Overcoming your inner critic

There is no quick fix

‘I’ve been called many things – judge, inner critic, saboteur, monkey, superego – and I can be cruel and damaging to your mental wellbeing, spreading negative thoughts and discontent. I am your inner critic’

By many accounts the modern leader should be confident and positive yet authentic, but this dichotomy is not realistic as all leaders have feelings and thoughts that include doubt, fear, and self-criticism.  All of these are voiced by our inner critic. The job of our minds is after all to protect us, to spot danger and provide narratives that make life bearable, and the inner critic is part of this survival technique to help us avoid or limit risk.

The first step to overcoming your inner critic is to recognise it and be aware of it.  Trying to ignore it or just buying into it may only make matters worse.  The ability to be aware of and manage your thoughts and feelings are vital skills for modern leaders.  These negative feelings may come from sources you can identify such as ‘my father always used to say that’ or that was how I was feeling when I left the house this morning or from rigid statements, which normally begin with ‘I am ….’, ‘people are ….’ or ‘today is ….’. Try to see if there are any patterns or similarities in the situations when these thoughts occur and reflect on what these may mean.

The next step is to accept them for what they are. What do you feel and think? What is going on externally?  Look beyond the expression or specific actions and consider what is driving the behaviour or feelings.  Don’t forget these thoughts are just literally thoughts, they are not facts.  Evaluating or rationalising the negative thoughts can help provide evidence or examples to counter these self-limiting feelings and thoughts.

Having recognised these thoughts, understood them and put them in context, the final stage is to act on them when appropriate.  Take action based on your values rather than your emotions and/or when it serves the organisation.  But countering your inner critic can be harder than it seems.  When it comes to change, anxiety can follow.  Some people are comfortable living with their inner critic and fear feeling lost without it. Others wear their emotions on their sleeves and feel it adds to their authenticity. There is no quick fix.  It takes time, patience, tolerance, and perseverance to develop this emotional flexibility or agility.  Ultimately though it provides the ability to deal with negative thoughts and emotions in a healthy and productive way and to accept yours and other’s diversity of thoughts and emotions.