Our anguish in burnout tends to be magnified enormously by a merciless inner critic, that chips away at our self-esteem, morale and motivation all day long.
But you don't need to put up with THAT kind of friend!
When you turn down the firehose of self-criticism, you can create enough space to begin the work of burnout recovery and get a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm back.
In this episode I talk about WHY we have an inner critic and HOW to work skillfully with it, so it doesn't keep you beaten down in burnout.
Championing Yourself Ep36 https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-36-championing-yourself/id1594461016?i=1000566705157
Feeling Discouraged Ep 37 https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-37-feeling-discouraged/id1594461016?i=1000567548250
Creating Safety Ep 38 https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-38-creating-safety/id1594461016?i=1000568374555
Untethered Soul by Michael Singer https://www.amazon.com/Untethered-Soul-Journey-Beyond-Yourself/dp/1572245379/
Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer https://www.amazon.com/Surrender-Experiment-Journey-Lifes-Perfection/dp/080414110X
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0:00:09.4 Dex: Hi, everyone. My name's Dex Randall and this is the Burnout to Leadership Podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello people, and this is Dex. Thank you for joining me for this episode of the podcast about Taming Your Inner Critic. And I'm coming to you from the Bermuda Triangle of technical glitches today. Well, we'll just see if we can get through it. But anyhow, so if you're here, if you want your inner critic to be less vicious with you, listen, as I'm gonna outline today why it's being such a prick in the first place and how you can turn the voice around.
0:00:52.2 Dex: And I think of this as a vital step in burnout recovery. Because when you turn off that fire hose of vitriolic self-criticism, you're gonna create enough space and enough sort of freedom to begin the work of burnout recovery, and you're gonna get a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm back. So, we'll talk about why we have the inner critic and how to work skilfully with it, so it doesn't keep you beaten down in burnout. And really, the inner critic's protective, there, I've said it. The inner critic is always trying to protect us from failure and rejection. The fact that it leaves your solar plexus tucked up like a starving dog that's perhaps not the best side effect of it. But really what our inner critic is doing is it's starving us of kindness, our own kindness towards ourselves.
0:01:52.4 Dex: And I was reading a book recently called The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer, I'll put it in the show notes. He's a spiritual seeker and he decided to let go of his personal preferences, fears, and worries, and simply let life call the shots and go with that flow. Just by accepting everything that happened with an air of kind of neutrality, and lack of opinion about what's happening. And so, you might also wish to question what happens for you when you challenge your deepest assumptions about life and inspire yourself to look at your own life in a radically different way, essentially as if the universe is always working in your favour.
0:02:42.1 Dex: So, a very important lesson I think in burnout is overcoming the harmful aspect of that mean voice in your head, and becoming more of a champion over yourself. So, listen also to Episode 36 on Championing Yourself, if you like your burnout recovery to be a little bit more carrot than stick, highly recommended. Because I reckon you've tried the stick for years, I know I did. So, if you're still in burnout, the jury is in, it didn't work, right? Anyhow, here's an example of what the inner critic might look like or sound like if you're burnt out, see if you can relate to this experience. So, Steve's story, this is as he starts his day. He's had a sweaty, restless night where he checked his phone compulsively several times to make sure nothing terrible was sitting in his inbox, 'cause that's what his inner critic is telling him.
0:03:32.6 Dex: So, he opens his eyes, he's already in this anxious dread about the morning. Stretching his body, rubbing his eyes, wondering how he can quickly escape the house before the needy kids need something from him, parents fail. And they're gonna come out any minute and do that. So, he bolts for the bathroom and flicks a couple of quick replies, urgent requests in his inbox 'cause he's really worried about the outcome. The critic is telling him it's gonna go wrong. Then it's all about, well, he should be doing exercise, having some meditation time, no time for that. The inner critic is telling him he's gonna be late for work, there's too much shit going on there. He skips breakfast, drags his ass reluctantly out the door, and gets a headstart on a couple of unfinished tasks from yesterday that his inner critic is badgering him about. He stresses all the way there in the car about how to explain why he didn't make those two important calls yesterday, his inner critic blaming him for that. Finish the report that's overdue, inner critic again. Or deal with a complaint from a bitterly disappointed customer, critic again, and a staff member he's been having a running battle of wills with, of the quality and the tardiness of their work.
