Kate Stevens

Kate Stevens, Life Coach

How to Coach Your Inner Critic: And My Ongoing Journey

smiley woman in woolly hat in her swimmers with lake in background. Caption reads How to coach your inner critic; and my ongoing journey

Do you ever hear an inner voice that holds you back, puts you down, or seems determined to undermine your confidence? You’re not alone. Many of us experience the inner critic, the critical voice in our head that urges us to play it safe and avoid potential risks. But what if I told you that you have the power to coach your inner critic into a supportive sage instead?

My recent (re)encounter

Despite my love – and some might say – unrelenting ramblings for cold water swimming, particularly for its benefits on my perimenopausal mental health, my inner critic has been preventing me from taking the plunge. My inner critic reminds me that the water at Beckenham Place Park lake will be ‘very cold’, that the weather is ‘grey and cloudy’ (I don’t like), that I’ve ‘got work to do’.
My inner critic overshadows my impending joy by undermining my resolve. It’s been rather loud this winter and I haven’t been to the lake much. A parallel. I realised this link thanks to a recent coaching conversation with a client when I was introduced to hers, and the penny dropped. My inner critic has been blocking me from doing the very thing that supports my wellbeing and I’ve blindly listening to it.

Here’s the thing: acknowledging and coaching your inner critic can be a top-notch life skill.
By learning how to recognise your inner critic’s voice(s), you’ll not only understand why it’s there, but how to disempower it. And by doing so, you’ll;

  • Reclaim agency over your choices (and the voices!)
  • Stop procrastinating and get motivated
  • Be kinder and more compassionate to yourself

What is the inner critic?

It’s that inner voice that criticises, undermines or judges us – we all have one (or some). It’s popular in psychology, psychotherapy and coaching. The inner critic comes from childhood when we heard harsh remarks and criticism from parents, caregivers, teachers, and peers. These remarks became ingrained – we may not even question or notice it as a problem. Over time, those remarks became something to believe and form part of our core beliefs.
The inner critic is also known as negative self-talk, internal dialogue, the gremlin, the judge, chatter.

That voice may produce feelings of shame*, inadequacy, anxiety, guilt and low self-esteem. A harsh inner critic can be debilitating.

How the inner critic works

The role of the inner critic is to be ‘helpful’ and keep us safe – although it’s actions are covert and distorted. I notice through my life coaching work and my personal development that it’s aims are to;

  • Protect us from perceived threats or potential harm
  • Motivate us (in a warped sense) – that criticism or guilt-induced comments will ‘motivate’ behaviour. Ie, if we realise that our actions fall short of the ‘ideal’, we’ll want to change
  • Control us – judgemental and controlling thoughts to cope with fear and uncertainty, providing us with a sense of control, especially when facing challenges

Why is my inner critic so loud right now?

You might notice that the inner critic is at its loudest when ‘it’ feels threatened.

Example (and this is a common theme with the people I work with)

You’ve been promoted, or perhaps you’re leading a new team – and it’s a big challenge. You feel out of your depth and question your abilities “I don’t think I’ve got enough experience”, or, “I don’t think I can do what’s expected of me”. You tell yourself this so often that it becomes habitual, like background noise playing over and over in your head. It’s infiltrated and playing on your vulnerability; it starts to impact your actual ability to do the job, encroaches your personal life and left to go unchecked, it might even sabotage your chances of success. Welcome to the edge of your Comfort Zone!

Comfort , Fear, Learning and Growth zone image with descriptions

Leaving the Comfort Zone

Your Comfort zone is your safe, familiar territory. It enables you to be good/really good at what you do – especially in your job. You’re considered ‘expert’ here, top of the game. And yet after a while it might feel boring here – you know this ‘stuff’. Yet, when you stretch yourself, you move to the edge of or even leave your Comfort Zone. That can feel scary, uncertain, vulnerable – a risk. Failure might seem real – and it’s not what you’re used to. If you’re a leader, you may no longer be ‘expert’ here although of course, you have expertise. Those feelings of doubt, uncertainty and fear validate the essence of inner critic, whose role and purpose is to protect you from perceived threats or potential harm.

