7 Ways to Tame your Inner Critic & Invite Peace into Your Mind
Ah, the ego. At first thought, you may be thinking of the ego as in egotistical; someone who is full of themselves. And in a way, that is the ego or the mind’s way of thinking, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. When I’m talking about the ego, I am talking about:
Ego, or, the mind = anxiety and negative thoughts. The ego/mind versus the intuition. The thinking versus the knowing or feeling.
You see, we all have these two competing forces. Our mind, or the ego, which controls everything about us (and many things for good reason). And then we have our intuition which calmly tells us when something is very wrong, helps us determine which direction we should take at a crossroads, and acts overall as a guiding force.
The problem, I came to realize for myself, is that we have been taught by society to listen to the mind and our ego at face value, and only use the intuition when something is very wrong.
But what if we switched that way of thinking up? What if we tuned in to our intuition more and took our thoughts not at face value (at least the ones that don’t serve us)?
What if we could become so in tuned with our inner guide that it helped us break down the walls of negative thoughts, anxiety, and more?
***This is the point where I must insert a disclaimer. I am not a doctor or a therapist. I am simply sharing my tips on things that have helped me. These things may be beneficial to you as well, which is why I am sharing them. However, if you are experiencing negative, depressing, or anxious thoughts, or other mental illness symptoms, please seek assistance from a medical professional. I have included resources at the bottom of this post on how to seek assistance as well.***
I am sharing 7 of my top tips that I have implemented in my life to help tame my ego and the mind, and help calm my anxiety (if you want to read my anxiety story, you can check it out here). And while these tips haven’t ‘cured me’ (I don’t believe there is such a thing, because that would be enlightenment, plus, it’s the mind’s job to think!), they have significantly helped me anytime anxious thoughts or negative thoughts come up. I hope they can help you too!
Don’t fight it
So many of the lessons I’ve learned surrounding my ego and anxiety have been when I’ve hit the bottom of the anxiety well. This lesson is no different.
Often times when I would go to visit my therapist or psychologist, I would want them to tell me how I could fix my struggles with anxiety. I mentioned more than once that I wanted it to go away and wanted them to tell me what to do. I would become increasingly frustrated with myself when I would have an anxious episode or when the ego would flair. Upon telling my therapist about a particular flare-up, she would say:
“You did great. I wouldn’t have counseled you any other way”.
Cue more frustration.
So what was the problem?
Well, the first problem was the mindset that my anxiety could be fixed and would go away forever. That’s not usually how these things work. To think is to be human. To have an ego is to be human.
It wasn’t until I was in the midst of one of my worst anxiety spirals (we’re talking months long) that I finally stopped fighting. I was on the verge of having yet another panic attack, and out of sheer exhaustion, as I felt the panic start to rise, I said:
“Oh my gosh. Fine, let’s just get this over with”.
And you know what?
Contrary to what I thought for YEARS, giving in to the ego and anxiety didn’t make things worse. It actually made things better.
After I said that
Upon telling my therapist about this, she exclaimed loudly:
“YES! You surrendered. You need that tattooed on your forehead”.
As scary and uncomfortable as it is, I started surrendering into my fears and negative thoughts instead of fighting them. If I start feeling anxious, I admit to myself, a friend, my husband, whoever is around that, hey, I’m feeling a little bit anxious right now. And just uttering something as simple as that helps.
I look at it as when I’m trying to fight these thoughts, I am only giving them fuel or engaging in certain behaviors or activities that make me not think about them. And most of the time, those behaviors or activities aren’t in line with my values.
I think as a society we try to move away from uncomfortable feelings and we’re never taught how to deal with them. Avoiding them is much easier, but makes things worse in the long run.
If you want a great book on this topic, I would highly recommend ‘Daring Greatly‘ by Brene Brown (borrow from the library, a friend/family member, or buy secondhand first!).
Know that a thought is just a thought
When you think of your thoughts, do you think that any thought you think is the truth? Or that it defines you?
What if I told you our thoughts are just that…thoughts?
What if I told you that our thoughts don’t have to mean anything? And that if they do ‘mean’ something to you, that you are the one who has assigned meaning to it?
This is the basis behind cognitive behavioral therapy.
We think a thought, assign an emotion (can be consciously, but usually is subconsciously based on our past experiences and memories), and then decide how to react based on the emotion that we assigned to that thought.
