Do negative thoughts affect your self-confidence or happiness?
It’s getting to the point of the trimester where you’re receiving feedback on your assignments and starting to focus on revision for exams and final assessments. With all this to manage in addition to the other areas of your life, you may be starting to feel a little overwhelmed or stressed.
When pressure is mounting, it’s common to doubt your abilities or give in to negative thoughts. This is called the ‘inner critic’ – and it can become pretty damaging if you let it take over your mindset. Is this something you’re susceptible to?
How does the inner critic work?
Everyone has an inner critic. It often lurks in the back of our minds and only comes to the fore when we’re vulnerable or under pressure.
In its most benign form, our inner critic can motivate us to strive and achieve greater success, whether for academic, sporting or personal goals. But at its most destructive, it can be vicious and exhausting – you may be bombarded by persistent negative thoughts or internal name-calling like:
- ‘You’re not good or smart enough.’
- ‘You’re worthless and will never amount to anything.’
- ‘You’ll never finish your course.’
- ‘You’re an idiot/pathetic/a loser/unattractive.’
It can be really hard to ignore these thoughts, especially as they often stem from early childhood messages and experiences. Over time, you can make these negative thoughts seem almost normal without any justification.
Can I turn my inner critic off?
When your inner critic is at its most vocal or dominant, it can be hard to think about anything else. Some people try to silence it in ways that are equally destructive – like substance abuse or other forms of self-harm – just to find some respite from the negativity.
Fortunately, there’s more constructive ways to turn down the volume of your inner critic. Try these strategies to quieten your mind and feel more positive as you focus on study or other parts of your life:
- Build distance between your inner critic and yourself – give the critic a name other than yours; for example, ‘Here comes Chris the Critic’. Remind yourself that you’ve internalised this viewpoint from a young age – it’s NOT an accurate reflection of who you are now: ‘I don’t have to accept this as the truth; this is just Chris the Critic trying to derail me.’
- Notice how hostile your inner critic can be. Call out the use of absolutes (like ‘always’, ‘totally’ or ‘never’) and name-calling.
- Do a reality check – where is the evidence for these kinds of statements?
- Respond to your inner critic and/or adjust the content to be more balanced, accurate and realistic:
|‘I’m an idiot’||‘I’m finding this task hard to understand but this doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I have passed other units and assignments.’|
|‘I can’t do this’||‘Although it’s hard, I’ll get better with practice, like I did last time.’|
- Consider how you’d respond to a friend speaking like this about themselves. Be kind to yourself like you would to them.
- Practise self-compassion and embrace imperfection – ‘No one is perfect’/’The best learning comes with challenges’/’I can’t expect to always get it right the first time’.
- Remember that you’re in charge! Take actions that represent how you view your current self, who you want to be and what you want to achieve.
Expert help is here if you need it
If none of these tips seem to help or you’re worried about how you’re coping, please reach out:
- Our Counselling and Psychological Support (CAPS) team offers free and confidential support to Deakin students from highly skilled psychologists and social workers who are experienced in helping students thrive. Book online to have a real-time telehealth appointment.
- Visit Ask Counselling, our online blog for students struggling with study or personal issues. Anonymous questions from students are answered by our professional counsellors, or you can submit your own question.
- headspace, VicHealth and Beyond Blue have some great articles and resources on improving your wellbeing. You could also check out what podcasts and books are available on topics like the inner critic, mindfulness and embracing imperfection.