Influence: Develop Your Confidence (3) – Switching Submodalities on the ‘Inner Critic’

Building on last week’s question of “How is it possible that you are not confident?”, let’s examine one of the most common strategies that you might be using to undermine (unwittingly) your confidence: the ‘inner critic’, also known as ‘the chatterbox’ (Susan Jeffers in Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway), ‘Self One’ (in Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Work) and in life coaching circles as ‘the gremlin’.

These characterisations all describe an ‘inner voice’ which nags, criticises, or otherwise distracts you from performing at your best. You may recognise this from your own experience – or you may be saying to yourself “Internal dialogue? What’s he on about?”

For some people, for whom this inner critic is the ‘introjected‘ voice of a critical parent, it can make their life an absolute misery. For others, the inner voice may be no more than a distraction, and may even be supportive. Notice, though, that even if it’s saying pleasant things, internal chatter is a distraction from noticing what’s actually going on around you, so it will impact your performance whatever you are doing.

Approaches to dealing with a troublesome ‘inner critic’ range from trying to ignore it and focus instead on the sensory information relevant to what you want to accomplish (Gallwey) to challenging what it is saying (the Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy approach). Of course, if you have to challenge everything the ‘gremlin’ says, you now have two internal voices going!

A neat NLP technique allows you to defuse the ‘inner critic’ without having to challenge the content of what it’s saying. It relies on (NLP jargon alert!) changing the ‘submodalities’ of the inner voice so that it has less emotional impact.

‘Submodalities’ in the NLP jargon are the qualities of an image, a sound or a feeling. In the visual ‘modality’ these are qualities like size of the image, colour or black and white, bright or dim. In the auditory (sound) ‘modality’ the qualities include volume, pitch, tempo and location.

Why is this worth knowing? Because submodalities are like codes which tell our brains how much importance to attach to something. So we usually pay more attention to things that are close to us than to things that are far away, more attention to moving objects than still ones, we notice bright colours more than dull ones, and so on. You can see how this prioritisation of attention would have evolved as a survival mechanism.

This means that we can alter the emotional impact of a critical inner voice just by changing its qualities, without having to try to challenge what it is saying. I’ll explain next week why challenging the content or trying to get an inner voice to alter what it is saying can be counter-productive, and is definitely doing things the hard way.

So, if you are aware of having an ‘inner critic’, try this: changing one quality of the inner voice at a time. After each change, put the voice back how it was so you can be sure which individual changes have the biggest effect. If you don’t like the results of one of the changes, change it back straight away.

  1. Notice where the voice is located. Most people find it’s in their head somewhere. So would the voice have the same impact if it was coming from your left big toe? Or outside of you altogether, maybe on the floor in front of your foot?
  2. What would happen if the voice was saying the same things, but in a very high-pitched voice?
  3. Now here’s an interesting one. What happens if you turn the volume up? And what happens if you turn it down? Or even off?
  4. What would happen to the impact of the voice if it was saying the same things, but in the voice of a cartoon character? Most of the books mention Donald Duck at this point, but you may prefer Eric Cartman or Stewie from Family Guy.
  5. What if it said the same things, but in a humourous tone, with a chuckle in its voice? Or with a kindly, nurturing tone?

So, which change worked best for you? Most people in my workshops seem to find either changing the location or the cartoon voice has the most positive efect, by making the voice seem either irrelevant or ridiculous. Everyone’s subjective experience is different, so it may be another change that does it for you.

By the way, if the instructions had just said “Move the voice to your left big toe”, many of you might have thought “I can’t”. By asking “What would happen if the voice came from your left big toe?”, the question makes you try this scenario out in order to answer it. A bit sneaky, but it’s for your own good!

Let me know how you get on at – I love to hear your success stories.

Next time: negotiating with the gremlin!


  1. I found putting a chuckle into the voice turned my initial tone from rejecting doing certain tasks because of a negative feeling, to becoming interested in the task.