And yet venturing beyond your Comfort Zone sparks growth, through learning and stretching your boundaries. Tara Mohr in her book of the same title, calls this ‘Playing Big’ and this book is recommended if you’d like to ‘stop playing small’. Or read more about Growth Mindset in a previous blog post.

How to tame your inner critic

  • Treat it as a foe. Not recommended! To silence the inner critic is to send it into overdrive and reinforce its position, in my opinion and that of psychologist Nick Wignall. In his article HERE, he says,
When you treat your thoughts like an enemy, that’s how they’ll increasingly feel.
  • Treat it as a friend.
    By befriending your inner critic, you shift from resistance to acceptance, creating space for a constructive and compassionate dialogue. Introduce your Inner Coach to your Inner Critic using these 4 steps.

Exercise 1

  1.    Welcome it, by acknowledging its presence
  2.    Listen to it. Write out the words/phrases it says to you in the moment
  3.    Recognise its intentions in its messages; Understand that it’s trying to protect you from perceived threats, albeit in a not-so-helpful manner
  4.    Introduce your inner coach to your inner critic. Create a new, compassionate collaboration

Like practising anything new it gets easier the more you take time to notice it’s presence.

Inner Critic vs Inner Coach chart

Exercise 2

For something more creative and playful, personify your inner critic and identify it in detail. Questions might include;

  • Does it have a name? Is it even a person? Someone you know?
  • What does it look like? Distinguishing features?
  • How does it sound? Does it smell?!
  • What’s their posture? Standing or sitting? Tall or short?
  • What are they wearing?

I’ve used this exercise in coaching a few times and it can be really moving. Great for perspective, and disarming the potential power the inner critic is holding.

So by understanding that the critical voice in our head has a purpose and that it can be used constructively, we can start to recognise it and reduce it’s potency, gradually shifting the dynamic with your inner critic to something more useful.

For me, I realise I’ve been ignoring my inner critic and it’s time to turn that around and pay it some attention. Reflection after each coaching session and having a trusted coaching supervisor also help. I talked this week to my supervisor about the challenge of the chatter and the parallels in my coaching work. The concept of my inner coach to collaborate with my inner critic means I reclaim agency and perspective, whilst maintaining my peace – which is exactly what’s happened now.

Ultimately, I’m choosing whether to swim at the lake or not – this time, from a place of reason. Part of the bigger picture; nurturing my inner coach is all about my personal and professional development and self-compassion. It’s ongoing, slow at times but transformational.

And my inner critic? I’ll be checking in daily for the foreseeable!


If you’re ready to embark on this journey of self-discovery, and need an ally, consider contacting me. Book your free call HERE.

*For more resources about shame and vulnerability watch Dr. Brene Brown’s Ted Talk HERE. I’m currently reading her best-selling book, ‘Daring Greatly’

And I’ve just bought the book mentioned above by Ethan Kross; ‘Chatter. The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It’

Thanks for reading.

Client agreement - ground rules.

1. Bring my whole self to this process; professionally and personally.

You cannot separate your professional and personal ‘lives’.

2. Be present in the moment and connected.

… to the coaching; what you’re thinking, feeling, experiencing. And…to nature if and where we are outdoors. If we’re on headphones, I’ll invite you to be descriptive of your environment too.

3. Bring the agenda to each session and keep your overall objective alive.

You can do this in several ways:

  • Be goal and action orientated – bring what you want to discuss and achieve to the session; OR
  • Talk and see what lands – exploratory and intentional.

I will bring the process, tools, ideas, resources and best practice to best support you towards your goal/intention/objective. More in your pre-coaching questionnaire. 

4. Give feedback and be responsive.

Coaching is collaborative. Neither of us should guess where we stand. I ask you to give me feedback and respond – you can rely on me to give and do the same.

I aim to get back to you within 24 hours of you emailing me, even if it’s just to say ‘I received your message’ before I respond properly. If it’s over the weekend or holiday, this may take longer.

5. Do the work in the session and in between sessions.

…so that you get the best value, even when it’s challenging. I might suggest a piece of work based on what you brought to the session. Mainly you will decide your course of action.

Whichever way, I’ll invite you to:

  • Reflect more; through walking, writing and whatever else fires you up, to help you achieve your objective.
  • Explore more; be curious and follow those trails of thought, intentionally
    Practice more; habits? Actions? Keep trying/tweaking.
  • Note what’s coming up that’s important or interesting to you in the session. I may share a few bullet points with you after, via Google Docs.

