Dealing with the worst of uninvited guests: your Inner Critic
I’m excited to teach you how to use a visualized Bouncer character as a mind hack. It’s one of my favorite tools to use with athletes, as the image it conjures is immediate and powerful. Most importantly, it gets the job done. Bouncer is a tool you can use to shut down your Inner Critic. And with this shutdown comes an immediate reversal to the downward spiral of negative self-talk that comes with it. To get there, I need to first offer a quick explanation on the concept of Inner Critic.
Inner Critic is the powerful force that appears in your mind and works hard to undermine your progress toward your goals. It is an expert at unraveling you. Inner Critic knows how to get under your skin, how to fan the fire of your fears, and how to distract you.
Mind Awareness Training: Are you aware?
Do you ever hear a voice in your head that tells you something like the following?
- today isn’t your day
- it’s time to quit
- you’re not strong enough
- the little pain you feel is an injury that will stop you
- you’re too old/young/fat/skinny/slow
- it’s too hot/cold/windy/uncomfortable for what you’re attempting to do
- you’re not good enough, not worthy of success
If so, you’re hearing from Inner Critic. Left unattended, Inner Critic has incredible power. At best, Inner Critic is a mood-killer and energy-zapper. At worst, Inner Critic can destroy your intentions, months of preparation, and years of dreams. Fortunately, you also have the power to call upon your Inner Coach, a voice that is even more powerful, as long as you learn to activate it and put it to use for the right task at the right time.
Activating your Inner Coach as a Mind Hack
Inner Coach has five important roles and areas of responsibility: Bouncer, Teacher, Guide, Muse, and Motivator. Your mission is to build a strong inner voice for each role and to integrate each voice into your sports pursuits as needed. This article covers the first of the 5 roles — it teaches you to use the Bouncer role as your Inner Coach.
Your Inner Coach works in this role as a club bouncer, ready to deal with rowdy, out-of-control Inner Critic, either when it shows up uninvited or when it somehow sneaks in and starts to wreak havoc. The Bouncer’s only job is to deal with your Inner Critic — to shut down this voice and toss it down the street. The Bouncer’s visualized presence alone is often enough to intimidate Inner Critic into walking away. If not, visualize the Bouncer growing in size and Inner Critic shrinking and losing its voice, until it is a tiny, voiceless grain of sand that the wind blows away.
Visualization as a Sports Performance Practice
Note that I use the term visualize when describing how to use the Bouncer hack. I teach general and specific visualization practices in Flow State Runner — it’s a major part of the book. Visualization is a critical skill for improving mental strength and sports performance, especially when under pressure. If you have no experience with visualization, just go with this simple explanation: visualization is deliberately imagining images. It is seeing pictures and films in your mind — to train your mind to experience a desired state before you experience it in reality.
The more detail you add to your visualization practice, the more powerful it becomes. See it in your mind as you wish to see it, and then you are primed to live it as you wish to live it.
Sending in the Bouncer
Here are some tips for allowing the Bouncer to flourish, thus minimizing Inner Critic’s presence and impact:
- Visualize the most intimidating Bouncer you can fathom. Perhaps you see the classic image (dark clothes, muscular, chiseled face) or a ninja-like image, where strength resides more in skills than size. Use what is the most viscerally powerful for you. Practice seeing your Bouncer in great detail, so that you can call upon this image whenever needed and see the image exactly as you’ve created it, not in some generic, random way. This is the important part of visualization training that many athletes lazily skip, and thus undermine the power of the tool when adversity strikes.
- Once you’ve got a detailed Bouncer image locked into your mind, start floating this image as a protective Bouncer over your shoulder. See your Bouncer guarding the door to your mind and ready to deal with your Inner Critic should it try to get involved and force its way in. When you are training, practice visualizing a sudden appearance of your Bouncer — at the ready over your shoulder.
- Whenever Inner Critic shows up and jumps deep into your thoughts, redirect your focus to Inner Coach and send in the Bouncer immediately — with confidence and force. Envision a protective detail rushing to cover their VIP protectee at the sign of risk — that’s the sense of urgency you need when calling in your Bouncer. The goal isn’t to politely ask Inner Critic to leave — it’s to eject Inner Critic from your mind with sudden and overwhelming force. If you take time to politely dance with Inner Critic, Inner Critic will stay and bring you down. Be strong — rather, give your Bouncer power to be strong for you, so you can focus on your sport.
- Sometimes when I notice that Inner Critic is getting too vocal, I envision that Inner Coach left me alone for just a moment to deal with something else. So, I just think, “Hey Bouncer, get in here and take care of this guy!”
It is inevitable that Inner Critic and Inner Coach will use your mind as a battlefield. It’s going to happen, and often when you need it the least and when it stands to wreck your goals the most. Rather than wait for this battle and hope that Inner Coach wins, train for it by hosting mock battles. Here’s an exercise to help with that:
Exercise — Host a battle between Inner Critic and Inner Coach’s Bouncer Role
This is an entertaining and worthwhile exercise that is also very realistic, especially in long distance endurance sports. Your task is to host a battle between your Inner Coach and Inner Critic. Allow each to become progressively more vocal and more aggressive throughout a segment of your training session. This is an exaggeration exercise, so be sure to play up each voice.
During your Inner Voice Battle, toss the microphone to Inner Critic first and open the floor for some initial mild negativity. Pass the mic back to Inner Coach for a counter. Continue the exchange, building more energy and sharper responses. Notice how your body responds to this inner battle. Does it energize you? Does it distract you? Continue the battle to a moment of peak intensity, and then shift all of your energy to Inner Coach in a triumphant finish.
Always finish with Inner Coach winning. Why? Because that’s the future you want to craft for yourself if you want more success and more flow in life. If you want flow, you want Inner Coach to be a consistent winner. And if you want Inner Coach to be a consistent winner, you have to always SEE Inner Coach as winning. Try it during different types of training sessions, from easy to high intensity, from short to long.
When to engage Inner Coach as the Bouncer — all moments when you:
- detect negative inner dialogue or fear
- stop believing in yourself and start doubting.
- start revising and scaling down your goals when in-flight (during a race or training session)
- feel natural aches and pains that are not a real injury and not worthy of undermining your goals.
Want to dive deeper? Check out Flow State Runner for an immersion into my full mind training model, including many more mind hacks to improve your sports performance.
— Coach Jeff
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Coach’s Handbook. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. Jeff’s popular newsletter is a digest containing inspirational and instructional resources, including his latest content. See recent issues and subscribe for free here. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.