Silencing the unhelpful inner critic during a crisis

20 October 2021

Most of us have a pretty well-versed inner critic. A voice in our head that can chime in and remind us of things we’re not good at, why we’re not likeable, and why we’re not good enough.

“This is a disaster. I have no idea what I’m doing. This is hopeless.”  

This voice is not helpful, particularly during current times. Many of our members are facing new, challenging and perhaps quite chaotic workplaces that are a far cry from those they are familiar with or have trained for. And many are working outside of their usual roles and responsibilities. There has been a stepping up and stepping in like never before, which can easily provoke stress and anxiety. 

At times like this we need to be extra mindful of our inner voice. Negative self-talk can cause us to get stuck in negative thinking and lose perspective if we get caught in rumination; when we get entangled in negative thinking, churn over what is going wrong, and easily spiral into worst case scenarios.  

Talking to yourself in an affirming way helps 

By telling yourself affirming statements such as, “Anna, you know you can do this” helps to push away feelings of stress and self-doubt. Positive self-talk helps to boost your morale and stops destructive patterns of negative self-talk and self-sabotaging behaviours in their tracks.

“Anna, you saw this done yesterday. Of course you can do it. You’re here, you’re a good doctor. You will be fine.” 

“You can do this for the next half-an hour. Then Sophie will be here, and you can ask then.”

Positive self-talk or self-affirmations are simple and effective things we can do in the moment. This doesn’t mean it’s easy. It may feel silly, self-indulging or trite; but it will take the place of the negative voice and be that needed circuit breaker when you feel yourself slipping into a place of doubt, anxiety, and low confidence.

What does effective self-talk look like? 

Research shows that talking to yourself in the second or third person can help even more. For example: 

“You can do this. You saw someone do this yesterday, you can do it!”.

“David, you’re good at this stuff. I’ve seen you work through this before. Today is going to be OK. You’ll do good work, you’ll go home and sleep, and you’ll do more tomorrow.” 

Speaking in the second or third person works to put a psychological distance between you and what’s going on – widening your perspective rather than allowing the potential zooming in on a problem or unknown or increasing anxiety. Think of it as talking to yourself as you would talk to a friend – channel what a good friend and colleague would say to you in that moment. 

These are small actions, with powerful effects. Our self-affirmations are circuit breakers for negativity; help gain a wider perspective and create a bit of motivation, and focus us on the small things, the doable things – especially when we talk about concrete behaviours. 

This is not ‘toxic positivity’

Toxic positivity is when being positive is taken to the extreme; applied in situations where it is not helpful, and avoiding acknowledging the real and valid negative and difficult emotions and experiences taking place. Negative and stressful things are happening right now. The experience of stress, anxiety and doubt or lack of confidence is real and normal and even functional. Using self-talk as a tool to help manage yourself through a situation is not intended to invalidate or deny these feelings and experiences. Instead, it’s about navigating and managing them – as might be needed to get through a procedure or event – until there is the time and space to process them fully and debrief with a friend or colleague. 

Dr Anna Clark
Leadership consultant and Coach
AMA Victoria Professional Development and Careers 

References and resources 

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