Navigating the Default State Network: Understanding and Modulating Our Inner Critic

Mar 03, 2023

Your inner critic is simply a part of you that needs more self-love.

— Amy Leigh Mercree


If you’re anything like me, you know that the voice in your head can be a bit of a bully. You might call it your inner critic, or the judge-and-jury that’s always ready to pounce on any mistake or misstep you make. It can be hard to find peace and equanimity when this voice is constantly berating us, but over the last few years, research has begun to shed some light on how we can better manage our inner critic. This research centers around something called the “Default State Network” (DSN), which is an interconnected network of brain regions that help us create and maintain our personal identity. Let’s explore how this network works and how Sarah Peyton’s concept of the “Resonant Self-Witness” (RSW) can help us modulate our DSN for greater peace and ease.


The Default State Network

The DSN is a part of our brain connected to large-scale networks responsible for self-reflection and evaluation, working memory processes, as well as orienting attention to external cues such as new information from the environment. This network also plays a role in decision-making processes, which helps shape our sense of identity through social interaction with others. When we are not paying attention to external stimuli, these networks become more active; thus they set up what scientists call a “default state” in which we reflect upon ourselves and evaluate ourselves based on past experiences and expectations. This default state ultimately shapes how we perceive ourselves in relation to others – including our own inner critics!


Resonant Self-Witness

Sarah Peyton has developed a concept called Resonant Self-Witness (RSW) that aims to help people become aware of their DSN activity without judgment or criticism. The RSW concept teaches people how to observe their thoughts with kindness and compassion instead of criticism or blame – allowing them to recognize their thoughts without engaging with them too deeply or harshly. By learning how to modulate their own inner dialogue in this way, people can begin to gain control over their default state networks so they don’t become overwhelmed by negative thinking patterns or stuck in cycles of rumination.


Exercises To Help Modulate Your Default State Network

One exercise Peyton recommends for modulating your DSN activity is something she calls “Mindful Presence Practice.” This exercise requires 3 steps: firstly, bring awareness to your body by focusing on physical sensations like breathing; secondly, notice any mental chatter about yourself without judgment; thirdly allow yourself simply be present with whatever emotions arise without trying to change them or push them away. By focusing on being present with whatever arises — pleasant or unpleasant — you will begin to cultivate greater equanimity towards yourself and life overall!


Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema @Unsplash

Navigating our Default State Networks can be difficult, especially when it comes time for us to confront our inner critics! Fortunately, though there are tools out there like Sarah Peyton's Resonant Self-Witness technique that can help us cultivate greater peace within ourselves through mindful presence practice. While these practices may take some time and effort on our part at first, they offer real potential for helping all of us find more balance in life by learning how to better manage our own internal dialogue! So why not give one of these exercises a try today? Who knows – maybe it could end up being one of those life-changing moments if you stick with it long enough!

Photo credit: Tingey Injury Law Firm @Unsplash

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