Do you have a voice in your head that says mean things to you?

Things like “Who do you think you are?” “You’ll fail again like always” “That’s never gonna work” and similar put downs.

It seems like this can be a big a big obstacle that stops people from even trying new things and keeps them stuck so we asked life coach David Brown to talk to us about how to deal with it.

David Brown

David is a Co-Active life coach who learned to control his own demons and now helps people to live with power, purpose, presence and passion.

Find out more about David at Potentiality Coaching 

Helen Lindop Why do we have an inner critic?

David Brown We are wired for safety. Our brains are designed to notice risk, threat and unpredictable things. Your inner critic is part of that nervous system wiring. Much of what you deem risky is created through experience. You have learned what is safe and what is not. That is why it varies so much between people. Your inner critic is designed to keep you safe and inside your comfort zone. The more you step out and do something risky, the louder your inner critic shouts. You’ll experience that as words in your head or feelings like anxiety, tight stomach, headaches etc. What you also might notice is that the inner critic holds you back from achieving your goals and dreams.

Is there any truth in what our inner critic says?

There is usually a kernel of truth about what the inner critic is saying. Typically, only about 2% has any truth to it. The rest is the inner critic going to town on your insecurities and building a case for your limitations. You don’t need to listen. And most of it is unfounded. Like that sarcastic comment you made that you feel bad about? The 2% truth is that you might have over-stepped the mark due to enthusiasm or feeling miffed about something. Your inner critic will escalate that and tell you that you are a bad person, and no one wants to be friends with you so you might as well become a recluse and live in Siberia. Obviously I’m joking, but I hope you get the point.

Emma James How do you shut the critic up, even when you know they’re talking gibberish? Or is it a case of not trying to shut them up?

David Brown How does it go when you true and shut ANYONE up? Usually badly, right? In my experience, the best way to keep the inner critic quiet is to acknowledge what it said and say “Thank you for sharing. But I am deciding to think something else.” If you tell it to shut up, it just comes on stronger, just like people do. Acknowledging the inner critic’s contribution is a polite way of recognising what it said and CHOOSING to ignore it. Just like you might do with someone who is offering unsolicited advice- you’ll say thank you and then ignore them. Simples.

Kathy Salaman To what extent would you say one’s inner critic is a direct result of ‘outside’ critics? Is it more a self-esteem thing, or a self-fulfilling prophecy based on being continually bashed?

David Brown I think your inner critic is heavily influenced by other people. Usually parents, teachers etc who told you stuff to limit you and you have bought into the story. So much so you believe their words. Almost ALL of it is untrue and always subjective- in other words its their opinion. Later in life, people will say things that will remind you, even unconsciously, of what those parents and teachers told you in the past and that adds fuel to the fire. You don’t have to listen to what the inner critic says. And you can build a story of evidence that shows you what the inner critic is saying is untrue. It might take time, but the evidence is there for you to see. If you can’t see, get a friend to help you to see.

Does it have any value?

Kathy Salaman Could the inner critic have some value? I’m guessing there are those who could do with one to counter the possibility of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where some people have a lack of self-awareness and believe their abilities to be much better than they really are.

David Brown Yes. Self-delusion might well be an inner critic strategy to keep you stuck. It stops you looking at the tough stuff and unfortunately some people fall for it. Frustrating for those that can see them for who they are. But don’t let that be fuel for YOUR inner critic. Connect to that confident, wise, self-assured version of yourself and act from there.

Helen Lindop Can we ever get rid of it?

David Brown I don’t think you ever get rid of the inner critic. I’ve certainly never succeeded, and I would say my inner critic is one of the main things that holds me back. You can learn to listen to a more positive and self-affirming aspect of yourself which will drown out the inner critic and give them less airtime. In time you’ll build a habit to listen to the positive voice and you’ll pay less and less attention to the negative voice.

What are some tactics to deal with it?

Anne-Marie Miller I was interested in the idea of naming the critic – giving it a persona and then having a counter persona. Can you explain a bit more, please?

David Brown Giving your inner critic a persona, e.g. a nagging irritating person or a cartoon character chewing on your ear, is a great way of lightening up about it. The inner critic can get a bit heavy. One of mine I call the Drill Sargeant (like the one in Full Metal Jacket). He shouts and rants and raves and makes me feel about knee high to a grasshopper. I can talk to him, walk away, send HIM away, lock him in the boot of the car, send him to Tahiti. It works well if you can get to it early before he gets a head of steam and get him out of the driving seat. Just try to get  some distance from those words.

You can also build a positive persona like a superhero, mentor or anyone who makes you feel better about yourself. Either imagine what it’s like to be with them and how that makes you feel. Or, imagine being them. Let the feeling fill you. You’ll notice that you’ll stand taller, feel stronger, be more confident. By using your thoughts, you are actually changing your chemistry, biology and physics. You are becoming a different version of yourself. Inner critic or superhero- they are all you. You get to choose.

Some of the superheroes that were mentioned at the Bedford meeting are: Superman, Groucho Marx, Olivia Coleman, and Barack Obama.

Andy Boothman I don’t believe that this ever goes away and I also think that’s important that it shouldn’t. We should always be a little bit nervous about a new project/client/event/whatever, as it is those nerves/insecurities etc that drive us forward, upping our game and delivering our best.

David Brown Yes, and it also tells you that this is important to you. The inner critic is trying to stop you failing. It’s protecting you. Rather than battle through and “Carry on…. regardless”, connect to that confident, life-affirming part of yourself and THEN you will up your game.

Andy Boothman When we set ourselves big goals that are scary, these are more likely to feed the inner critic but if we break them down into smaller attainable pieces it doesn’t seem so scary so the voice isn’t as strong.

David Brown Yes, breaking large goals into smaller, more manageable pieces brings the inner critic off high alert, so it is less powerful and loud. That makes it easier to bring out that superhero, best version of yourself and hit those targets.

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts I use my inner critic in my mental boardroom. They’re super risk averse and hyper critical so they bring up the things I don’t want to think about, but probably should! I listen to them and challenge them if required.

David Brown  h yes. The inner critic has its uses. It’s not all bad. You’ve just got to know how to work with it like you do Charlie 👍💪🏻

If you’d like to contact David you can find him at