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How To Overcome The Inner Critic

You’re such a fucking loser - says the voice in my head as I contemplate my career choices.

This isn’t good enough. Do better. It’s not perfect, don’t release it. Why bother - I hear as I sit down to write.

I have a nasty, judgemental voice in my head that comes online when I’m ‘failing.’ More often than not, the ‘failure’ is a mountain-high standard I set for myself that I didn’t fulfil. Getting 80% there isn’t good enough.

But the worst lie of all is when the voice says: You’re the only one who feels this way. You are alone.

I decided to write this piece because I know I’m not the only one who has that voice.


Your mind is constantly sabotaging both your performance and well-being. All negative emotions, including stress, are the result of self-sabotage.

The inner voice I was referring to earlier is there to sabotage me. It poses as a protector when in fact it stops me from fulfilling my full potential.

To solve this problem, I did what I always do when I’m stuck - I went back through the notes from books, courses and coaching I collected over the years.

A while back I took a 3-month course by Stanford professor Shirzad Chamine. It was called Positive Intelligence and it focused on overcoming the nasty voices we have in our heads.

Here are the main takeaways:

  • Your mind is your best friend and your greatest enemy.
  • Everyone has an encouraging part of their mind called Sage and a sabotaging part of their mind - a Saboteur.
  • Saboteurs were created in childhood as a response to real or perceived emotional or physical threats. They became your beliefs and coping behaviours as an adult.
  • The saboteurs manifest as the inner critic part of yourself.

The Judge

  • The Master saboteur is the Judge who is present in all people.
  • The Judge always finds fault with 1) you 2) others 3) your circumstances.
  • The Judge always comes with accomplice saboteur(s): Avoider, Controler, Hyper-Achiever, Hyper-Rational, Hyper-Vigilant, Pleaser, Restless, Stickler and Victim). The names are self-explanatory but you can find out your accomplice saboteurs here.

Characteristics of the Judge

Each saboteur has its own characteristics and lies it tells you. But the common theme is “You won’t get/achieve/be X if I’m not here.”

The Sage

  • The Sage is the wise and gentle voice within you.

  • It holds a perspective of accepting what is and viewing every circumstance as a gift and opportunity.

  • The Judge creates tunnel vision whereas Sage sees a wider scope and focuses on opportunity.

  • The Judge beats you up repeatedly and keeps you stuck on the ‘wrong’. Sage is action-oriented and decisive. It evaluates the situation and moves on.

  • Your Sage has access to 5 superpowers: empathy, innovation, exploration, navigation and decisive action.

How To Beat Self-sabotage

By developing what Shirzad calls positive Intelligence. PQ = Sage/Saboteurs. You want your Sage to take up much more mindshare relative to the Saboteurs.

The following are backed by research and real-life examples conducted by Shirzad and his team.

Three ways to stop self-sabotage

1) Weaken the Saboteurs

2) Practice the Sage superpowers

3) Strengthen the PQ part of the brain

STRATEGY I: Weaken The Saboteurs

  • Notice what thoughts and feelings are associated with your Saboteurs (test here). For example, “This is done the wrong way” is a tell-tale sign of a controller. There is more than one way to do things. What the Controller means is that it wasn’t done my way, therefore it’s the wrong way.

  • Name your saboteur. That creates mental space between you and the voices. For example, a Controller could be called Drill Sergeant, a Stickler Anal Ana and the Judge a Righteous Snob.

  • Observe and label when you notice the saboteur come up. E.g. Oh, the Drill Sergeant is here and it says no other way will do except his way or the Drill Sergeant is feeling angry and anxious that the meeting isn't going its way.

  • Develop mindfulness. Instead of believing your saboteur, pause and observe. Choose to act consciously rather than react from the saboteur's perspective.

Takeaway - Notice and label. Mindful observation of the saboteur weakens it.

STRATEGY II - Practice the Sage Superpowers


  • Cultivate empathy towards yourself and others. Everyone’s doing the best they can and our Judge lies to us by telling us we have to be tough on ourselves.

