top of page

Mind Over Matter

When life gives you lemons…

The phrase ‘mind over matter’ has cropped up in my life frequently. I first heard it when I jumped into a freezing cold plunge pool in Centre Parcs at a young age. A lady jumped in after me without hesitation and gasped the phrase ‘mind over matter’ repeatedly. Since then, it has been said to me every time I’ve looked for motivation to revise for exams. It was spoken when I needed encouragement on the sports field. It’s been used by loved ones many times when I have encountered issues in my life or have felt like giving up. I have also used it. I have said it in my head, I have muttered it aloud to myself and I have used it as a response to support someone that was finding something difficult. The terminology is said with the best intention and for all the right reasons. The chances are that you use the phrase in the appropriate circumstances but I wonder if you could describe what it truly means? Have a go now and see what you come up with (no cheating!).

Done? The odds are you have come up with something pretty close to the true definition, but perhaps not exactly. Well luckily for you, I have done some googling as I struggled to fathom the meaning of the expression.  What it essentially suggests is that someone’s mind has the power to triumph over the challenges they are facing. Hence why we use it when someone is struggling with something. It encapsulates the idea that our mentality has the ability to override the limitations we experience. Struggling with exams? Your mindset has the capacity to overcome your barrier to revision. Running a marathon? You have the mental strength to complete it. Experiencing pain or discomfort? Your brain is capable of alleviating your symptoms. Whatever it is you are facing, the phrase gives rise to the idea that your mind has great influence over the outcome of any situation you are in. However, when people are going through a uncontrollable, difficult situation, like long covid, and the term 'mind over matter' surfaces, I wonder whether at times it can be percieved as a little hollow and unhelpful? In many cases though, the mind does influence outcome, particularly for sports. As captain of a hockey team, I knew that in order for my team to win a tough match, we all had to believe we could. When my boyfriend, Jake, steps into the boxing ring, he had to trust that he was capable of outboxing the other guy. And what about the top athletes fighting for gold? They all train just as hard as each other, but it's their psyche that ultimately determines who gets on the podium. Attitude is just as important as a skill set.

Many individuals with a chronic illness, are met with some kind of skepticism about their condition from loved ones, randomers, medical professionals, and the media. These people face the stigma that comes with the 'invisible symptoms' similar to that of those suffering from mental health disorders. Some people simply need to 'see the illness to believe it'. Which is a harmful outlook to possess. Although I have been fortunate to have not faced this doubt from others personally, I know that the skepticism surrounding long covid and similar conditions can be incredibly disheartening and isolating for the individual suffering. I have also not had the term 'mind over matter' said to me since getting long covid, alebit, other well-intentioned comments have been made that I had to decide to either absorb negatively or positively. Phrases of that nature can tend to be unhelpful when the sufferer genuinely believes that they have no control over their problems. Because at times, the matter can indeed take over the mind. However, you could argue that in every circumstance we are put under, warranted or not, we do have some authority over our behaviour towards it, and that stems from mindset. For chronic illness sufferers, most of the time, everything feels completely out of their control and it is very easy to feel negative and bitter towards yourself, others, or the world in general. That's not to say that at times you shouldn't be allowed to feel like that, of course you should! We should all get angry and frustrated. But perhaps learning to funnel and filter these emotions through a more positive mindset, could turn out to be far more constructive and valuable in the long run. We know how important mindset is on the sports field, so it must have equal importance when working towards recovery from a chronic illness. I discuss the power of the mind in great detail in my previous blog post called ‘The Body and The Mind’.

DISCLAIMER: I understand that it can be extremely difficult to be positive in the face of adversity, particularly when the hard times are extremely hard. I am not preaching to just "have a positive mindset and all your problems will go away!". I know it is far more complex than that, with many difficult caveats, limitations, obstacles, and hurdles to attempt to climb over. And even then, there may be no solution. All I am saying is that, whilst we don't have much control over the things that happen to us, the thing we do have control over is how we respond to them.

