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I can be so mean to myself. My inner critic roasts my actions as political attack advertising, with claims that are cruel, exaggerated and often inaccurate. My ad would claim I’m dumb with money, bad at decision-making, and a whiner to boot – all of which yours truly endorses.
I’m not the only one talking badly about myself. Most people deal with negative self-talk at some point, and it comes up often in the practice of New York-based financial therapist Aja Evans. Even financial therapists use severe burns. “My inner monologue is brutal,” says Evans.
Personal finances are a hot topic for insider critics because they can be emotionally charged and involve big decisions. Learn to identify that voice and reframe its message.
Why should you recognize this voice
Internal criticism can be limiting when it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy, says Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based financial therapist and author of “The Financial Anxiety Solution.” For example, why try to cut back on your purchases if you’ve already labeled yourself an overspend?
Or say your inner voice insists you’ll never understand investing. This statement could enqueue the following negative thought loop, says Bryan-Podvin: Because you already assume you can’t grab the investment, you may be intimidated by the idea of opening a retirement account. So you don’t set one up or learn how to do it. Then, well, you don’t have any retirement savings or any investment knowledge. So you keep feeling like you’ll never understand it.
This type of spiral reinforces the unnecessary initial assertion, says Bryan-Podvin.
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How to identify unnecessary self-criticism
To address overly critical thinking, you must first recognize it. The fancy term for these thoughts is “cognitive distortions.” In an article from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Peter Grinspoon describes them as “internal mental filters or biases that increase our misery, fuel our anxiety, and make us feel bad about ourselves.”
Or consider this simpler definition of a cognitive distortion, from Bryan-Podvin: “a useless or deceptive thought”.
Look for clues to identify cognitive distortions. According to the Harvard article, these could include labeling, such as calling yourself a bad saver, and divination, such as insisting that you’ll never make a lot of money. Also watch for absolute terms, such as “always” and “never,” says Bryan-Podvin.
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What to do with your inner critic
When it comes to allaying those critics — or changing a behavior — Evans says “education and follow-up are important.” That’s why people log their calories to eat healthier foods, for example, and track their expenses to save money.
Likewise, Evans says recognizing unjust claims is key to combating them. Maybe in the moment you’re just saying, “There’s still my inner monologue, being too harsh,” she suggests.
If it’s too hard to notice your cognitive distortion in the moment, she says it’s fine to write or talk about your feelings later.
One way to do this is to schedule recurring “worry sessions,” says Alex Melkumian, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of the Financial Psychology Center in Los Angeles. Spend these moments thinking about the financial challenges that concern you and how you tend to judge yourself about them.
Or tie that reflection time to an existing habit, like your daily walk, says Bryan-Podvin. Another route: identify when that inner voice tends to scream the loudest and get ahead of it, she says. For example, if checking your spending is still stressing you out, “maybe five minutes before you log into that budget app, you’re spending time lovingly challenging that inner critic,” she suggests.
Whether you’re writing down your feelings silently, writing them down, or talking them out loud to yourself or a friend, says Evans, “the key is to be brutally honest with yourself.” Examine what your voice says and how you generally react, as well as the impact of that criticism on your life, she says.
Then, brainstorm activities that typically bring you back “to a more neutral place” when you’re overwhelmed, she says. Maybe jogging outside, calling a buddy, or scrolling through pictures of dogs tends to make you feel better. Try to tap into these coping mechanisms the next time your self-talk gets the better of you.
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Ways to learn from your inner critic
“The goal isn’t to completely get rid of the inner critic,” Melkumian says, adding that would likely be exhausting — and fruitless.
Try to contain, rather than eliminate, the voice, says Melkumian. Think of your mind as your home and the critic as your roommate. “He doesn’t have to be sitting right next to us talking in our ear,” he says.
And like a roommate who pays rent and does the dishes, your inner critic can be valuable. Recognize his overly harsh claims and, ideally, you could learn from them. “Ask what part of what the inner critic says is true,” Melkumian says.
Take the example of investing. Assuming you’ll never understand investing is extreme, but maybe the subject is confusing you. Use this bit of truth as a prompt to learn more about investing in a newbie-friendly way.
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By acknowledging and examining these unjust claims, they can become more helpful and less hurtful. “As soon as we start paying attention,” Melkumian says, “we start getting some of our power back.”
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Laura McMullen writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.
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Want to improve your finances? Pay attention to your inner voice, you might learn something. – CNET
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