0:04:47.0 Dex: And by the way, he tries to ignore this flash of hypocrisy because even though he's the smartest guy in the room, he's also lagging in quality, turnaround, and especially good attitude in his own work. And by good attitude, I really mean more precisely goodwill towards other people. So, his inner critic has written that whole [chuckle] set of rules for him there. He is irritated and frustrated all the time. That's his sense of things right now because the inner critic never shuts up. He's unwilling to give the benefit of the doubt to others. The inner critic tells him what's gonna go wrong because he views others as lazy, careless, obstructive, and failing to work with the required professionalism, all attacks his critic is making on him. So by the time he arrives at work, he's already in a terrible mood.
0:05:41.7 Dex: He bites the head off the first person to ask him a question, 'cause the inner critic says it's criticism to him. And then he dives into his office before anyone else can start on him. That kind of way of seeing things or [chuckle] acknowledgement of the stress that he's under, Steve's not unusual. This is kinda normal for somebody in burnout. So, did you yourself relate to any of that happening for you? And what part is your inner critic playing in that? 'Cause actually what I find amongst people I work with is their leaders, usually, either entitled or indeed. They're wonderful, intelligent, self-aware, high achievers, immensely capable people who inside, deep down inside, really care about others. But they've gone a bit stale, they've fallen into a situation where they've lost a little bit of self-regard. They begin to lose self-respect, and their inner critic, of course, seizes that opportunity to stage this massive takeover bid on their brain. That really is classic burnout.
0:06:56.3 Dex: And the rampant inner critic is how morale and motivation and efforts slide downhill for those people who are used to being invincible, but now see themselves as ever so slightly failing, no matter how hard they try, no matter how much they try to discipline themselves to do better. So, confusion and doubt sip in right around this point for them because they've been able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps before, but this time they're too exhausted, and it's not working. The demoralizing verdicts of the inner critic dished out relentlessly at them have kind of worn the stuffing out of them. And that my friends, that description, all of that, is a temporary situation that feels terminal. It feels permanent when you're experiencing it, but it isn't.
0:07:50.3 Dex: I can assure you that this if this toxic, vindictive stream is wearing you down, can be fixed. Because here's an important point, listen up. Your inner critic is not telling you who you are. Let me repeat that. Your inner critic is not telling you who you are. It's telling you actually that you are at risk and you need to sort a few things out. But also at the same time, it knows that you're tired, perhaps too tired to sort things out, too tired to listen and take action. Because it knows that it behaves like it has to shout at you constantly, increasingly urgent and usually increasingly painful ways to rouse you to the corrective action, which it thinks is urgent. So, I think if it really is, the voice is at a pitch that is trying to raise someone from a coma.
0:08:55.2 Dex: Perhaps you can also relate to that 'cause when I was in burnout, I think I could have. Anyhow, when I teach these type A personality people to recover from burnout, it's really all about being kind and gentle to oneself rather than mean and judgemental. It's where a new wellspring of goodness, connection, enjoyment, and performance erupts once you begin to take your own wellbeing seriously and start being kinder to yourself. Because you need kindness and connection, don't you, now more than ever, and you want it to come from other people, but really it starts with you. So, again, I would say listen to Episode 36 on Championing Yourself after this episode and discover how to do that. How to bring yourself up and be good to yourself.
0:09:50.9 Dex: But if you've got a raving inner critic, listen to this episode today first and turn down some of that noise, because dealing with the inner critic is a pressing need when we're in burnout. Otherwise, it's like trying to recover our morale and energy with a maniac screaming insistently in one ear, sapping all of our courage and our wellbeing. And we really believe that sucker when it's talking. Don't we? But first of all, just 'cause we've got an inner critic, let's get one misunderstanding out of the way first. I recently heard a perspective on the inner critic that I found shocking, confronting and I personally believe is ultimately false.
