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Psychology: How to Silence Your Inner Critics

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What do you say when you talk to yourself?

According to psychology, most people have a chatting inner voice. Everybody experiences it, but not everyone has inner speaking. It can be helpful to think of the aroma of fresh coffee before starting one’s morning ritual, for example. They may also practice a potentially contentious conversation with a colleague at work or with a partner at home.

Psychology professor Russell Hurlburt estimates that 30 to 50 percent of people have an inner monologue narrating their thoughts throughout the day.

And neuroscientist and author of Chatter, Ethan Kross, if used correctly, our inner voice helps us access our positive working memory so we can:

  • Better control our behavior

  • Be aware of present moments

  • Better planning for the future

  • Make sense of the complex inner and outer worlds around us

The wrong use of this inner voice can also be destructive, like when we:

  • Catastrophize problems

  • Get stuck in irrational thought loops from the past

  • Obsess over unlikely scenarios

  • Thinking too much about what others think

Usually, this kind of negative self-talk is sparked by adversity or other stressful situations, and the difficulty of understanding one’s own emotions.

Kross refers to this kind of inner voice as chatter. He warns that it can be harmful to our relationships, our work, and even our physical, and mental health.

A few things I appreciate about Kross’s approach, however, is that he doesn’t simply write off our inner voice as being wholly destructive, like many others. His view and approach is more balanced and acknowledges that our inner voice might have evolved for a personal or environmental reason. It can be both an asset and a liability.

The following are four strategies for dealing with your destructive inner voice from Kross’s book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It:

1. Pretend you are advising a friend

Negative mental chatter is often brought about by adverse events. When we are in the middle of a crisis, it’s often difficult to think logically about our situation.

However, most of us can usually offer level-headed advice to a friend struggling through a challenge, partly because we’re not as emotionally invested in such a friend.

By pretending to be that friend, you can get some distance from your disturbing problem, helping you to view it more objectively.

2. Write down your thoughts

Simply putting your unfiltered thoughts down on paper will allow your mind to get some distance from them and process them more effectively.

You can even build a habit of doing this daily first thing in the morning or evening as a kind of preventative maintenance.

Journaling is a very simple and effective method that will help you to remove stressful thoughts when written down.

3. Broaden your perspective

Mental chattering often happens when we zoom in, and focus on one part of a problem, inflaming our emotions and losing any sense of creative solutions.

Instead, try zooming out by taking a walk or doing some exercise. Ask yourself if the issue you’re dealing with at hand will still be a problem in 20 minutes, a day, a week, a month, a year, or longer.

4. Get into Gratitude

When we experience something vast and indescribable, we experience a shrinking of the Self, and core feelings.

Interestingly, when we feel smaller, so does our mental chatter. Being grateful brings the emotions that underlie these kinds of experiences to awe and it has been shown to help calm our nervous systems and increase mindfulness.

“For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) Paul is strongest when he is weak because he is most grateful for God’s grace when he is weak.

I hope these simple strategies can help you harness the chatter of your inner voice.

How do you deal with your inner mental chatter?



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