Our Greatest Opponent? The Inner Critic
Graham Winter, Performance Psychologist
You Are Not Alone
Everyone has an inner critic. (Even the best players in the world).
When coaching players to strengthen their game mindset, I encourage them to get their inner critic out in the open.
Sure, it can make them squirm (and many didn’t realise they even had a toxic inner critic)!
Nothing reduces the devastating power of the inner critic better than challenging the negative, self defeating thoughts that take the fun and achievement out of the game.
What Does Your Critic Say?
All day and every day you have a dialogue going on in your mind as you make decisions and take actions. That dialogue might not be something you are consciously aware of, but it includes a ‘radar scanner’ constantly weighing up the balance between risk and reward (or more exactly between pleasure and pain).
Of all the pain your inner radar wants to avoid it’s feelings such as embarrassment, shame and loss. That’s why your inner critic is on the look out for situations where you might fail or get hurt (physically or psychologically), and of course, it will try to minimise the chances of pain.
Here is some typical inner dialogue. Do any of them seem familiar?
I’m hopeless at playing the short ball
I hope I don’t drop a catch
If we lose another wicket there’s a collapse coming
No one can take wickets on this pitch
Everyone will laugh at me if I try a ramp shot and it fails
Notice the Way the Inner Critic Thinks
All or Nothing Thinking. The critic doesn’t think in anything other than worst case scenarios and absolutes. Yes - you might drop a catch, get hit all over field or make a duck, but to the critic they are the catastrophe looming large - for which there will the pain (humiliation etc) which MUST be avoided.
Weakness-Centric. The critic has little regard for your strengths (and resilience to handle upsets) and instead hones in on your weaknesses, and on the power of your opponents (which might be how fast the bowler is, or how flat the pitch has become). The critic’s job is to keep reminding you of your weaknesses so you don’t get hurt.
Rehearsing Mistakes. The critic uses the proven skill of mental rehearsal / visualisation, except instead of using it for positive effect it speculates and imagines all manner of disaster, and in doing so reduces confidence and makes the challenges seem bigger.
When you look at these three characteristics you’d have to ask why does everybody have one of these inner critics? Let’s take a moment to consider that important question.
Why Do We Have an Inner Critic?
In the Mindful Cricket book there is a much more detailed explanation of the Inner Critic and its causes, characteristics and cures.
Amongst that explanation is a fundamental point about the inner critic.
You developed the inner critic as a child and it is essentially the voice of your parents and significant other people who played a vital role in keeping you safe. As you grew up you no longer need the same protective voice, but some of it remains, and while it can be quite irrational, it has a strong emotional hold over you.
Despite the negativity of the inner critic, it is has one primary role: to protect you.
Now you are aware that this is YOUR VOICE, it’s something you learned (so you can unlearn it) and its motives are pure (if somewhat misguided) you have taken the first step to quieten your inner critic.
Here’s a brief overview of the three steps in the Mindful Cricket programs that players learn to quieten their inner critic and unlock the potential that is being stifled by over-protective thinking.
Step 1. Awareness - Meet the Critic Head on
Take time to reflect on the extent to which you approach cricket believing that it’s embarrassing to make mistakes, and that you should avoid putting yourself in situations where you might lose.
In particular, take note of how you might be protecting yourself from situations in which there is the safe but challenging opportunity to learn and test yourself, provided you are willing to ignore the critic and have a go.
Step 2. Accept - It’s Your Critic & Your Feelings
The most powerful realisation for most players is that it is their choice to either lean away from the uncomfortable feelings generated by their inner critic, or to lean in and push through it. For example, fear about messing up when trying out a new style of delivery, or taking a risk in a match doesn’t have to stop you from acting with intent.
The uncomfortable feelings only last a few seconds, and with mindfulness training you will get better at letting them go past, so you give that inner critic less and less power.
Step 3. Action - Give Your Inner Coach Equal Time
A great way to quieten the inner critic (once you are aware of it) is to create an alternative dialogue which I call the Inner Coach. How?
Just as the inner critic has a way of interpreting situations by highlighting dangers and weaknesses, so too can your Inner Coach.
Here are some example of the Inner Coaches views:
Mistakes are part of learning
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Mistakes are the only pathway to getting better
I’m a good cricketer - losing is just temporary - I’ll win next time
Form and winning come and go - my mindset stays positive
My aim is to be the best I can be
The people who matter respect me no matter what happens
I’d rather have respect for trying than approval for avoiding the tough choice
Mindful Cricket is about creating the mindset you need to be the best cricketer you can be.
One of the keys to developing the Game Mindset is to learn to quieten your inner critic.
The suggestions in this article are necessarily brief, so there is more support available in the Mindful Cricket book and Workbook, and I encourage you to speak with your coaches or other advisors if this is an area that is of concern and needs more attention.
Above all don’t try to take on the inner critic by yourself if you are struggling. Take advantage of the skills of doctors, coaches, psychologists and counsellors who will have all had their own battles with the inner critic.
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