What Do You Mean I Can’t?

I bet you’ve heard that voice or felt that judge inside you…the one that says things like, “No, I can’t,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m such a failure, loser, [fill-in-blank],” “Who do I think I am anyway?” etc. That’s the inner critic we all have.

Where does this inner critic come from, what purpose does it serve, and, most importantly, how do we manage it? To answer these questions, I’ve included two short videos below, along with a summary for the answer to each question.

Where does our inner critic come from?

Our inner critic is a composite of negative messages we’ve internalized mostly by the time we were 5 years old, when we didn’t have the sophistication or capacity to filter and make sense of what was said or done to us. These messages form the subconscious programming that runs our lives automatically 95% or more of the time, including telling us we can’t, we aren’t good enough, etc.

What purpose does our inner critic serve?

Our inner critic’s sole purpose is to keep us safe.  For survival reasons, our brain is wired to have a negativity bias, such that we’re always ready to either fight or run for safety.  Because of this negativity bias, we’re 5 times as sensitive to negative and potentially threatening situations than positive experiences that aren’t connected to survival. That’s why, whenever the idea of doing something new or that which stretches our comfort, our inner critic stands ready to stop us from venturing into such uncharted and risky territory.

How can we manage our inner critic?

Neuroscience research shows that we can counteract the negativity bias and establish new neuropathways through consciousness-raising practices. In the following video, I talk about 5 specific tactics to manage our inner critic:

  1. Stop the automatic negative talk by asking: Why not? Who’s talking? Is that really true?
  2. Adopt a “power move” that shifts your energy into the state of “Yes, I can!”
  3. Identify where the “I can’t” fear is most intense in your body. Cradle that fear like a crying baby, sending it love and comfort.
  4. Celebrate progress and success to furnish evidence that not only are you safe, but you’re doing well.
  5. Connect to your “why” and your passion for what you (would like to) do. In that space, there’s no room for your inner critic.

Our inner critic is essentially a confused and scared 5-year-old (or even younger) who tries to sound adult to do its job to protect us. Therefore, it doesn’t need to be stuffed down or destroyed—it can’t be done anyway. Rather, we just need to be mindful of not letting it run our lives—just like we wouldn’t want a 5-year-old to be driving us around!

Would love for you to share your thoughts in the comment box below, especially if you have strategies and tactics that work well for you in managing your inner critic.

 

P. S. Have some great news to share…

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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9 comments
Harleena Singh
Harleena Singh

Wonderful Alice! I think it's this inner critic - or that negative voice within us that stops us from proceeding further and doing things we need to do. We tend to back away or fear things or people, and thus tend to use the word can't - which should not be the case, yet we do so. I guess there's no one but ourselves who can fight that inner voice that stops us - provided we really want to - isn't it? And as I say so often, it's all in our minds - if we want anything and everything is possible, though if we don't, then nothing really will work. Thanks for sharing. :)

Marquita Herald
Marquita Herald

Insightful message Dr. Chan. The stories we tell to ourselves, about ourselves, have tremendous power over how we see ourselves and how we relate to the world around us. Fortunately, it's never too late to make the choice to do the work to begin changing our internal stories. I believe your point about connecting to our "why" is especially important to overcoming limiting beliefs and strengthening resilience overall. Thanks for the inspiration!

Jason Fonceca
Jason Fonceca

Okay, I totally agree with all this... especially the comment from Jon, about discernment. ...but I really have to inject some comedy here. Key & Peele - "You Can Do Anything!" http://youtu.be/nlD9JYP8u5E "'Ey! Boys and girls ages 8 thru 12, yo, don't let anybody tell you what you can or can not do..." ;)

Jon M
Jon M

Great insights, Dr. Chan. If we let our inner critic hold or pull us back from living a full life, then we need to brush those thoughts aside and move forward. If those inner critic thoughts offer us insights in how to do more in a better way, then we need to listen and learn. It is a distinction we need to make, so we need to listen closely and discern as best we can. Understanding the difference will help us life a more purpose-filled life. Thanks! Jon

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Absolutely, Harleena, it's all in our minds indeed, and only we can unhook ourselves from the automatic negative messaging. So, yes, our willingness to do that is key, along with awareness that we don't have to let our inner critic run our lives. Thank you for adding your insights; much appreciated!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thanks for adding your insights, Marquita. Yes, a big part of really living a life that we can be passionate about is to wake up to the stories we keep telling ourselves that limit us, often without our own knowing--and commit to changing these stories to more empowering ones. It's well worth taking the time to uncover our "why's" and let them be the driving force of our lives. Thanks again for your comments.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thanks, Jason, for visiting and for adding a comedic note. :-) Few things are impossible if we believe we can.

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Great point about discernment, Jon. It’s a critical component of leading a conscious life. Striving to do more and better so as not to hide our gifts or settle for mediocrity, as per your post, is fundamentally different from needing to be perfect to feel worthy. The former is healthy growth and expansion, while perfectionism is a dysfunction. As one of my favorite authors, Dr. Robert Holden (a very spiritual psychotherapist), said, no amount of self-improvement can make up for the lack of self-acceptance. If we feel that who we are and what we do/have isn’t enough, no amount of “more” or "better" will ever be enough. Part of the discernment, then, is *why* we feel we have to do/be more/better. Thank you for adding your insights, Jon, greatly appreciated! Alice

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Great point about discernment, Jon. It's a critical component of living consciously, which includes thinking and acting so. Striving to do more and better so as not to settle for mediocrity, as per your post, is fundamentally different from needing to be perfect to feel worthy. The former is healthy growth and expansion, while perfectionism is a dysfunction. As one of my favorite authors, Dr. Robert Holden, said, no amount of self-improvement can make up for the lack of self-acceptance. If we feel that who we are and what we do/have isn't enough, no amount of "more" will ever be enough. Part of the discernment, then, is *why* we feel we have to do/be more/better. Thank you for adding your insights, Jon, greatly appreciated! Alice

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  1. […] powerful benefits of always doing our best is that it makes us mindful of being minimized by our inner critic—the part of us that’s quick to issue judgments and indictments. Depending on our acquired […]

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