6. Session duration and timescale.

Generally a session is an hour but happy to shorten or increase session lengths, as and when we both can, that day. Where either of us thinks it appropriate, let’s say in the session. Timescale – let’s keep to the timescale agreed in the contract.

Additional information...

  • Coaching is a relationship designed to facilitate the development of personal or professional goals and develop a plan/strategy for achieving those goals.
  • It is comprehensive; it may involve other areas of your life beyond what you may have originally intended. It is your responsibility to choose and decide how to handle this, or even whether to.
  • It can be challenging; digging deep, creating better habits, becoming more self-aware, changing unhelpful beliefs you hold about yourself to something more helpful. There will be ups and downs. You will gain new insights, learnings and perspectives to help you achieve your goal.
  • You – the Client, are solely responsible for creating and implementing your own physical, mental and emotional well-being, decisions, choices, actions and results arising out of or resulting from the coaching relationship and your coaching calls and interactions with me – the Coach. As such, you agree that the Coach is not and will not be liable or responsible for any actions or inaction, or for any direct or indirect result of any services provided by me – the Coach. 
  • You – the Client, understand that in order to enhance the coaching relationship, you agree to communicate honestly, be open to feedback and assistance and to create the time and energy to participate fully in the program. I will do the same.
  • Coaching is not a substitute for counselling, mental health care or substance abuse treatment.  If you are in any kind of therapy, please tell me.  Tell your practitioner (medical or therapeutic) of you working with me.
  • I ask you to agree to commit to the coaching sessions to facilitate the required change.
  • I will treat you as the expert regarding the subject matter, which is…YOU.
  • I will allow time and space for you to explore your thoughts and think for yourself, no interruptions. There may be long pauses or silence sometimes to elicit more.
  • What goes on in your sessions is confidential. I do not discuss it with anyone. There may be occasion when it is my duty to break confidentiality:
    > If I feel you or I are at risk of harm.
    > Criminal / illegal activity.
    > A safeguarding concern or something else so serious that warrants concern.
  • I may talk to my coach or supervisor about issues arising in our sessions without ever naming or giving away you as the client. This is to ensure I am following professional and ethical guidelines and delivering my best. I subscribe to these by the ICF; https://coachfederation.org/code-of-ethics
  • Qualifications and CPD; I am an accredited coach. This means I have trained, practiced and qualified with Animas Centre for Coaching (Nov 2020). I hold a ‘Diploma in Transformational Coaching’. This is accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
    > I have my own coach and group supervision
    > My CPD includes –  Outdoor Intelligence for Online Coaching (Oct 2020) -Positive Psychology (Feb 2021

My accreditations


My story

I’d been trying to work out ‘what else’ I could do with my career and life.

After 20 years in HR and with the children getting older, I wanted to change careers, but into ‘what?’ And ‘how’ was that even possible? And…’who would take on a mid-40’s apprentice?’!

I took small steps to boost my confidence and mindset; a regular ‘walk and whinge’ with friends to offload, short courses to up-skill, more running, more netball.
I asked my workplace ‘what else’ they needed that I could help with – ‘job crafting’. 

I was trying to make changes but it wasn’t really working. I was still frustrated and now, more miserable. I needed a different approach to find a way forward and release the building pressure I felt.

Hiring an accredited coach with whom I knew I could work with, enabled me to take a good look at myself – at times, uncomfortably.

To be listened to without any interruption, or judgement was empowering and I started to recognise what made me, me – my personality, strengths, what energised me and made me happy. What if these things amounted to a job I would…love…?

I followed my curiosity and dabbled with ideas about potential jobs, tasks and environments that would suit me, with a new, growth mindset.

I started to shift perspective. When I finally realised the ‘what’, I felt an energy and sense of knowing that was powerful. And I laughed, because it had been right in front of me!

Coaching undoubtedly helped me get to know myself, to see my potential and what was possible. I wholeheartedly decided through those sessions, on what and how I wanted things to be.

It had taken me two years of feeling stuck and miserable and a number of hours to be liberated.

This is what I now do with my clients. I help them rediscover themselves so that they can play to their strengths and thrive.