This bring me on to modifying our mindsets. During my teacher training, I was required to complete an action research project. I did mine on the impact of different praises on the mindset and self-esteem of students. Without boring you too much with it, my findings agreed with the more legitimate studies conducted, whereby, effort-based praise is more likely to support a child in fostering a growth mindset. Anyway, the important part of all that is growth mindset (Dweck et al, 2006). This has been a buzzword in the education sector for a while now, but I believe that is because it is something worth contemplating. It is the idea that our talents and abilities are something that can be improved over time with hard work and learning. In comparison, a fixed mindset assumes our traits cannot be changed. Adopting a growth mindset is far more beneficial in comparison to the latter since it is far more constructive. If we know it is possible to better ourselves, we will be more likely to embrace challenges and develop greater resilience. Ultimately, having a growth mindset will boost self-esteem and have a positive impact on your mental health and overall happiness. So why is it that so many people don’t possess a growth mindset?

I do believe that I have aspects of a growth mindset and I believe I am resilient and logical (most of the time!). But up until this point, I went through life believing I was a positive person. I was an optimistic ‘glass half full’ kind of girl. However, it was not until I got long covid that I realised how wrong I was about this. I have now woken up to the fact that I may externally come across as a person that always ‘looks on the bright side’ of things, but in fact, I possess a subconscious ‘inner critic’ that mostly controls everything I do. If you are a perfectionist, it is likely that you have your own ‘inner critic’ propelling all of your scrupulous behaviours. It acts as a serpent slithering in your brain whispering comments about your mistakes and miscalculations. It is like an ongoing commentary on how you are not good enough. For me, this voice in my head is my own voice, but I know for others with this negative internal dialogue, they hear a different voice. Don’t get me wrong, for some of the time this ‘inner critic’ is actually a really good thing for me. It drives me to get tasks done quickly (like this blog post!) and to the best of my ability. I never sit down knowing there are still chores to complete, my brain won’t let me rest until everything I need to do, is done. And yes, that means I was the person that did their homework on the day it was set (sorry!). A lot of my best work is a consequence of this voice. In some instances, having this inner monologue is a benefit, you are able to organise your thoughts better, increase productivity and it enhances critical thinking skills. However, huge problems can arise when the ‘inner critic’ negatively dominates your decision-making and perspectives in life. I guess you could also say that having this voice is consistent with having a fixed mindset. Whereby, comparison, negative response to feedback, and avoidance of challenges start to prevail, with the little voice analysing every move you make.

There isn’t clear evidence of how this inner monologue comes about. Like with most things I imagine it is a case of a little bit of nature and a little bit of nurture. Whilst I believe that we are not born as ‘blank slates’, it is my view that to fully acquire this self-criticism we have to learn it from somewhere. Throughout childhood and adolescence, we build up a picture of what the world is and create our own ‘world-view’. Different societal and cultural influences can put pressure on a person to meet certain expectations (Lysiak et al, 2019). For example, external messages emphasising the importance of success and that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. In addition to this, from an internal perspective, an individual may possess a high standard of themselves and have a profound desire for approval and validation from others, which results in people-pleasing and perfectionism. This is also where the fixed or growth mindsets are developed and the reason why teachers obtain a large responsibility for what mindset the students ultimately acquire, since many of our first failures and successes occur at school. I also believe that there is a genetic vulnerability for a self-critiquing mindset, with Gluch et al (2018) finding that the transmission of parental perfectionism may be partly due to genetics. However, if you have the inner dialogue that is constantly judging you and comparing you to others, it doesn’t really matter where it came from, what matters is that it's in there and it is about what you do with it (or what you allow it to do to you!).

