How to Make Your Inner Critic Work for You, Not Against You

I used to be battling with my inner critic on a daily basis. It became so constant and severe that I started to think I have multiple personalities. It was like having an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other. These voices intensified when it came to food.

When I was struggling with my weight and body, I had series of dialogues in my head every time I ate something.

When I had a bucket of ice cream in front of me, I first told myself, “ I can have one spoon. It should be ok,” and then the voice came in and started telling me, “ No, you can’t have it. You want to lose weight, stop eating sugar.” And then another voice said, “one spoon shouldn’t hurt you. Besides, you worked hard today, have a reward.”

The funny thing is that no matter how strong my intention was, I always ended up having that one spoon. And once I had it, the rest was like a downward spiral. I kept eating and eating as I looked for an excuse to justify my action.

As some of you may know, I used to be a dancer and performed from time to time. So I had a legit reason to lose weight, but even with my strong intentions, my angel always got defeated, and I beat myself up afterward.

This series of dialogues kept escalating to the point where I stopped eating out altogether at some point. I was tired of constantly worrying about what others think about what I eat and how much I eat. Lunchtimes with my friends, which used to be fun, gradually became too much to deal with. I would only order a drink when I went out with them. I avoided to going for dinner and sometimes lied that I had already eaten. It was a painful time for me.

I didn’t know the psychology behind these voices back then. By now I’ve learned that not only they are very common, but that everyone deals with them one way or another. Some people call them inner critics, and some call them Gremlins. I learnt this name in coaching school, and I’ve used it coaching my clients, so I’m going to use this name throughout this blog.

So what is a Gremlin?

Gremlin is created in our subconscious early in life when something negative happened to us. It could be getting a bad grade at school, getting teased or laughed at, or hurt by a friend. Anything that makes you feel ashamed, embarrassed, ignored, or unworthy.

We create our Gremlin to protect us especially when something painful happens. This is very common when it comes to physical activities. You don’t want to keep getting injured by doing the same activities over and over. Once you get hurt, you will learn a lesson, and Gremlin will thereafter remind you to be careful.

This is all helpful in the context of keeping you from making mistakes. However, they might not always work that way when it comes to your unconscious mind. They could cross reference incidents that appear similar but not the same. They could confuse you and block you from what you want to achieve. And in some instances your Gremlins can become too frequent and too powerful.

Some of the phrases you might hear is, “You are not good enough to do this,” “You will fail just like before,” “No one will care,”but the most common ones are “You are _____ enough.” You are not good enough, not smart enough, not skinny enough, not beautiful enough, etc. So you would end up either playing it small or giving up before you even start.

Unfortunately, since your Gremlins are a part of you and you yourself created it to protect you, you can’t get rid of them. They will be with you for the rest of your life.

But I have great news…

You can give your Gremlins a different role. Instead of criticizing and making you feel bad, they can become your cheerleaders.How great is it to have a cheerleader who always cheers you up and reminds you how great you are?

So how can you do it?

The first thing you can do is to notice your Gremlin. Every time you hear a voice in your head, pay attention, and recognize what the message is. Remember, the most common phrase that Gremlin uses is “you are not _______ enough.” To notice your Gremlin better, you can give it a name or even imagine what it looks like.

Once you recognize what your Gremlin is saying, think about where it originally came from. Identify the experience that led to its creation. It could be one big event. Or it could be a combination of small incidents. All you need is to acknowledge them.

Once you start to acknowledge the root causes of your Gremlin, you will notice it will begin to lose its power. And soon, you will hear its voice less and less.

When you notice you hear its voice less frequently, it’s time to give it a new and fun role.

Stand in a power pose (standing tall with your chest out and your hands on your hips) and tell your Gremlin, “Thank you for protecting me all these years, but I don’t need you anymore. From this point on, I want you to be my cheerleader. I want you to support me and watch my back when I need you. I love you.”

That’s it!

Remember, your Gremlin has been with you for a long time so it may take a while until you notice some energy shift. The key for this exercise is to be patient.

I hope this blog helps you learn that it’s your Gremlin that makes it hard to control your eating habits, not because you have a weak intention or mind. The holiday season is around the corner, so you may come across a situation where you eat what you don’t usually eat or have more than what you normally do. But when it happens, don’t let the dialogue take over you. Be mindful. And most importantly, be kind to yourself.