If your inner critic is anything like mine, she saps you of your courage and gives you an internal head butt at the thought of your approaching someone at a networking event, selling your services, answering tough questions on a job interview, or asking for a promotion at work. So if you subscribe to her messages – like an RSS feed from hell – why not cancel your subscription?

In his book Taming Your Gremlin, Rick Carson describes the inner critic as “the narrator in your head” and the APA Dictionary of Psychology says the critic’s “self-talk often confirms and reinforces negative beliefs and attitudes, such as fears and false aspirations….” Let’s take on your inner bleacher creature.

Introverts may actually chatter more – in their heads
You may relate to the nuisance your inner critic poses whether or not you’re an introvert. However, research on the brain has found that introverts experience even more internal chatter than extroverts.

So what do our inner critics say? Here’s a glimpse at what participants in my Self-Promotion for Introverts® workshops have shared during an exercise in class. They each write an example of their negative self-talk messages on an index card. I shuffle the deck and read each message out loud: “I’m not where I should be for my age,” says one. “I’ll never make decent money doing anything I like,” says another. And “my biggest accomplishments were all flukes,” says yet another.

This from successful entrepreneurs, media executives, Harvard educated lawyers, computer whizzes, and investment bankers at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Your own inner critic’s nattering can put a drag on your ability to walk the walk, talk the talk, and pitch the pitch to the powers that be.

Managing your inner critic
It boils down to this: Be aware of the messages you say to yourself and how they affect you. If you don’t like them, change them. Remind yourself to do so every day. Speak to yourself – privately and publicly – the way you’d speak to your best friend: with respect and kindness. After all, if you wanted to help your friend advance in his career, would you berate him and underscore his flaws?

Opportunity thinking versus obstacle thinking
Research has found a distinction between two habitual thinking patterns: opportunity thinking and obstacle thinking. While opportunity thinking involves seeing challenges as possibilities, obstacle thinking focuses on roadblocks. Guess which one your inner critic fancies? So why not prepare for her predictable messages which are squarely from the obstacle thinking camp? Here are three examples of what an inner critic might say as well as some rebuttals.

Scenario #1: You’re at a networking event where you don’t know anyone.
Your inner critic: “Why would anyone want to speak with you?
Your rebuttal: “Because I’m a good listener, I ask thoughtful questions, and I generously share my insights and resources to help people solve their problems.”

Scenario #2: You’re asking your boss for a promotion.
Your inner critic: “All of your ‘accomplishments’ were accidents and oversights. And besides, you don’t come across as senior enough.”
Your rebuttal: “My contributions have been critical to our organization’s market leadership. In fact, my efforts at increasing our customer retention and expanding into new markets have contributed to a 15 percent increase in revenue. Also, I’m taking a presentation skills class which is helping me come across with more confidence at meetings.”

Scenario #3: You’re interviewing for a job.
Your inner critic: “Everyone is more qualified than you. And besides, they have personality.”
Your rebuttal: “While I’m sure there are many qualified candidates, I have a deep knowledge of the industry and the organization. In fact, I’ve learned the inside scoop about what the hiring manager is most interested in through informational interviews with three of her colleagues and competitors. I was able to line up these meetings because people I’ve built relationships with throughout my career were happy to make introductions for me.

Psychology Today blogger Margaret Moore recently wrote a couple of posts on identifying and managing negative self-talk. In her “7 Ways to Leave Negative Self-Talk Behind” post, she shares concrete advice that includes keeping track of your thoughts, telling your internal critic to stop, and using daily affirmations to help bolster you.

Come up with your own rebuttals to your inner critic’s messages and try all of Moore’s tips. See what works best for you. Keep in mind that managing your inner critic can be a little like adding your name to an internal “do not call” registry. You’ll probably still get some annoying messages. So if despite your efforts, your inner critic is still making a racket between your ears, how about a little music to give you a boost while soothing the savage in the cheap seats? Maestro?


  • Rick Carson, Taming Your Gremlin®, HarperCollins, 2003, p. 3.
  • Gary R. VandenBos, Ph.D. (editor in chief), APA Dictionary of Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2007, p. 833.
  • Debra L. Johnson, Ph.D., et al., “Cerebral Blood Flow and Personality: A Positron Emission Tomography Study,” American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 156, no. 2, February 1999, pp. 252-257.
  • Margaret Moore, “7 Ways to Leave Negative Self-Talk Behind,” Psychology Today blog post, August 30, 2009.
  • Michelle C. Bligh, Craig L. Pearce, Jeffrey C. Kohles, “The Importance of Self- and Shared Leadership in Team Based Knowledge Work: A Meso-Level Model of Leadership Dynamics,” Journal of Managerial Psychology, 2006, Volume 21, Issue 4, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, p. 300; cited: Manz and Neck, 1999 and Neck and Manz, 1992.

First photo:
/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Second photo:
/ CC BY 2.0

Copyright © 2010 Nancy Ancowitz

4 thoughts on “Soothe Your Savage in the Cheap Seats”

  1. Great post. It's amazing how we can be our own worst enemy sometimes. To start to reframe the negative criticisms, I find it can be helpful to look at feedback from others – performance evaluations, compliments/praise, any other external recognition, as a reminder of how we appear in the eyes of others. And for those who fear that self-promotion appears boastful, focus on simply reporting what you've done or what others have said about you – the emphasis is on the facts, not on opinion.

  2. Thank you kindly, Wendy. I agree that it's a great idea to review performance evaluations and other feedback we've received and it helps us stick to the facts. In fact, many of my clients have benefited from creating a "fan file," or a folder that includes positive feedback they've received from performance evaluations as well as e-mails, letters of recommendation, and testimonials. Reviewing notes from the fan file can be a real confidence booster.

  3. Keep all the nice little things people have sent you. e.g. cards, stories, letters. Keep them in a treasured box. Keep them close to you. And when you feel a bit unworthy or doubt yourself take out your little box and read. This works wonders especially if you help others fill their little boxes.

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