Hurlburt et al (2021) suggested that only around 30-50% of people experience frequent inner voices. That is not to say that others do not experience it at all, just not as much or as loud. However, it is not until recently that I learned some people do not have an internal monologue at all. This phenomenon is called Anaduralia (‘mind blind’), the inability to create ‘auditory images’, which is often associated with Aphantasia, a deficit in forming ‘visual images’. You learn something new every day! For these individuals, there is no voice bouncing around their brain telling them what they should do. Whilst there are benefits to this, there are also disadvantages. For example, some individuals with Anaduralia, have a diminished capacity to imagine the 5 senses (Dutton, 2022), but everyone who has it, experiences it differently. Anyway, the idea of an ‘inner critic’ could be a good or bad thing, depending on the context and how you look at it. But recently, I have discovered just how powerful my inner voice can be and how this may influence my mindset, particularly in response to getting long covid.

My ‘inner critic’ fuels my perfectionist tendencies and forces me to focus on the negative. I talk about my urge to fixate on the unfavorable things in life in another blog post called ‘Picture-Perfect’. It seems that whatever I do this voice is always there. Ready to critique. Chipping away at my self-esteem. However, ever since my body demanded me to slow down in every sense of the word, I have become much more aware of my ‘inner critic’. I have noticed when it has attempted to make me feel guilty and I have made note of when it tells me I should be doing something I am not able to do. The issue with my internal voice is that no one has told it that I am currently in recovery mode. Unlike everything else, it hasn’t switched off. You have to almost feel sorry for it really. When will it ever be able to rest from telling me not to rest?! This internal monologue works so hard to create a toxic cycle of unrealistic expectations, preventing me from embracing my abilities and enjoying the journey of growth. But now that I am aware of it, I am able to isolate it away from myself, be less trusting of it, and eventually, silence it. Do you have an ‘inner critic’ hiding away up in your head?

I now recognise the importance of self-compassion and a growth mindset. Where mistakes are seen as opportunities, not failures to endlessly scrutinise. In an attempt to drown out the ‘inner critic’, I have started practising a far healthier relationship with myself.  Although I haven’t been living in the ‘real world’ recently due to not being able to venture out much, I have started to compare myself with others much less and I reprimand my ‘inner critic’ whenever it tries to monopolise my mind. I am far more patient with myself and I no longer get bogged down with the detail. It required me to completely return to basics to allow myself to rewire the mindset that took years to construct. My inner voice doesn't even tell me to start a new blog post anymore. I just do it when I want to and the creative juices just flow. I don't put that kind of pressure on myself anymore. I am nowhere near complete with this, but the good news is that I have started and I won’t stop until it is done.

I feel I have done enough waffling for now, so I just wanted to share with you ways to overcome this internal voice and also practice a growth mindset. I have also included example for each point. Some that can be directly applied to having a chronic illness, whilst others are more general.

I am not an expert and I am a work in progress, but I thought I’d share it anyway. If you feel you do not need to know any of this because your mindset is already in tip-top shape then feel free to skip this! I made a list that is far easier to read than a paragraph (brain fog or not!).

10 ways to combat the Inner critic and foster a growth mindset

  1. Practice self-awareness - notice when you are being self-critical. You do not have to necessarily act on them, but just be aware of them. Example: “Oh I am aware that my inner critic just told me I am so lazy as I glanced at the washing that needs to be hung up. That’s cool.” *continues to sit on the sofa with chocolate biscuits.*

  2. Challenge the voice - for those that cower at conflict (myself included) you may not like this one. But I challenge you to challenge those negative spills that the internal voice is telling you. Ask yourself- where is the evidence? Chances are there isn’t any. Example: “Woah, hold it right there big guy! You’re telling me that everyone in the room I just left thinks I am an idiot and useless for needing to take a nap? May I ask for the evidence, please? Oh, you don’t have any?”

  3. Embrace mistakes - understand that we all make them, even if you were Einstein. In fact, the first antibiotic (penicillin) was discovered solely by a rookie error made by Alexander Fleming. Don’t let that voice fool you into thinking you’re the only one. Example: “Dammit I just made a mistake with this new cake recipe! Never mind, what a fantastic opportunity for growth. I now know how to make it even better for next time. Anyway, this cake is still cake and any cake is delicious.” *eats cake*

  4. Treat yourself like you would a friend - would you ever speak to anyone the way you speak to yourself? Even your worst enemy? (Okay maybe my worst enemy). But you certainly wouldn’t your friend! So why are you treating yourself any differently? Be your own friend and treat yourself with the respect and compassion you deserve. Example: “God I look big in these jeans. Wait, what? Would I ever tell my friend they look big in their jeans? No way! They look gorgeous in any jeans they wear, and so do I!”