Thoughts —-> Emotions —–> Behavior/Reaction
A resource that really helped me realize this was from a podcast called ‘Invisibilia’, episode one called ‘The Secret History of Thoughts’. I remember listening to it for the first time and feeling so heard and understood. I made a lot of my friends and family listen to it to help them understand what I couldn’t exactly put into words myself.
Realizing my thoughts are just that, thoughts, I was able to integrate other practices into my life (which I talk about below) that helped me practice not assigning an emotion to my thoughts and just let them slide (unless I wanted to!).
Accept what is
This one is somewhat similar to the ‘Don’t Fight It’ lesson, so I won’t go into deep detail here. Basically, instead of trying to fix the ego or anxiety, you simple surrender to where you are or what you are feeling.
For example, if I’m starting to feel anxious, my ego’s immediate response is to try and fix it. The ego likes to have a problem to solve, so it goes into major problem solving mode. The issue with this, however, is that sometimes there isn’t a problem. Sometimes, it’s just a season of life that is not where we want to be. But trying to force our way through it isn’t going to help. We have to work through it on our own time. Yes, it may be uncomfortable, but that’s just how it is sometimes. These times are when you practice some extra self-care and self-love to help yourself work through the difficult time.
That all being said, I am in no way saying you should become complacent with where you are. Here is what I am saying:
“There is a Japanese word that captures the dynamic tension created by acceptance and the desire for change –
Have you ever read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert? I read it last year and while there were some parts that I didn’t resonate with, I really appreciated how she connected anxiety and the ego to being creative.
I often hear of famous creative people who dealt with mental illness (Beethoven, Vincent van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, and countless others), and according to Gilbert and others, this is no coincidence.
“Fear is always triggered by
Still not convinced?
“Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who suffered deeply from anxiety, wrote this in his diary: “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”” (source)
Whenever I have a bout of anxiety, I try to channel that anxiety into something creative. Whether it is writing, journaling, coloring, or [insert hobby of choice here], tapping into my creative side channels that energy into something useful instead of fueling the anxiety.
Personify the ego
One of the first tricks my therapist taught me is to personify my anxiety. While it may sound weird, it works. Doing this helps to separate yourself from it, which can be hard when you are in the thick of ego-spewing thoughts.
My ‘personification’ of my ego/anxiety/negative thoughts has changed over the years. When I first started doing this, I imagined some ugly, nasty, little monster that I could squish, kick, punch, ignore, etc.
The little monster then morphed into a being I called ‘Regina’ after Regina George from Mean Girls. Anytime I would hear my ego spewing negative thoughts about myself, I could easily just think “stop it
Finally, my most recent ‘personification’ is courtesy of Jess Lively of The Lively Show. On her podcast, Jess talks about imaging the ego as a toddler who is trying to protect or parent you. She talks about the importance of realizing that the mind and ego have good intentions, but that they do a crappy job (by
This has become more of my go-to thought process because I can easily belittle ‘it’ by saying:
‘Aww, ego, you’re sweet, but I got this’.
Or something similar.
I can also look at it from a place of love, which at this point in my journey, resonates more with me than looking at it from a place of anger as I have in the past.
Or, you can look at it like this:
“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.” Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
Try out different ways to personify your ego/anxiety/negative thoughts and see if it helps you. From there you can work on pausing anytime a thought arises that doesn’t resonate with you, and not assigning an emotion. Instead, you can just let them pass on by (if you so desire).
Ego, who you talking to?
If your mind is really in the thick of spewing crap at you, something you can do is imagine yourself talking to a little kid (or even a little kid version of yourself). What would you say to them in this exact situation? Would you say the things to them that your mind was trying to convince you of at that very moment?
I’m going to guess that 99.9% of the time the answer is going to be a hard no.
Another trick you can do is to ask yourself what you’d tell a friend in this particular situation.
For example, if your mind is spewing thoughts at you such as:
“I’m a terrible person because of xyz…”
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you wouldn’t ever say that to a little kid, a smaller you, or a friend. So why would you say it to yourself?
This activity not only forces you to redirect your thoughts
Find your flow
This tip was probably the biggest and most monumental thing I implemented in my life that has helped my anxiety and to tame my ego.
What is flow? You know, ‘go with the flow’. As someone who had severe anxiety triggered around things I couldn’t control, this was a laughable statement. The mind in me had convinced me so well that I needed to control everything, when in reality it was that attempt to control that was causing me anxiety.
