Have you ever noticed that it is easier to show compassion to others than it is to ourselves. When someone we love makes a mistake, we say “don’t worry just use this as an opportunity to learn and try again”. Whereas if we make a mistake ourselves, we say “What’s wrong with me, I can’t do anything right”. Often, we are much more tolerant towards the failures and weaknesses in others than we are to the failures and weakness in ourselves.

This is the work of our ‘inner critic’. A sometimes very loud internal voice with well-meaning intentions but outdated motivational techniques. The inner critic’s goal is to protect us and help us achieve. It tries to help by controlling and fixing the problem and uses criticism and harsh rebukes. It says things like “you are hopeless or what’s wrong with you” to try and get you to measure up. What it actually does is makes us feel ashamed, embarrassed or guilty for not “being good enough”. This makes it more difficult to take positive steps towards change.

There is another inner voice that also wants the best for us. Our ‘inner coach’ is a supportive and patient teacher who encourages us to accept our failures as part the human condition. The inner coach says, “You got this” and creates space for us to comfort and reassure ourselves that even though we failed at a particular task we are not a failure. The inner coach helps us feel optimistic and hopeful that we can take action to grow.

The easiest way to tell the difference between the inner critic and the inner coach is self-compassion. Self-compassion is offering to ourselves the same care and concern as we would a friend. Imagine what you would say to a close friend who lost a big client at work. It most probably involves words of kindness, reassurance and acceptance. Self-compassion is offering yourself the same reassurance and acceptance when things don’t go well. When we do this, it turns up the volume of our inner coach and puts us on a path towards change.