0:10:37.2 Dex: And it's that allowing the inner voice to have its way to say mean things about us is self-bullying. Now, I'm a human with a tendency towards burnout, with all the type A personality behaviours that when pushed to excess open this pit of burnout under my feet and neatly push me into that trap. But frankly, I balk at the inference that I'm self-bullying. Everyone has that voice, right? It's largely subconscious, involuntary. I'm not harming myself on purpose. Although, I will say that on the opposite side of the argument, I now see that as a child, I actually was a bully. Had a ton of suppressed energy, coupled with a lot of pain and resentment that worked its way to the surface in quite an ugly and inappropriate way. By the way, I think when we've got a rampant inner critic, we might notice how much resentment we spend time in. That might be a tip-off to what's happening with our inner critic.
0:11:44.9 Dex: But anyhow, I did a lot of work on correcting my bullying in my teens once I'd realized what I was doing, and it was quite successful for me, I'm very happy to have done that work. And now I do express myself differently and I do have access to much more compassion for myself and for other people. I found my hidden heart a little bit. Although I will say as well, [chuckle] my social skills really are still not that great. But anyhow, being called a bully, to me, sounds like victim blaming, doesn't it? Because no one ever threw a charge of bullying at another person in the absence of an accusation. It's not a compliment, is it? And I say victim blaming because whilst I have every sympathy for victims of bullying, and whilst I do not in any way at all condone bullying, I also see the perpetrator as in one sense as much of a victim.
0:12:45.1 Dex: It's a bit like blaming an alcoholic for drinking too much rather than looking at the root cause, why are they doing it? I find the escalation of violence and abuse these days extremely troubling. However, I do believe that there are societal causes. I don't think of it simply as defective or badly intentioned individuals. As I understand it, people become bullies because they've been bullied, and they have a lot of residual pain, which they feel powerless to redress and which they interpret as saying very bad things about them as a human. And they don't know what to do with that, particularly as children, right? So, they don't know what to do with all that energy except to exercise it through bullying behaviours. And that was certainly true for me. Bullying appears to be, from what I read, a learned behaviour, for example, in childhood from an adult. So, really it's a child trying to self-protect and it's a fear response. It might be maladaptive, but it's also subconscious.
0:14:00.2 Dex: I've seen bullying described as an effect of attachment difficulties, where the bullies didn't get the unconditionally loving acceptance and attention that they needed. So really, if that's true, negative attention now can't fix it. Blaming them now can't fix it. So, I recognize bullying as a burgeoning problem in our schools, workplaces, families, and communities, but it seems to me that blame and punishment are unlikely to fix it. Of course, bullying isn't acceptable, of course, there will be victims, of course, we want to break the cycle, and of course, we want to prevent harm. But blaming or punishing the bully isn't gonna produce that result. So equally, if you're in burnout and you have an inner critic that's running riots in there, and if that's leaking into your relationships with other people, I doubt that blaming yourself is going to help. That's really all I'm saying.
0:15:07.0 Dex: So, instead it might be helpful to understand the dynamics of self-criticism while you're doing it with as much compassion and gentleness as you can muster for yourself, and by all means for other people. 'Cause criticising yourself for having an inner critic is just adding to your burden, isn't it? It's just gonna ramp up the attacks. Just another piece of ammunition. So, there are a few tips I'm gonna share with you today that might help with your inner critic. And the first one is, I would invite you to stop seeing your inner critic as working against you. 'Cause let's look at it this way. If we have a self-accusatory voice inside our heads at all, well, for one thing, it proves that we are human. To have an inner voice that prattles on, tumbling out any load of rubbish, just to keep the monologue going, just to keep our attention, is actually a normal part of the human experience. We didn't choose it, right?
