Inside each and every one of us lives a troll. And no, it’s not the cute pink kind with vertical hair and glitter for freckles—it’s the kind that hides under the proverbial bridges of your mind only to pop out and whisper far way worse things than “you can’t cross here.” Sometimes referred to as your “inner critic,” this cerebral party-crasher is hard to shake, but according to three experts, you can learn how to veto it—with practice.
“You need to realize the power of your mind,” says Caroline Leaf, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist during the most recent episode of podcast Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. “You have veto power, you can decide.” When I heard Dr. Leaf throw down the term “veto power,” my ears immediately perked up. After all, the idea that we’re the president of our own minds (or the senate majority, depending on how you look at it) sounds pretty darn enticing to me.
Guy Winch, PhD, psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries tells Happify Daily that when we passively allow unpleasant thoughts to drop-in on our minds’ again and again, we’re actively granting them more-and-more visiting rights. “As the groove gets deeper and deeper, the needle has a harder time getting out of the groove,” he explains.
“Those feelings are there for a purpose for a reason. So in the short-term, it’s okay to veto them and focus on your breathing, but long-term, you really have to figure out the root cause of why it’s there.” – Mastin Kipp, creator of Functional Life Coaching and author of Claim Your Power
There are a number of strategies you can learn to override toxic thought pattern, but before we dive into them, you need to know one major caveat: A veto is really just a temporary solve. At some point, with the help of a mental health specialist, it’s necessary to find what traumas are fueling the negative self-talk. “Those feelings are there for a purpose for a reason. So in the short-term, it’s okay to veto them and focus on your breathing, but long-term, you really have to figure out the root cause of why it’s there. And that’s how you change it for good,” stresses Mastin Kipp, creator of Functional Life Coaching and author of Claim Your Power.
That said, when your imposter syndrome creeps up on you right before that big meeting at work or you just can’t turn of your TDL before bed, Dr. Winch tells Happify Daily that you can visualize yourself doing something that’s familiar and comforting—like walking yourself through your weekly trip to the grocery store. (First, I pick up my fresh veggies, then oat milk, then chickpea rice…) “It may seem temporary, but if you reinforce these patterns enough, it can improve your mood and your decision making abilities,” says Dr. Winch. Eventually, your brain will catch the hint and make this imaginary market stop a mental health habit.
For a second option, Kipp tells me that he’s especially fond of a basic breathing technique. (Pranayama, FTW.) “One of the best hacks I love—it’s so simple—is basically long exhales where 80 percent of your breath is an exhale. “It’s called the vagal break [because it stimulates the vagus nerve]. When you’re exhaling you slowly, you down-regulate the nervous system so it’s a way to kind of interrupt that pattern. You’re using a distraction as a toolset.” Even if you’re sick of people telling you to breathe (I hear you!), this exercise is worth try, promise.
Just to reiterate though, these vetos won’t send your inner-critic packing. What they will do is give you the space to live your life until, eventually, you can dig deep and discover what’s underneath them. Who knows? One day, it might just all just be water under the (troll-free) bridge.
Now that we’ve talked negativity, here’s how to reframe your mind to think on the bright side. Plus, why yoga can make you nicer.
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