Daily Stretch #25: Silence the Inner Critic to Boost Your Confidence
“Love brings self-confidence. Anger brings fear.” — Dalai Lama
Self-confidence is like the wind.
Its friendly push can help us reach cruising altitude in our lives.
But when we fly against it, unfavorable winds slow us down.
That’s what happens when we criticize others.
How can you boost your self-confidence if you get stuck in comparisons? Personal growth requires self-reflection. But most of us choose to judge others instead.
Criticism seeds fear and doubts.
Yet, we can’t stop criticizing others. Even if it makes us weaker.
Why We Love to Criticize
“Criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography.” — Oscar Wilde
Our brain is ‘hard-wired’ to be negative according to Psychologist Martin Seligman.
When life was uncertain and dangerous, our ancestors needed to be alert to threats in order to survive.
But modern life is not as dangerous as it used to be.
Yet, when we don’t like something or someone, we react like our ancestors did. Being judgmental is how we protect ourselves from potential attacks.
Criticism is an easy form of ego defense.
We hate in others what we hate about ourselves.
We reject the events or behaviors that expose our uncomfortable zones.
Criticism is an effortless task.
That’s why we cling to it. Even if it makes us weaker.
We expect everyone to be flawless. Our perfectionist syndrome is just an excuse to hide our vulnerable side. And have a hard time accepting our own flaws.
We criticize others because we are impatient. We don’t tolerate those who behave differently or move at a different pace. We expect people to behave like we would.
When we focus on someone else’s flaw, we become blind to everything else. We want to look smarter. But behave foolishly. We stop seeing the person. We just see their mistakes.
By spending our time looking at others, we forget to confront what we need to improve ourselves.
Why Criticizing Others Make Us Feel Better
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” — Henry Thomas Buckle
Being social creatures, we pay lots of attention to the opinion of others about us.
Positive or negative assessments are like social currency. They can increase or hurt our chances to move up the social ladder.
Anthropologists believe that throughout human history, gossip has been a way for us to bond with our peers. And to isolate those who don’t fit in our group.
Gossiping plays a key role in society. It spreads reputational information about others we use to either welcome or ostracize individuals.
Some actually say that it helps protect vulnerable individuals of a group.
“Gossip recipients use positive and negative group information to improve, promote, and protect the self,” writes researcher Elena Martinescu of Netherlands University.
“Contrary to lay perceptions,” the researcher explains, “most negative gossip is not intended to hurt the target, but to please the gossiper and receiver.”
Negative gossip has self-promotion value because it provides individuals with social comparison information, which results in feelings of pride.
Sadly, we feel better when we make someone look bad.
But, actually, we look ugly when criticizing others.
Regardless of our motivation, gossiping hurts relationships and creates a climate of fear and resentment. Multiple studies show it drives a decline in productivity and it increases both illness and absenteeism.
Constant gossiping creates a toxic environment. Both at work and at home.
Either you become part of the toxic culture.
Or you quit.
How Criticism Hurts You. And Why You Need to Stop It.
“Criticizing others is a dangerous thing, not so much because you may make mistakes about them, but because you may be revealing the truth about yourself.” — Harold Medina
Criticizing others is more harmful than you think. It doesn’t just affect the recipient. It hurts you too.
Criticism is not like feedback. They are related but are not the same.
Feedback helps you grow, as I wrote here. Criticizing only gets you stuck on what’s wrong.
The more we criticize others, the more prone we are to judge ourselves. And self-judgment often becomes an addiction.
Being judgmental is like the chicken or the egg dilemma. We don’t know which came first, self-judgment or judging others, but they both exist now.
Being addictive to criticism leads to a vicious cycle that gets us stuck. Here’s why:
- It puts everyone on the defensive: When you criticize someone, you get hurt too. Negative behaviors feed everyone’s brain to be alert to potential attacks.
- It focuses on what’s wrong: We are not our mistakes. We can learn and improve from them. When we criticize others, we are not helping but embarrassing them. A judgmental mindset damages our ability to appreciate things too.
- It implies blame: When something goes wrong, criticizing is an easy way out. We use someone’s flaw to blame him/her for events that are out of everyone’s control. Instead of accepting that life is unexpected.