0:16:06.4 Dex: Some of us do notice that voice more, particularly if it says painful things. And some of us attempted to argue with it. Some of us attempted to pull up sharply and try and modify our behaviour to appease the voice. Some of us just roll over, agree, we're not being very good people, and give up. That last one is particularly an indicator of burnout. But the inner critic is actually a coping mechanism. It's an attempt at self-preservation gone wrong. And in my experience, the inner critic is all about fear of rejection. How about you? What are your thoughts? Because what I think the self-criticism is really saying is, look how you're heading for a fall, you're gonna get rejected if you keep going, and you're gonna get in trouble. People won't like it, you're gonna fail or you're gonna lose something that's important to you.
0:17:02.8 Dex: So, I'm gonna point your mistake out to you now, so you can quickly self-correct before the sky falls in. That's I think the inner critic's intention, the only thing is it rarely accomplishes that aim. Usually, the words land with such a double thud on our solar plexus, the home of our self-esteem, and then it weans us and makes us feel hopeless, helpless, and unworthy. All of this without any real discernible benefit. We simply kinda tuck our diaphragm up in a tight knot like that starving dog and wait for our fortunes to change.
0:17:42.1 Dex: So, I think it's well-intentioned, but often very ineffective. So, okay, then what can we do instead? Well, being aware that our inner critic is trying to protect us is step number one, that's my first tip. Recognize the same side of it. And I'm gonna give you a few more tips about what to do next, but also listen to podcast Episodes 36 through 38 for more tips on this, okay? So number two, tip number two, how to turn down the judgment. And I'm coming back to Michael Singer who wrote another book called Untethered Soul, I've referred to it on the podcast before. It's really all about working better with your inner critic, your inner voice to achieve more peace in your life. And he starts by talking about duality. 'Cause if we can recognize and transcend the duality of our inner critic if we can see that it's all hot air, that really means that probably nothing else is wrong in our life apart from the voice itself.
0:18:48.3 Dex: And if you haven't picked up on duality, when I say duality, what I really mean is, thinking that external phenomena, people, things that happen, stuff that goes on in your outside world are either good or bad, welcome or unwelcome, right or wrong, virtuous or sinful, that's duality. Both one end or the other end of the spectrum the favourable and the unfavourable. And the alternative to seeing things that way is seeing what is, as simply what is, stuff that happens. If you are listening to this and you're a student of the self-coaching model, it's the circumstance line in the model and neutral fact simply what happened out in the world. And we make it good or bad with our thinking, we judge it with our thinking. We create, in fact, our entire human existence with our thoughts. What happens out in the world never reaches our consciousness, except through the filter of our judgment. We don't experience the world, we experience our story about the world, and we don't see anything in the world that doesn't fit with our story either.
0:20:08.4 Dex: And we do that because really the story is ours. It feels safe to us, it feels familiar. It doesn't challenge our beliefs about the world or ourselves. It doesn't present any kind of ego or threat if we keep living inside of our story, this familiar kind of cocoon. So, when you hear an inner criticism with its judgment, what you can do instead is recognise all of that. You can use that moment of awareness to exercise your personal choice. You can offer yourself a new, more encouraging, more appreciative interpretation of what's happening in the world and also about yourself and what that means about you. You can find a way to interpret what you did or did not do in a much more compassionate way without all that self-judgment. Because self-judgment is part of your story.
0:21:04.0 Dex: You made it up throughout life and you're sticking to it come what may because you are a human with a human brain. But when you decide to choose a more kindly and gentle thought about yourself, against whatever criticism your brain came up with, say that thought to yourself, write it down, say it out loud, see yourself, hear yourself saying it, and listen to yourself saying it and see if you can absorb an alternate to your story of inner criticism that everything's gone wrong or is going wrong. So, that's my second tip, is, if you can, see-through duality a little bit and choose, when you see that duality, to offer yourself a more positive interpretation of what's going on.
0:21:53.9 Dex: And tip number three, meditation, has to have a look in here, meditative awareness. Meditation is another really good way to reveal a new perspective on what's happening. When we sit silently and focus on our breath, for example, we can become the observer of all that inner noise in our heads. We can just start seeing it as meaningless chatter that has no real bearing on our lives. We don't need to buy into anything that it's saying. There's no labelling, there's no judging, there's no resisting it. It's just watching it float by, all these thoughts floating by. And also in that moment, we can notice that right now, apart from this chatter in the mind, nothing else is actually wrong. We're fine. It helps us again to see through this fear and risk kind of assessment of the world.
