This helps to build more distance between ourselves and this insidious negative voice. 

So just like you would for a recruitment ad or an employee appraisal, write a list of everything your inner critic is responsible for in their “role”. For example:

  • Keeps you safe (and stagnant?) in your comfort zone.
  • Promptly provide a list of all the things that could go wrong whenever you want to try something new.
  • Acts as a buffer for any praise or words of encouragement that come your way.
  • Maintains a database of all your shortcomings.
  • Sends out timely reminders to compare your progress and achievements against that of your peers.

Seeing it all laid out in black and white can really help to put things into perspective. If this was a real employee, there’s no way you’d want to keep them around. Attitudes like this are not how successful businesses grow and thrive. 

So whenever this “employee” attempts to undermine you, remember that their aims, objectives, and goals are completely different from yours. Listening to their “advice” will only serve to keep you and your business small.

Talk back

When we hear words, sometimes we can’t help but listen. This can be especially true when it comes to our inner critic. As we’ve mentioned above, chances are they’ve been saying what they like to us for many years (maybe our entire lives) and we’ve had little choice but to acknowledge and absorb it all. 

But just like a regular conversation, we may not be able to control what is said to us, but we can control how we respond. 

Think of your inner critic as a school bully—the longer it goes unchallenged, the longer it will continue to antagonize you. It’s time to switch up the script and stop this from being a purely one-sided conversation.

Let’s say you are at a networking event. It’s a great opportunity to engage with others in your industry and forge valuable connections. Your inner critic, on the other hand, may tell you “Everyone here is much smarter and more successful than you, why are you wasting your time?”. Or, “No one is interested in what you have to say, it’s better if you just keep to yourself.” 

Counter this negative self-talk with more honest and reasonable statements. Does your inner critic have any proof to back up their claims? Most likely not. Chances are there’s far more evidence that will prove them wrong.

You might also find it helpful to imagine the same was being said about a friend or loved one. How would you respond then?

Whatever you do, the trick is to not stay silent whenever your inner critic tries to tear you down or hold you back. 

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing more paralyzing for an entrepreneur than the doubt that travels in their head. What happens when the fear of the unknown takes over and makes you question every move you make? 

That’s right. You stop moving forward. 

As business owners, our inner critics may well be the worst enemies we encounter on our journeys toward success. This is why it’s important to do what we can to reduce their volume.  

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