Mental Health and The Inner Critic

Mental health is a hot topic in our current society. The increased awareness around cognitive, behavioral and emotional well being means that more people than ever before are placing importance on well-rounded health, not just focusing on diet and exercise.

The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

At Pathwaves, we have worked with more than 1,500 clients, and completed tens of thousands of sessions, and from this experience have been able to identify an underlying factor in our ability to achieve an optimal state of well being: the Inner Critic.

The Inner Critic is an inner voice that prevents you from making changes by feeding us self-sabotaging thoughts when we try to move away from our comfort zone. It doesn’t care if our comfort zone is healthy or not; it wants us to stay as we are, in the familiar, and not “risk” the unknown.

We, as humans, are creatures of habit. It doesn’t matter if our habits are good or bad for us, as long as they feel natural. This familiarity makes us comfortable, and our brains are programmed to recognize this state of mind as optimal for survival. Even if those habits are actually detrimental…

When we attempt to change, we move out of this comfort zone and become uncomfortable. Our brain does not enjoy this process – it sees it as dangerous, disrupting the status quo.

This awakens the Inner Critic, and the self-sabotaging thoughts begin.

“Who do I think I am to change this way?”

“Will I even recognize myself afterwards?”

“Is this even worth it?”

“Maybe I’m too old to change… ”

“This is a terrible idea, I should just go back to the way it was.”

Practicing old behaviors – even if they don’t contribute to good mental health – is so much easier. This is why it’s called a comfort zone.

Conquering this dynamic requires being aware of those thoughts, and recognizing them as statements that critical inner voice is creating out of fear, with the purpose of keeping us trapped in our comfort zone.

But you don’t have to listen.

When the Inner Critic starts to speak, get grounded and remind yourself of why you want to make this change, and that you have every right to be the person you want to become. Reaffirm your commitment to making the change you desire. Recognize that you are practicing the change, and make sure to celebrate all the little milestones along the way.

The Inner Critic’s goal is to keep you stuck in the familiar, even if the familiar is causing you pain or suffering. But it can be quieted by practicing awareness, and creating healthier neural pathways that will in time become a new, more positive comfort zone.

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