So what did I do? I found my flow through finding faith in a universal truth that there is something bigger than us – whether that is God, the Universe, an inner guide, Buddha, etc., it doesn’t really matter. What mattered was that I believed that there was something bigger than myself, and that ‘being’ was in charge. All I had to do was trust (easier said than done) that I was on the right journey and to just flow with it.
Remember how I said this was the biggest and most monumental shift for taming my anxiety and ego? Well, it also was one of the hardest ones. It took a lot of research and practice.
2018 was a big year for me in developing this spiritual muscle. Prior to that, I knew I believed in something bigger, I just didn’t know what. To help define it for myself, I read books on spirituality, listened to podcasts, journaled, meditated, and read a lot of blog posts.
I came to my own conclusion about what I believed in.
I personally believe that is a key piece of this puzzle, because if you are trying to have faith and trust in something that doesn’t resonate with you, it isn’t going to work.
Once I started putting trust in my intuition and believing that I was on the journey I am meant to be on, I could just turn inward and know that this is where I was supposed to be whenever the ego/mind started acting up.
Finding your own spirituality, religion, and faith is such a personal
- Books I read in 2017 and in 2018
- Podcasts: Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and The Jess Lively Show
- Other blogs and posts
- Mediate: I really like Insight Timer (free) and my 2-minute self-guided mindfulness meditations
Before I wrap up, I wanted to quickly share some tips that have helped me support my brain/mental health to further tame my ego/anxiety. I believe this is just as important as working on your physical health, and have personally found that when I do make these things a priority, the less anxiety and negative thoughts I have. AND, when I do have them, I am able to rebound from them a lot quicker.
Mindfulness: mindfulness is a great way to bring yourself within if your mind is racing or your anxiety is spiraling. It brings you back to the present moment and brings your mind out of pure reaction mode. The great thing about mindfulness is that it can be done literally anywhere. Check out my tips with my free mindfulness e-course or by signing up below to receive 71 ways to implement mindfulness in 5 minutes or less.
Gratitude: gratitude literally primes your brain to look for things that are positive in your life versus negative. There is TONS of research out there which I won’t get into here, but do get into (along with tips on how to bring gratitude into your life) in my post here.
Eat some real food: Research has started to show that eating inflammatory foods can decrease our mental health. Once I started learning more about this and implementing it into my life, I can absolutely tell the difference between when I eat inflammatory foods and when I don’t (inflammatory foods can include sugar, dairy, gluten, etc). I am not a doctor so please do your own research on this. There are a few books out there that go into an anti-anxiety diet:
- The Chemistry of Calm (my favorite one)
- The Anti-Anxiety Diet
- The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution
- The Anti-Anxiety Diet: A Two Week Sugar Detox
Ditch/reduce caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant. If your brain is already stimulated due to anxiety and you gulp down a large mocha, not only will you be amped up from the sugar, but you’ll also be extra amped up because of the caffeine. I finally ditched all caffeine because the anxious thoughts I was having just wasn’t worth it. Aside from the initial detox period, I honestly haven’t missed it.
Exercise: Yeah, yeah. Most of us know we should move more. But really, exercise is a great way to bring some good ole endorphins into the brain. It also is a great way to release any anxious energy and get rid of ego-type thoughts.
Get out in nature: Nature acts as its own stimulator, but in a good way. Our minds evolved to be stimulated by nature, unlike all the unnatural stimulants we are currently surrounded with. Plus, being out in nature is a great way to practice mindfulness. I personally love following this quick mindfulness activity:
- Find 5 things I see
- Find 4 things I hear
- Find 3 things I feel
- Find 2 things I smell
- Find 1 thing I taste
I won’t go into all the details about how beneficial being out in nature is, but if you’re interested, a fabulous book on the topic is ‘The Nature Fix’.
If you are having any type of anxious or depressive thoughts or any other signs of
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Online Resources and Finding Help
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 (US number) to be connected with a trained crisis counselor.
- Finally, this is a great page from ‘Everyday Help’ with a ton of resources for mental health assistance such as financial help for therapy and medications, support groups, etc.
Big Magic is still one of the best books that I have read and Ego is the Enemy. they taught me so many things and though it is still quite a challenge because of the persistent negative thoughts that are always coming, it is becoming easier to manage due to practicing mindfulness. It was a delight reading your article today. =)