0:22:50.0 Dex: And personally, I've learned Vipassana meditation as a way of connecting with my inner self, the self sitting behind the chatter, the self who is listening to the chatter, and know that the chatter itself is not me. Otherwise, how could I observe it? This is the self that's stable, unshaken by all the drama, the self that has a good heart, the self who is essentially enough and okay in the present moment. This is the self who I think of as my human being rather than my human doing. And when you really know that your inner critic is not you, you can develop a new relationship with everything that it says, and take it a lot less seriously. Because having it run your life in a deeply painful and depleting way is a hallmark of burnout. And it's not going to persist at such an intensity in recovery when you're using some of these tips. So, that's tip three, meditative awareness.
0:24:02.9 Dex: Tip four, again, is seeing through your critic. So, one of the most delightful things I see in my students as they recover is that their sense of humour returns. They start feeling buoyant, light-hearted, and cheerful. They appreciate their lives and the people that they care about in their world much more fully. And they do this by turning down the volume on the inner critic, leaving it to chat away by itself in a corner, believing it's a lot less. And by giving their good hearts and minds, their positive side, a little bit more airtime on purpose. And you too can learn this skill through coaching, by the way, 'cause your current level of misery, if you're in burnout, is optional. Listen to Episode 36 to learn how to champion yourself, which is gonna help with this one very much. Seeing through your inner critic, I think, taking it with a pinch of salt, not seeing things that happen as adverse or disastrous and stepping back out into the light where everything looks a little bit more doable again is available to you in burnout recovery. So, that's tip four, seeing through your critic a little bit.
0:25:14.9 Dex: And the last one, tip five, enjoying what is. I might've lost you right there, but in your experience, if your experience of your world is coming from your thoughts, I can teach you how to upgrade your thoughts to the point of enjoying what is, what is happening now. Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian spiritual teacher, said towards the end of his life to his students who wanted one last really specific piece of guidance. He said to them, "Do you want to know my secret?" I'd imagine they're all nodding at this point. And he said, "I don't mind what happens." Again, in his book, Michael Singer wrote another book called Untethered Soul. He delivers this constant flow of one-liners that will help you see through and past your inner critic. Highly recommend you read or listen to this book. It's a step-by-step instruction manual for overcoming the inner critic to becoming free.
0:26:17.9 Dex: Here's my example of the day. I was paddling out on the harbour before dawn today, and I fell out of my surf ski in the dark, and I got left behind by the group. And I did wonder briefly if the sharks had already had their breakfast, but my inner critic is all the while kind of yelling at me that I was a klutz. And I had difficulty remounting the ski and catching back up with the group. And then I remembered the truth is all there is. So, the truth was, that's me in the water. That's it. And that made me laugh, to be honest. I realized I was out on this beautiful harbour doing something I love to do. In or out of the water, it didn't really matter it was still all good. You wanna be happy? Live with the truth of what is. And your inner critic can't help you do that. It's making up a bunch of stories about what might be, what could go wrong. But you can learn to relate differently to your inner critic. It's just a skill.
0:27:19.3 Dex: And if you're listening to this, and you're in burnout, ask yourself, are you ready to try? Would you like to work more skillfully with your inner critic? So, they're my tips today for working with your inner critic. Number one, stop seeing your inner critic as being against you. Two, it's all about turning down the judgment. Three, get into some meditative awareness if you can. Four, so that you can see through your inner critic. And five, enjoy what is. But also look in the show notes for Episodes 36-38 of the podcast, which are gonna add more tools for your recovery, particularly in this area. Thank you so much for listening today, I appreciate that. We seem to have gotten through it without any technology dying. If you're in burnout, listen to the link at the end. You must come and talk to me about how to recover quickly and sustainably and get back to your best performance, leadership, and most of all enjoyment inside your mind.
0:28:15.6 Dex: If you're in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you, and let's make a plan to fix it.