Alissa hanging out by the beach.

The Plague of What You “Should” Be Doing and How to Quiet Your Inner Critic

inspiration Jul 08, 2019

My inner critic loves to wag her judging finger at me.

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon. I’ve got my SPF 30 applied, a Spotify playlist qued up, and a new book in my hand. As I sink into my patio chair to read, her voice pops into my head.

Really? You’re just going to relax? You’re so lazy. You should be planning your wedding. Your wedding is never going to happen if you don’t spend all your spare time planning.

My stomach tightens up and a wave of guilt rushes over me.

Crap. That’s what I should be doing. This is irresponsible of me.

I immediately put my book down and start scanning my new wedding planning app, trying to make myself feel better that I’m “being productive” by looking at wedding things.

Ugh. What am I doing? I’m allowed to have down time!

I think some of the most damaging phrases begin with “I should.”

“I should be happier.”

Have you ever been in the midst of a good day but still felt off?

Things are perfect. It’s a beautiful day. You’re relaxing with your friends. You really have nothing to complain about, yet you feel a little down.

When this happens to me, I often go straight to self-judgment.

I should be happier. What’s wrong with me? I’m being ungrateful.

I quickly decide my gloomy mood isn’t acceptable. There’s no place for me to be feeling down. I’ve gotta fix it ASAP because, you know, I should be happier.

When I’m telling myself how I should feel, I’m totally dismissing how I actually feel and judging myself for it. Guess what? It’s okay to feel a little down sometimes even if there’s no apparent reason for it.

Cathy Heller, one of my favorite podcasters, wrote an Instagram caption the other day that describes this perfectly.

First of all if you feel sad sometimes, you’re not alone. I think we’re all being sold on this idea of “happiness” but it’s not really a thing. Yes you can be happy but not all the time. Part of the human condition is feeling down sometimes.

So first let me just say how normal it is and most people just don’t want to share it because they want to project an image that they’re perfectly content all the time, they’re not. There’s a million reasons you might feel sad. You’ve lived through a lot.

So it makes sense that when we get quiet and the world stops for a moment , we may notice that we feel a sense of emptiness that we’re so wanting to fill. Sometimes we think another person can fix it or we can fill it with more money or a new shiny toy or traveling or hitting the next big milestone, but most likely that won’t make this feeling go away.

One amazing thing that always works is just letting myself actually feel what I’m feeling. I know it seems super simple and yet I find it’s the one thing most people never try.

As my teacher used to say, “feelings are like visitors. They’ll keep knocking louder and louder until you just finally open the door and let them in. They might stay 20 mins or 3 days or 4 months, but eventually they’ll go.”

What’s fascinating is that by breathing into the empty, sad, longing feeling almost immediately brings a sense of peace. It’s almost like waiting there behind the sadness is a feeling of wholeness that is also truly at the core of our beings. In some ways the emptiness is the doorway to feeling this peace. So be a good friend to yourself and when you’re feeling down just acknowledge how you feel. You’ll be surprised how this act of seeing yourself and not judging what you feel will bring you a renewed sense of equanimity.

Cathy Heller

Amen, Cathy!

And when I do remember to just allow myself to feel the way I feel, it does create a sense of peace. It feels so much better to allow than to tell myself I should feel a certain way.

We’re human. It’s okay, normal, and expected to not always feel happy. Don’t judge yourself for it, my friend.

“I should be more productive.”

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I sometimes struggle to allow myself down time. Somewhere along the way, I formed this belief that every moment should be spent productively or else it’s a waste of time.

When I first started my blog about 6 months ago, I was a maniac. I essentially quit watching TV. I was barely reading for pleasure. My life consisted of waking up super early to write, going to work, doing the dishes after Matt cooked dinner (thank goodness he cooks), and then maybe writing some more before going to bed.

Don’t get me wrong, I was totally enthralled because I love to write. It was genuinely how I wanted to spend my time. But, I also barely gave myself any free time to just relax because in my head I always thought, “I should be more productive.”

Well, a few weeks ago, I felt like I hadn’t spent much quality time with Matt. Yes, we spent our evenings on the couch together but I was often on my laptop typing away at the same time. So I was there, but not really there.

It dawned on me that I probably needed to stop using every spare moment to “be productive” and instead make time to just relax and watch TV with my boyfriend.

As a result, we had a great night laughing and genuinely enjoying each other’s company. It made me realize, since when is some good old fashioned down time not worth my time?

Freedom from the Inner Critic

Your inner critic is the scared part of you. It’s the part of you that compares yourself to others. It’s never pleased. When I believe what my inner critic tells me, I suffer.

I should be happier.

I should be more productive.

I should be further in my career.

I should have more money saved.

I should be better at keeping the house clean.

You get the idea. I suffer because I’m judging myself. I suffer because I’m believing that what I’m doing isn’t enough and I must always do more. I suffer because I’ll work myself to the point of burn out.

And while I’m a believer in setting goals and having high standards, these thoughts become toxic when they’re replayed over and over again. Because to the inner critic, it’ll never be enough. We’ll never reach the point where the inner critic is finally pleased.

So, how do we become free of that inner critic and believing all of the “shoulds”?

Acceptance. Noticing the inner critic but not believing every word he/she tells us. The best way I’ve found to notice my inner critic instead of react to her is through meditation. Meditation has helped me develop the mental tools to separate myself from my thoughts.

We create all of our thoughts. Just because a thought comes to mind doesn’t mean we need to believe it.

Think about it. Our imaginations are wild. If I told you to imagine a pink elephant riding on a unicorn through the sky; you could visualize that in your mind. That doesn’t make it real! The same thing goes with all those negative thoughts you’re creating and believing. They’re not real.

Instead of succumbing to the inner critic’s negative voice, try separating yourself from her. I like to view my inner critic as some creaky old worry wart. When she comes to mind, it helps to notice her, acknowledge her, and move on. Hi, you old worry wart! I see you creeping in and I won’t be listening to you today. Thanks!

The idea is to separate yourself from your inner critic. Your separateness from her is a reminder that you don’t need to be at her mercy.

And on that note, don’t judge yourself for having judgmental thoughts. What a loop that’ll throw you into. When you judge yourself for being hard on yourself, that’s just the inner critic creeping in through the back door. Accept that your inner critic is part of you. It’ll never go away completely. It’s another part of yourself to love and accept.

When you start to feel the weight of all the “shoulds” on your shoulders, remember that where you “should” be is exactly where you are right now.

With love,