  • Play this mental game whenever you feel weighed by the saboteurs. Imagine yourself (or the other person you're upset with) to be a little 5-year-old playing and running around joyfully. This activates empathy and invites the Sage.


  • Exploration invites openness, genuine curiosity, wonder and fascination. When a difficult situation or judgement arises, ask yourself 'What more can I discover?'

  • Power game: fascinated anthropologist. Become an observer and look at what is as an outside observer instead of looking from a personal lens. What is when you suspend judgment?


  • Innovation is needed when the old ways of dealing with a situation or other approaches don't work. What's a whole new way to see/do this?

  • Instruct your mind to come up with as many ideas as possible without judgment. Play a power game: YES, AND.. Write down the idea, no matter how silly it seems and then add yes and what I love about this idea is .... and ... Do this in a rapid-fire questions way to prevent the judge from interfering.

  • For example, say you want to work out consistently. You could say, “Maybe I commit to once a week for a month and then twice/week the following month until I build up to 4 times a week.” “Yes, what I love about that idea is that it creates gradual rather than sudden shift in my schedule. And I could also consider power-walking once a week as I listen to my favourite podcast.” “Yes, what I love about that idea is that it will keep me moving without having to go to the gym. And I could also consider taking the stairs or parking my car further from the entrance when I go shopping.”

  • It might feel contrived at first but the point is to find ways to support yourself rather than beat yourself up for not going to the gym.


  • Navigating is about knowing your guiding values and principles. Use them when you find yourself at a crossroads.

  • Play a Flash Forward game - when you have a fork in the road, imagine it's the end of your life and you're looking back at the choices you made. What decision looks best from up there?


  • This power moves you into pure action without saboteurs’ interference.

  • Power game: preempt the saboteurs. Put yourself in the shoes of your top saboteurs and anticipate what they'd say to sabotage you from taking action. Become intimately familiar with what they’re like when they try to sabotage you.

Takeaway - When the going gets tough, practice one of the power games.

III STRATEGY - Build Your PQ Muscles

  • Saboteurs and Sage reside in different brain regions. Saboteurs are part of the survival brain whereas Sage lives in the prefrontal cortex (the PQ Brain). The more you train the PQ part of the brain, the louder the Sage becomes and the quieter the saboteurs.

  • To build your PQ muscles, practice shifting your attention to the bodily sensations or the 5 senses for 30 seconds. That counts as 1 PQ brain rep.

  • Practice 30 PQ reps daily. When a Saboteur comes online, you have built mental resilience to quiet it.

  • Every time you notice a Saboteur, pause and do at least 1 rep.

For example

  1. Look around your environment and find 3 red items.
  2. Switch to peripheral vision.
  3. Feel the sensations of sitting/standing/lying down.
  4. Rub your thumb and index finger together and focus on the sensation.
  5. Rub your palms together and notice how it generates heat.
  6. Take a few deep breaths and notice the breath on your nostrils/throat/abdomen.
  7. Inhale and then exhale as slowly as you can. Repeat 3 times.
  8. Focus on 3 different sounds in your environment.
  9. Smell the air.
  10. Touch the surface nearby and notice the sensations.
  11. Analyse the object in front of you. What’s its colour? Texture? Size? Place in space?


I recorded a sample session for you 👇 (scroll down to the bottom)


Takeaway — training mental muscles will increase mindfulness and resilience when the self-sabotaging voice comes in.

Bringing It Together

Just like building physical muscles, mental muscles require training too. It only takes 15 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be done in one sitting. You could split it into 5 mins 3x a day. or practice it on the way to work. Ot transitional moments, like before getting up from the chair.

To sum up

  1. Name your Saboteurs and what thoughts and feelings are associated with each of them.
  2. Develop mindfulness - pause and observe rather than believe what the voice tells you.
  3. Play power games to strengthen your Sage.
  4. Practice mental reps daily.

I know it’s a long one but I hope you found it useful x

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