Issue #11 |July 2009

Today’s Topic: Take a holiday from criticism

I have yet to find the man, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism.

- Charles M. Schwab

Summer vacation time is here!

Most of us are looking forward to a well-deserved break from the day-to-day pressures of our busy lives. When you pack for your summer holiday, I invite you to consider carefully what you take with you in your “psychic” suitcase.

There’s one item I hope to leave at home this year – and that is my tendency to be critical. You know the tendency I’m talking about. That tendency to negatively judge and evaluate -- myself, other people -- and even the circumstances I find myself in.

Your critical inner voice

The psychologist and author, Robert Firestone refers to this negative inner conversation as the “critical inner voice”. Says Firestone, “The critical inner voice is often experienced as a running commentary in our mind that interprets events and interactions in ways that cause us pain and distress. It is an internal dialogue, a harsh and judgmental way of talking to ourselves.”

This is the voice you’re hearing when:
• You look in the mirror and think: “I’m too fat”, “I look old and wrinkled”, “My nose is too big” or _______ (fill in the blank).
• You go on a job interview and worry: “I’m too young and inexperienced, they’ll never hire me” or “I’m too old for this industry. I’ll never convince them that I’m up on the new technologies.”
• You fail to succeed at something you attempt and berate yourself: “You idiot. Why can’t you be successful like so-and-so? What’s the matter with you?”

Our inner critical voice can be quite brutal and unforgiving.

Sometimes we are aware of its taunts and barbs – and we can exercise some choice about how to deal with it. At other times, these negative self-judgements form a barely perceptible background drone, resulting in feelings of despondency and a drop in energy and inspiration. And we wonder what’s wrong.

Unfortunately for our loved ones, we also project our critical inner voice onto others. Ever felt critical of your partner, your children, your siblings?
“He dresses like a slob.” “She is so self-centred.” She talks too much.” “He’s ridiculously shy.” Paradoxically, we often reserve our harshest criticisms for those who are closest to us and whom we love the most.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to take a vacation-break from your tendency to criticize?

In my last newsletter, I talked about the corrosive effects of defensiveness in your close relationships. (See The Many Faces of Defensiveness)

Criticism can be an equally deadly activity. A complaint turns into a criticism when we attack the character of a person, rather than simply focusing on their behaviour. It’s the moment when we cease to see them as a person who BEHAVED in a stupid or foolish way – and we label them a stupid or foolish person. When we criticize ourselves, we turn that character assassination inward.

Here are 3 ways to take a vacation from criticism:

1. Notice when you’re becoming critical of yourself. Recognize when your inner critic has taken the floor. Don’t resist or argue with the critical voice. Just thank it for sharing and let those critical thoughts go. (Like meditation, the goal is to notice your thoughts as they arise and then let them drift on by, like clouds, without attaching to them.)

This may be harder than you think. However even a small improvement in your ability to detach from those negative thoughts can result in a significant improvement in your mood.

2. Notice when you’re feeling critical of your partner/another. Is there something you would like them to do or change? If so, take your courage in hand and make a request. Do it with the awareness that they have the right to decline or accept your request.

If you are critical regarding something they can’t easily change, then decide to let them off the hook for the duration of this vacation. Give them (and yourself) a total break from your negative judgements. Those critical thoughts will still be available when the vacation is over – if you really miss them.

3. Acknowledge and appreciate yourself for 3 things each day. Write them down in a journal and do your best to come up with new and different things to appreciate about yourself every day.

If you take my no-criticism challenge, I expect you’ll notice a few things:

• You may discover that your inner critical voice is more active than you ever imagined.
• You may notice that your inner critical voice is very destructive of your inner peace.
• You may discover that as you let go of your critical thoughts, your joy will increase.
• You may realize that cultivating a kind and appreciative attitude towards yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can give to others – as well as yourself.

This summer vacation I invite you to make a change in your inner landscape, as well as your outer. Take a holiday from those critical, negative assessments of yourself and others. Let your inner sun shine!

Invitation to action

Join me in the no-criticism challenge. Let me know how it goes!
These strategies may be a temporary solution, however there are additional ways to understand and work with the critical voice -- when you have the time and energy. For those strategies I recommend the very readable and practical book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice by Firestone, Firestone and Catlett.

Shirley’s Update:

I recently completed the Integral Coaching Foundation and Apprenticeship Module. This 5 month training with Integral Coaching Canada really stretched me, as a coach and as a person. I feel excited about the possibilities that have opened up, as I integrate my new learnings into my work with clients and my own life.

Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website at
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Copyright © 2009 by Shirley Vollett. All rights reserved.