Mindfulness tips for anxiety and the inner critic that stops your meditation

woman squatting in grass

When you sit in meditation, you are sitting with your inner world experience. While you are still quiet and focusing on your practice, your thoughts come along for the ride. Meditating is an act of connecting with what is going on in our mind, body, and spirit.

We cannot detach from our thoughts when we are in meditation. One of the first things that beginner meditators notice is that their thoughts are always there. This realization that you cannot switch off your thoughts can feel intrusive, distracting, and irritating.

When you notice how often your thinking distracts you from the present moment, an inner dialogue can begin. You might see a voice inside that has a firm opinion of what is happening. The narration could have a negative commentary about your thoughts.

The inner commentary can be judgmental about your meditation. It can tell you you need to stop the thoughts that the mind needs to be quiet. It can also say that all these distracting thoughts shouldn’t be happening, that you must take control and keep them tamed.

The inner critic is loud!

If you follow this inner commentary, your meditation can turn into irritation and disappointment. It can even trigger unpleasant feelings about yourself and what you are doing. The voice can be so loud that it can get you to stand up and give up on having a meditation practice.

Sometimes it can try to come in to distract you even before you meditate. The inner commentary can try to persuade to do something else. You can even hear it saying, “Leave it for later; meditation is not that important. You are not good at it, anyway.”

The critic has a disguise

The inner critic’s arguments can seem at first helpful. Maybe the voice can feel like it’s trying to give you friendly advice because it cares. But if the commentary it’s stopping you from doing things that are good for your well-being, it’s like a friend with good intentions but with terrible advice.

The critic can cast a shadow on your practice that creates obstacles that don’t exist. It can totally undermine your meditation to where it tells that your practice will never account for anything. You can listen to the judgemental voice saying: “You will never change. You are hopeless.”

You are not the voice

All these descriptions come down to one mental habit, your inner critic. Giving this mental pattern a name, the inner critic makes it easy to separate from you. This mental habit that we all do feels like a person who lives inside of us. It can even feel that is who you are. But is not you; it is just a way of thinking and judging that you have been doing for most of your life.

Your inner critic can feel louder in meditation. The stillness of the practice can make it feel that way. The voice can seem more intense because you are not moving and distracting yourself with doing stuff.

When I began my meditation practice, it was the first time that I identified this voice. Like any beginner meditator, for quite a while, I followed it. It irritated me and was quite discouraging about my practice. The more I meditated, I saw that another part of me disagreed with it.

How to silence the inner critic

  1. Create distance

As soon as I realized that the inner critic was present in my meditation, I distanced myself from it. I want to advise you to do the same. Do not let the critic persuade you to stop your meditation. When he or she shows up, say hi and goodbye.

The inner critic has the power to control your action only when you believe that what the voice is saying is the truth. When you question what is stating, it loses the grip that it has over you.

One thing that also helps in coping with the pessimistic inner commentary is to create a disruption. Think about breaking the mental habit of listening to the critic by substituting it with connecting with the present moment. So instead of following the negative judgments, you bring a supportive friend.

2. Meet your new friend

You can call your friend, Serenity. Please think of this friend as an ally that can disrupt the critic and give it a shush. If you want to hang out with Serenity, you can invite her to your meditation.

Let’s pretend that you are going to begin your meditation. And suddenly, the inner critic shows up and tells you about something else you should instead of meditating. As you listen to the discouraging persuasive argument, take a pause. Say to yourself, I want to invite Serenity to join me today in my meditation.

3. Remember your whys

When you invite Serenity, she will be like a trusted friend who will remind you of your meditation goals. You can say: “thank you, Serenity, for reminding me I want to meditate because I wish to be calmer, less scattered. Thank you, Serenity, for reminding me I want to improve my mental health and be a calm parent and wife. Thank you, Serenity, because you are here to remind me I want to be more productive and less stressed at work.”

You can remind yourself of any intention or area in your life that your meditation practice will help you accomplish.

How to meet the Inner Critic

During your meditations, expect your inner critics to show up multiple times. It’s crucial that you know their disruptions will come and go all the time. One thing that you can do to silence the voice is to shush. I mean to shush literally.

Shushing is a breathing technique. This type of breathing is a calming way to disrupt the mind from unnecessary noise. It’s easy to do and remember. You only need to take six breaths to do this.

Extend your breath to silence the critic

Let’s do it together, now. Sit in a conformable position with your feet flat on the ground and close your eyes. Take one and inhale, and as you exhale, let your breath out and say shshshshsh.
-Inhale, exhale, shshshsh (Repeat six times)

It’s that simple.

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