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Playing Big Book Club: The Inner Critic

Playing Big Book Club

I’ve never been so adamant that my clients, friends and family read a particular book. Tara Mohr’s Playing Big changed all this. I was given an advanced copy at the recent Emerging Women Live conference and by the time I’d finished chapter two, I knew the book was life changing.

The Playing Big Book Club

I’m incorporating the book into my coaching groups but I wanted to share the book with a wider audience. I wanted more people to have an opportunity to discuss and integrate the book into their lives. The Playing Big Book Club was born. This is the first of a series of posts and ongoing conversation about Playing Big: Find Your Voice Your Mission Your Message by Tara Mohr.

What is Playing Big?

What exactly does Tara mean by Playing Big? She defines it as, “following your callings and dreams”. What I love about her definition, is that playing big isn’t about achieving more (though you might) but it is about living a life that is true to yourself. So it might be the big promotion, or it might be starting your own business or taking the art class or…? Each of us gets to decide what that means for us. There isn’t a one size fits all definition.

Chapter 1: The Inner Critic

The inner critic is the voice in your head, the “voice of not-me”, that says you aren’t ready or aren’t good enough. It is the voice that discourages you from doing things in your life. Tara explains that we’ll never get rid of the inner critic but what we can do is, “learn how to live with the inner voice of self-doubt but not be held back by it, to hear the voice and not take direction from it”.

Sounds great to me.

The Eleven Qualities of the Inner Critic

Tara lists eleven qualities of the inner critic. You may or may not have all of these qualities or they may not all be present at the same time but these are sure-fire indicators that your inner critic is speaking to you.

  1. Harsh, rude, mean. We would never talk to someone we love like this but we use this voice with ourselves.
  2. Binary. Inner critics have black and white thinking.
  3. Ostensibly, the voice of reason. The inner critic loves to seduce you with what is effective and realistic.
  4. The voice of “you aren’t ready yet.” Inner critics tend to use if/then statements. Once you ____ (get the degree, the experience, more qualified) then you can ____ (start the project, advocate for the promotion).
  5. The voice of “you aren’t good at math/negotiating/technical stuff.” The inner critic will often show up in relation to activities that tend to be associated with masculine traits.
  6.  The voice of body perfection. The inner critic loves to offer a running commentary of critical thoughts about your body, weight, appearance and/or aging.
  7. The tape. The inner critic is the audio tape of thoughts in your mind. These thoughts aren’t conscious and they continuously loop through your head like bad elevator music.
  8. A broken record. The inner critic loves to rehash the same stories over and over again with occasional variations on the theme.
  9. Irrational but persistent. We often know that the inner critic’s commentary is irrational but we are still influenced by it.
  10. The one-two punch. The inner critic offers up a critical thought and then makes you wrong for having this thought. For example, it might say, “What is wrong with you? Other people are confident and relaxed.”
  11. The inner critic may take inspiration from critical people in your life. Your outer critics may start to exist in your mind so you may here undertones of your parents, a sibling, a boss or your cultural or religious upbringing.

I’ve heard my inner critic rail, enchant, persuade, demand, and convince me to not do something with nearly all of these qualities at one point or another in my life. My inner critic alternates from being harsh to quite reasonable (and therefore believable) within the space of a few minutes. In the time it has taken to write this post I’ve heard, “Who do you think you are to create a virtual book club? This is the work for someone more important than you.” and “What makes you qualified?”

Why do we have an Inner Critic?

The job of your inner critic is to keep you safe. It wants to protect you from physical and emotional risk. Tara explains,  the “inner critic is the guard at the edge of your comfort zone”. It is designed to keep us comfortable and in the realm of the familiar. But to create a life that fulfills us, we must get uncomfortable.

Your inner critic will have areas of your life where it speaks more loudly and becomes more and more cunning to find ways to keep you safe. As I shared in my TEDx talk, I never imagined that I’d be capable of flying a medevac helicopter. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else. Even though many people think my job is incredibly challenging and must be really difficult, my inner critic speaks most loudly in my relationship with my significant other and in relation to my coaching and blog, and around the novel I’m writing. These are areas where I feel most vulnerable.

How to Soothe Your Inner Critic

Tara says, “You don’t have to do all that much with your inner critic. In a culture that is all about doing, this is a counterintuitive truth. Recognizing the critic’s voice consciously is often enough to immediately snap us out of its trance.” She also says, “You don’t have to win the argument with your inner critic; you have to step away from the conversation.”


This is the “ah-ha” moment that is counterintuitive to the “no fear” rhetoric that abounds in popular culture. Now I can stop feeling like I’m a failure for not being able to quell the ongoing dialog in my mind. (A prime example of the inner critic’s one-two punch.)

Tara suggests telling your inner critic, “Thanks, but I got this one covered.”

The great thing about an inner critic? It provides endless opportunities to practice soothing it.

After comparing notes with my coaching group last night about the specific ways our inner critic shows up for each of us (and the downright nasty things it can say to us), we decided to nickname her Margie. Margie informed me last night when I opted for time alone rather than seeing my boyfriend, that I will never be successful in a long-term relationship because that requires living together and you can’t have alone to watch Top Chef and eat Snap Pea Crisps when you live with someone.

Thanks, Margie, but I got this covered. 

Your Turn: Join the Playing Big Book Club Discussion

What insights have you had about your inner critic? How does your inner critic most like to show up?  What name would you give the inner critic? What does it hold you back from doing? Share in the comments.

Haven’t got the book yet? Order it here.

(full disclosure, the links to the book are affiliate links and I will get a small percentage of the sale).

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