Why Your Inner Voice Is Such a Negative Jerk
Here’s how to silence the constant critic in your head
The other day, I did one of those random acts of kindness for a stranger. I won’t go into specifics, because I don’t want to be that guy. I’ll just say it was nicer than holding the door for someone but not as nice as donating a kidney.
What was interesting to me, though, was the way my inner monologue played out afterward. When I got back in my car, I sat for a moment and enjoyed the warm, glowy feelings of doing something nice for a stranger. I thought, “Hey, that was a kind thing you did. Good job.”
Harmless enough. And yet my very next thought was, “Come on, dude. It’s not like you cured cancer. Get over yourself.” I’m not embellishing — that was, verbatim, the thought that popped into my head. I think I even rolled my eyes a little. At myself.
The reason I was even aware of this fleeting internal exchange is because of the mindfulness meditation I’ve been practicing for the past six months. One of the main goals of mindfulness is to become more aware of your thoughts and thought patterns, as if you’re a third-party observer. As I’ve noticed firsthand, many of these thoughts aren’t especially productive, or even kind, particularly when it comes to thoughts about ourselves.
Most of us have a ferocious inner critic. It’s like we have Triumph the Insult Comic Dog running around in our heads, calling a snarky play-by-play of every action we take and every belief we have about ourselves, chiding and belittling us whenever we start to feel that maybe we’re a moderately decent person.
My inner Triumph was there in my head that day, diminishing the nice thing I did for someone else.
“Come on, dude. It’s not like you cured cancer. Get over yourself.”
Sheesh. Why do I let this guy live rent-free in my head?
Why we’re wired for negativity
The answer is both revelatory and a little depressing: It’s because our brains are actually wired to be negative.
This impulse to discount our positive thoughts, qualities, and experiences while obsessing about the negative ones is so pervasive that scientists…