You know that friend, the one who never has anything positive to say? The one who constantly criticizes other people and wants you to commiserate with her? The one you keep spending time with even though she makes you miserable?
We all have that friend. You know when you hang out with her she’s going to bring you down. But it’s not that big of a deal, because after your girls’ night or phone call or whatever, you’ll be done with her.
Unfortunately, her negative energy doesn’t leave you when you leave her. It stays with you long after your time together and affects you in ways you’re not consciously aware of. You know that your toxic friend isn’t fun to be around. But she also keeps you stuck in the same place, believing that you are incapable of making changes — and preventing you from making them.
The bad news is that your most toxic friend of all is the one you can never get rid of. She lives inside your head, and she never leaves. She is your inner critic.
You probably know what an inner critic is, and you probably know that you have one. And you also know you shouldn’t listen to it, because it makes you feel like crap. But awareness is only the tip of the iceberg. The deeper effects of constantly listening to your inner critic are far more damaging.
Listening to your inner critic doesn’t just make you feel bad — it changes your perception of yourself and influences your behaviors. There are three ways it does this.
It makes you think it’s you. Your inner critic talks to you all day long, even if you’re not aware of it. You can probably spot some of the more awful things it says, which is a good thing. But if you’re not on high alert to its incessant chatter, your inner critic starts to sound normal. When this happens, it’s no longer a separate voice in your head — it’s you.
When you start mistaking the inner critic for yourself, you can’t shut it down. Instead of being just a voice, it’s who you believe yourself to be. It’s like hanging out with your toxic friend. You start getting used to her negativity if you listen to it long enough, and then you start identifying with her and becoming more and more like her.
It crowds out your inner supporter. Your inner critic displaces the positive voice you could be listening to. When you spend time with your toxic friend, you are wasting time that could have been better spent with someone who encourages you and makes you feel good.
In the same way, when you listen to your inner critic you miss opportunities to reinforce your “inner cheerleader.” Paying too much attention to the negative voice magnifies it and makes it louder while quiteing your supportive voice — the one you should be listening to.
It keeps you stuck. Your inner critic prevents you from moving forward. Shutting your inner critic down in the moment is easy. But listening to it constantly without checking it — which is impossible to do when you mistake it for your own voice — slowly drains your self-confidence and your motivation to make changes.
Your toxic friend constantly tells you how impossible it is to change anything because she needs you to validate the fact that she’s not trying to. She needs you to identify with her so she can bring you down to her level — stuck in the exact same place.
So what does all this have to do with losing weight?
Listening to your inner critic over time makes you feel worthless and incapable of changing your life, so you search for a quick fix to make it better. That means that you keep dieting to lose weight instead of making small, steady changes to improve your health.
This is a mistake, because dieting puts your inner critic on full blast. Dieting magnifies what your inner critic says: that you look disgusting, that you are a failure, and that things will never change — all of which keep you feeling desperate. So you keep dieting over and over again, and you stay stuck in the cycle.
Changing your thoughts and habits instead of constantly dieting requires you to pay attention to your inner supporter who helps you see yourself differently. Your inner supporter makes you feel empowered rather than feeling like a victim and a failure, which gives you the motivation to set new goals. And setting and achieving new more exciting goals instead of constantly dieting to lose weight is what ultimately helps you lose it.
You can’t cut toxic friends out of your life, especially if you’ve known them forever. And you can’t ever completely silence the voice of your inner critic. But when you make new friends, the toxic ones go away. And when you set bigger goals and start achieving them, the weight goes away.
Even if you can’t totally eliminate either one, you can see them for what they are — and turn the volume down.
Change How You Think This Week
It’s easy to spot your inner critic when you hear it say things like “You are so fat” and “You look disgusting.” But your inner critic is also at work when you start sentences with phrases like, “I am so sick of this” or “This is so ridiculous.”
Even though your inner critic isn’t directly insulting you, it’s influencing your outlook in a negative way, which makes you feel incapable of taking control and making changes.
Change What You Do This Week
- Identify five things your inner critic says.
- Write them down.
- Pick the one that makes you feel the worst.
- Write down the opposite statement, and phrase it in a positive way.
- Every time you hear yourself saying the negative statement, change it to its opposite and say it out loud.