How to quiet the inner critic

How to quiet the inner critic

alumni UBC’s career coaches share their top tips for tackling negative self-talk.

If “to err is human,” as Enlightenment poet Alexander Pope once penned, then to beat ourselves up after we err is, I submit, extra human.

This tendency applies to any aspect of life, but it feels particularly common when it comes to our work lives — maybe because there is, horribly, usually an audience around to witness our missteps. If, for instance, you’ve ever been flustered in an interview, fumbled your way through a work presentation, or left a performance review feeling a bit deflated, then you’re likely very familiar with the critical chatter that can descend in the immediate aftermath.

So, what can you do when the chatter gets a little too intrusive? We asked several experts from alumni UBC’s new career coaching and advising service, many of whom are UBC grads themselves, to share their top tips for combatting negative self-talk.

Read on for some practical strategies that can help you quiet the internal critic and, in the process, practice self-compassion. Because if to err is human, then, as Pope has also written, “to forgive [is] divine” — and that includes forgiving ourselves, no matter how decidedly unhuman that might feel in the moment.

Negative self-talk is about our response to our behaviour. 

Laura Dowling, BA‘09

If we want a different outcome, we must first examine how we speak to ourselves, because our self-talk builds our belief system, and what we believe to be true about ourselves controls our behaviour. 

Let’s say you’re walking out of a performance review and aren’t satisfied with the conversation. How can you turn your negative self-talk into practicing compassionate inquiry? Can you ask: What might I still need to learn about myself? 

Or, conversely, consider how you respond when you’re recognized in a performance review. Do you celebrate your contributions — or do you minimize even the positive feedback that comes your way? The choice is yours.

First, become aware of how you talk to yourself, practice compassionate inquiry, and then change your narrative of the way in which you want to show up the next time, so that you can establish a new belief for a different outcome. 


Soften negative thoughts by catching, checking, and changing them.

Nikola Girke, BHK’99

The 3 Cs Method is a great tool for overcoming negative thoughts: Catch it, Check it, and Change it. 

Becoming aware of the negative thought is the first step. Once aware, start debunking this negative thought by rationalizing it: what evidence or facts are there to support that thought? Then — and this is usually the step we forget to do — determine what contradictory evidence exists to suggest this negative thought isn’t entirely true. Ask yourself: Is it possible that the thought is an opinion rather than a fact? Now, based on this evidence, is there a new, alternative, and more balanced perspective or thought? 

This method of catching, checking, and changing will help soften these negative thoughts and reframe them with a more positive mindset. And another, perhaps simpler, rule is to ask: How would I respond to a friend or colleague if they told me their negative thoughts?  


Tap into the power of positive reframing.

Ioana Birleanu

Negative self-talk is not something we can always control, but it is something we can actively observe and work to redirect. Next time you notice such thoughts come up in your mind, pause and observe them. Most often, it is a negative framing of something going on, a self-critique that is not uplifting nor practical in any way. 

My favourite way of dealing with critical self-talk is rephrasing it in a positive manner. What is an aspect of the thought that you can spin around positively?

For example, if you are thinking: “I always mess things up, I just can’t do anything right!”, a positive reframe could look like this: “Everyone makes mistakes, and I am no exception. I can learn from this and become only better for next time.”


Lean into what is indisputably true about yourself: your strengths and experience.

Isabeau Iqbal, BSc’93, MA’04, PhD’12 

Don’t expend energy trying to combat negative self-talk! Why? Because it’s part of being human, so it’s going to happen. Instead, do this when your critical voice shows up: acknowledge it, thank it for its concern, and gently (but firmly) tell it you don’t need its “help.” 

You can visualize placing it in a glass box, shrinking it, or putting it on a shelf temporarily to get it out of your way. Then, redirect your focus on the positive aspects that you know are true about you. I’m not advocating for fake positive self-talk; rather, I encourage you to tap into your strengths and experience — those things that aren’t disputable. 

If you have trouble recalling what these are, ask a trusted friend or peer at work to help you. Over time, build your list and, when the negative self-talk reappears, refer to your list and add to it.


Remember that critical self-talk is not the only voice within you.

Charina Cruz 

We are all susceptible to negative chatter, especially when we feel like we’ve made a mistake or could have done better. But it’s only one out of many voices within us. The best way to combat it is to create a system for yourself that builds resilience and a growth mindset.

First, ask yourself: Is this negative voice inspiring me to learn something? Make notes on what actions you can take. 

Next, try shifting to a more empowering perspective: What’s this supposed to teach me? Out of every perceived failure or disappointment there is always a lesson. Reflect and journal about it to solidify your learning. 

Finally, call on your self-compassionate voice. Soothe yourself like you would a loved one, and shower yourself with kindness and empathy. Remember that you will have more opportunities to practice, improve, and progress. 

alumni UBC recently launched a highly anticipated career coaching and advising service to support the professional development of UBC graduates. Visit the alumni UBC website to explore this new service, and to learn more about the career experts featured in this article.