  5. Challenge cognitive distortions - do not let irrational or unhelpful thinking patterns get in your way. Stop allowing your internal voice to overgeneralise or dramatise everything. Again, where is the evidence? Be more balanced and only take things for face value. Example: “Omg, every single person on this entire whole street just saw me trip over and now they are all laughing at me.” *takes a breath and looks around* “Oh, no one even saw and an old lady even just asked if I am okay.”

  6. Be mindful and stay grounded - Try meditation, do some mindfulness, or even try some grounding techniques. There is so much out there online and most of it is free! Bring yourself back into the present and don’t let that inner critic win and pollute your brain with things that aren’t even real. Example: Try looking for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. If you poo-poo all this stuff like I once did, trust me, try this one, it helps!

  7. Seek support - talk to people about it, tell your family and friends. You’ll probably find that they have similar thoughts and mindsets too. But they may be able to offer fresh perspectives. Surround yourself with growth-minded individuals. Example: “Hey friend I just had an internal thought that you no longer value my friendship and don’t want to hang out with me anymore because I have been unwell.” *friend reassures* “Oh I guess I was just being ridiculous and listened to my little voice again, sorry I am trying to get them evicted soon, their lease is almost up.”

  8. Celebrate everything - do not just wait for the big milestones in your life to celebrate yourself and your achievements. Celebrate everything. Example: “Wow I made my bed exceptionally neat today, isn’t that just lovely. Even though I am not able to work, I am still able to achieve lots!” *steps back to admire bed*

  9. Do not be afraid of criticism- learn from others and actively seek out feedback from them. Don’t take any comments personally, negative or positive. Embrace constructive criticism as an opportunity to grow and make progress. Don’t always focus on the negative comments either…chances are there are far more positive ones! Example: “Oh dear, I just had my 6-month appraisal and my boss said so many bad things, this is awful!” *notices that negative mindset* “Well, all they said was I should have taken more notes in a meeting we had 2 weeks ago. And they told me like 20 good things I am doing. I guess I will start taking more notes but also be so proud of all of the positives they said too!”

  10. Be kind - mainly be kind to yourself but also be kind to others. Take time for yourself and practise self-care. Prioritise yourself and nourish your mind, body, and soul, they’re the only ones you get! Example: “I had such a busy, tough day at work as a teacher, I am exhausted. I should do more work by marking 30 books even though it has no impact on my ability as a teacher nor will anyone from school notice.” *pause* “Silly little quiet voice! So I guess it’s a face mask, candles, good book, bath, and early bed kind of evening?”

So next time your internal voice starts chirping away or you feel you are stuck in a negative mindset when facing a problem. Sit back. Take a deep breath. Go easy on yourself. Tell the nasty voice in your head to bore off. And embrace the power of a positve mindset and self-compassion. You deserve it.

Articles referenced

Dutton, N. 2022. What it’s like to be ‘Mind Blind’. Time.

Dweck, C. 2006. Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Gluch, V. 2018. Factors Influencing the Development of Perfectionism. WUPJ. 6.

Łysiak, M. 2019. Inner Dialogical Communication and Pathological Personality Traits. Front Psychology. 10: 1663.

Russell T. Hurlburt., Christopher L. Heavey., Leiszle Lapping-Carr, Alek E. Krumm., Stefanie A. Moynihan., Cody Kaneshiro., Vincent P. Brouwers., Dio K. Turner II, and Jason M. Kelsey. 2021. Department of Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

338 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Mit 0 von 5 Sternen bewertet.
Noch keine Ratings

Rating hinzufügen
bottom of page