- It’s unidimensional: When we judge people, we focus on one behavior or flaw. But people are more than just one label. When we do so, we narrow our perspective. When we label people is because we label ourselves too.
- It’s a projection of our frustrations: what we criticize in others reminds us what we don’t like in ourselves. Not only we are blaming others for our own flaws. But criticizing them is a way to hide what we don’t want to see about ourselves.
Criticizing others is a waste of energy and focus.
The time spent on it derails you from achieving your personal goals.
Instead of looking at other’s flaws, focus on improving yours.
Today’s Stretch: Silence the Inner Critic to Boost Your Confidence
1. Turn self-improvement into a daily discipline:
“Be so busy improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.” — Chetan Bhagat
The road towards self-development has no room for shortcuts. It’s a lifetime journey that requires daily practice. It’s a bumpy road too. Like most difficult roads, it leads to beautiful destinations.
Practice builds proficiency. It also helps you focus on building your foundation rather than destroying someone else’s.
2. Shut up you ‘inner critic’:
“All cruelty springs from weakness.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Silencing our inner voice is not easy. Rumination, the habit of repeatedly chewing sad experiences or conversations, is like getting stuck in the sand.
Our inner critic defaults to the past. We must delete those memories to move on to the “critic-free zone”.
The inner critic acts on inertia. The most comfortable road will take you nowhere. Don’t listen to the voice of laziness.
3. Stop guessing other people’s intention:
“Before you criticize others, remember, they may not have had the same opportunities in life as you have had.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
We judge what we don’t know. If we were to use our experience, we would stay in silence most of the time. When we rush into conclusions, we make mistakes.
Train your brain to ask more questions. Especially when someone’s behavior feels awkward or uneasy to digest.
Tension is always a good sign that something good is about to happen.
4. Turn off your fight or flight response mode:
“It is not necessary to react to everything you notice.” — Unknown
When we play on defense, we are at war with reality. Rather than listening to what’s going on, we are ready to defend ourselves from a threat that has yet to happen.
Adapt instead. Turn off your fight or flight mode. Everyone is different and they are not here to hurt you.
Give people a chance before you label them as potential enemies.
5. Purposefully avoid gossiping:
“Gossip dies when it enters the ear of the wise.” — Anonymous
It’s easy and fun to mock others. Being mindful to avoid falling into the trap of gossip.
Pay more attention. Are you acting on a judgmental or on an open mode? Becoming more mindful about it will help you call out that behavior. Especially when you are being part of it.
Remember: life is about choosing sides. Do you wish to be the ear of the gossiper or of the wise?
6. Don’t use past behaviors to predict future ones:
“No matter how hard past is, you can always begin again.” — Jack Kornfield
That someone hurt you yesterday, doesn’t mean it will hurt you again. If someone made a mistake, that person can learn and improve.
Don’t get stuck in people’s past behaviors. Everyone has a first chance to make a second impression. Give them that chance.
The same applies to you. Your past mistakes can limit you. Or become a springboard to improve. Criticism gets everyone stuck in the past. But life is about being in the present.
Appreciate what happens now, get rid of your memories.
7. Reclaim your value:
“Criticism is the art of appraising others at one’s own value.” — George Jean Nathan
We are how we judge others.
Being kind and compassionate with ourselves is only the beginning. The way we appreciate ourselves will reflect in the way we value others.
Self-confidence is critical to developing determination, willpower, and optimism. All core traits of successful people.
When you are judgmental, you are playing in defense. As the Dalai Lama says: “If you have a self-centered attitude, then you’ll have more fear, hesitance, distrust.”
Instead, promote acceptance and appreciation. Be a source of positivity rather than one of criticism.
Though our brains are more susceptible to negative thoughts, positive behaviors can be contagious too.
Become favorable wind for others to reach their true potential.
Critics come across as strong. That’s why people listen to them.
Use your self-confidence to become a stronger voice. If you are in control, you will make others calm and relaxed. When people lower their defense mechanisms, they listen more.
Turn your self-confidence into a source of inspiration. A mind that doesn’t judge drives confidence on others.
Silence your inner critic.
When you stop criticism you become more powerful: you influence others to follow your path.
Let the voice of self-confidence speak up.
Before You Go
If you too are interested in building a culture where talent and people can thrive, let’s keep the conversation going.
Read my book “Stretch for Change.”