Greta worked as a senior vice president at a medium-large consulting firm.
With her anniversary approaching – where, during her eighteen-year tenure, she’d led a major re-branding effort, helped win millions of dollars in projects, and mentored multiple tens of aspiring professionals – you’d think that she’d be 100 percent confident and blissed-out riding the happy wave.
Except that she wasn’t.
Once a member of the senior leadership team, she was now on the periphery.
She was in a toxic relationship with a cruel boss who minimized her achievements and whose actions fed her growing paranoia.
And, because she assumed that her company wanted her out, she was terrified to be on the last cold, hard step on this particular career path.
Worst of all, a once-confident senior executive, she now questioned her professional accomplishments, creative abilities, and record of success. She was convinced that no one would hire her at the SVP-level when she decided to step off.
For Greta, everyday at work was painful. But, the pain of staying at her current company was greater than the pain of stepping into an uncertain future.
So – despite her fear of the unknown – she quit.
Happily, Greta soon landed in a new high-level leadership position. She was back in a senior vice president role.
But the self-doubt that sprouted at her last job trailed her to this one. Her confidence had taken a major hit, and for the first time since she could remember, she was deeply afraid of messing up.
Thus began our work together where we focused on the source of her eroded confidence: the inner critic.
How to stop the inner critic
We’ve all been there.
Unfortunately, there really is no way to completely silence the inner critic because it’s part of being human. For millennia, the inner critic helpfully kept us from being a saber tooth tiger’s dinner.
Today, it continues to work hard at keeping us safe by instilling fear of runaway buses, standing at the podium…and, from doing new things or getting into situations it deems frightening. In fact, it rides shotgun to your deepest desires (which can be scary) on a daily basis.
Your inner critic rides shotgun to your deepest desires. Put it in the backseat instead. (Tweet that!)
So if you can’t silence it, what do you do? You learn how to push the inner critic aside by following these simple – but not always easy—steps:
1. Notice it.
Just building an awareness of the inner critic’s voice diminishes its potency because with awareness comes choice.
One of the most important choices to make with this awareness is that you are separate from the voice and therefore anything the voice says can be rejected (goes the other way, too, but the more powerful choice is to be suspicious of what the voice is telling you).
2. Name it.
Next step would be to name the inner critic. For example, Greta’s inner critic was the voice of a former boss (the cruel one from her last position), someone who, in her eyes, didn't deserve respect or admiration.
Once the inner critic embodies someone you know, then you’re better able to have a say in the relationship and decide how to respond. Do you cave in or do you stand up to it?
The thing about the inner critic is that it rarely has the truth. Never heeding what the inner critic feeds us as truth is essential.
3. Refuse to engage.
Nicholas Lore, author of The Pathfinder, refers to the inner critic as the “Yeahbuts”.
As soon as you think about expanding your life (e.g. learning something new, taking on a new job, moving in a new career direction), the Yeahbuts/inner critic steps in to keep you on the straight and narrow.
His advice is to cut off its thoughts and ideas before they root in too deeply. In other words, don’t pick up the thread of negative thinking and follow it to the end. Simply refuse to engage.
4. Get support.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that we often need support getting from Point A to Point B.
If you’re embarking on a journey into the unknown or stepping out in a different way – a new job, a new city or simply becoming a better version of yourself – link arms with someone or a supportive group to lean on as you step out of the box. You’ll be happy you did because navigating change is hard enough with the accompaniment of fear and doubt.
Now let’s return to Greta.
After she and I been coaching for a few months, she shared a story about her inner critic and unexpected outcome:
One day in her new position, Greta was having a conversation with her superior, Dick. They were discussing a proposal Greta had written and designed and – try as she might – she couldn’t glean what Dick thought of her finished product.
She had poured herself into this project as she usually did, but this was the first product at her new job that had her name on it.
Creating it, she said, “was like birthing a baby.” The writing was spot on, the graphics were full-color and beautiful, and she’d gotten it printed and bound at a high-end printer. What Dick held in his hand was cool, fresh and smelled like new ink.
Did he like it? Did he not? She couldn’t tell.
Back in her office, Greta decided that Dick didn't like it even though there was no evidence of his thinking so.
Then she began to second-guess her work, her data, her ideas, the graphics and dumped her own criticism on what had been truly a labor of love and something she was proud of.
One minute she believed in her work and the next, she was tearing it apart. What was going on?
Her inner critic was having a field day.
But this time, because she had strategies available from our work together, she was able to push the imaginary glass figurine from which the critical voice emanated off her shoulder (where hers sits) and listen to it “smash into a million pieces.”
So, why does all this matter?
Because I’d bet that your inner critic is keeping you from stepping out in some way.
In this post, I wrote about how I first came to know my inner critic—a term I wasn’t even familiar with until after I started my business. Now I recognize that every time I want to start something – this blog, for example – my inner critic is not on board and tries to cut me off before I get into action.
What does your inner critic sound like?
What tips can you share about pushing it aside?
I would love to hear from you! Please share in the comments.