You’ve probably heard the saying that we are our worst enemy. We’re never as harsh or as critical of other people’s flaws and mistakes as we can be of our own.
This harshness sometimes comes from a place of perfectionism and the desire to do better. More often than not it’s a result of our own insecurity and self-doubt. When we doubt or question ourselves, regardless of whether these doubts are founded or not, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy which seriously undermine our prospects and quality of life.
The good news is, it doesn’t take very much to rein in this critical voice and allow yourself the creative freedom to pursue whatever it is you want to do. The not-so-good-news is that it requires conscious effort, however minimal, on your part to instigate a change.
Here’s How I Did It
Early in 2019, I took a coaching course to become a certified life coach. Aside from learning the professional competencies I should observe when coaching clients, I also learned surprising truths about my own inner self-talk. While I always considered myself to be a confident person, the newfound self-awareness highlighted an avalanche of negative thoughts that were crossing my mind at any given time of day. Even more so, I was surprised to see how these negative thoughts, however naive, were impacting my behavior and speech in those moments.
I soon saw a link between these thoughts and the frustrations I was feeling on a daily basis. I saw how for years my thoughts were holding me back from going after the one thing I’ve wanted in life — to be a writer.
I decided it’s time to make a change.
The result of this “awakening” are these three easy practices I’ve created for myself which help me be more centered and finally forge the career I always wanted for myself.
I personify my inner critic.
We all have an inner critic in us who tells us all the reasons why we either shouldn’t attempt something or why we’d fail if did attempt it. Mine was pretty harsh on so many levels. When I started consciously listening to it, I heard it saying that I was a bad mom on the days I didn’t have time to cook a slow-cooked meal for my son and instead gave him avocado on toast. It also told me I was disorganized when I forgot the laundry in the washing machine for two hours too long after it was done.
It told me all sorts of things for the least to the most important things in my life and this put me in a state of a perpetual, partial dislike for myself. I realized that I’ve internalized these beliefs for far too long and behaved as if they were true.
I knew I couldn’t simply get rid of the critic. He was there for a reason – in the most basic sense, the purpose of my inner critic is to maintain the status quo and prevent me from trying something new that can cause me harm.
Instead of getting rid of him, I brought him closer by giving him a name, a face and a character. My inner critic is called Sancho and looks like a geeky scientist with parted hair in the middle and long mustaches. Giving him a name helps me distance myself from his voice and not internalize it as my own. Also, giving him a relatively ridiculous looks takes away some of the weight his words have on me.
After all, he’s just a mad scientist.
I talk to my inner mentor.
This is something that Tara Mohr, a coach and an author, talks about in her book Playing Big. Tara explains that we all have a timeless wisdom in ourselves, a higher part of our own consciousness that isn’t affected by the inner critic and who can offer advice and guidance in times of need.
This voice, in a way, is the antidote to our inner critic.
If the inner critic is the loud bully that seeks attention, the inner mentor is the wise voice who can distance him/herself from the immediate environment and see the bigger picture for what it is.
I did something similar with my inner mentor as I did with my critic. My inner mentor is called Meredith and she’s me 20–30 years in the future. She lives in a beautiful house in the countryside, she’s calm and always attentive to whatever I have to say and she’s surprisingly impartial. When I criticize someone or pity myself, she doesn’t necessarily take my side. Instead, she asks me probing questions to put me in the right frame of mind.
So, when I have a difficult situation ahead of me, or when the inner critic is particularly boisterous I ask myself “how would Meredith respond?” “What would she do/say?”
She’s also braver than me so if there’s something I’m afraid to do or simply don’t want to do, I put her in my imaginary driving seat and watch the events unfold.
This simple shift in perspective has helped me become more centered, more self-confident and more daring when it comes to pursuing my dreams.
I apply H.E.A.T.
The reality is that there are days when I have short temper with my son and don’t handle the situation the best I can. And there are days when my writing is subpar because I’m either having a bad day or I’m trying out something new.
It’s not that the inner critic is always wrong and that I have to ignore him. Instead, in cases when Sancho might have a point, I know I have to take that feedback and do some damage control before I internalize his criticism as an absolute truth instead of a one-off fluke.
Here, I use something I learned from my days in customer success where I was taught how to deal with customer complaints in a professional and empathetic manner. H.E.A.T. stands for:
- Hear them out
- Apologize and
- Take action.
I try to apply this approach with my own critic. When Sancho complains that I really wasn’t prepared for that call, I hear him out and empathize. After all, he’s trying to protect me. I then acknowledge his criticism and recognize that he’s right. I could have done a better job to be more prepared/more organized/more efficient (whatever the criticism). Then, and this is key, instead of brooding and kicking myself for failing at something, I forgive myself and look at steps I can take next time to avoid this from happening again.
Instead of being a passive recipient of my own criticism, I become a proactive agent in making things better.
Since I’ve applied these techniques, I managed to overcome my self-doubts around my writing skills and, in less than a year, I started making decent money from my writing. When Sancho would yell “you suck at writing, you’ll embarrass yourself”, Meredith steps in and says “what do you have to lose if you just try?” Her and I quickly discovered that, more often than not, Sancho’s fears were unfounded.
Since I’ve “worked” with Sancho and Meredith, I managed to forge a unique success story for myself where writing plays a central part. I became what I always wanted to be but never had the courage. I also gained the confidence to pursue bigger and better opportunities.
For instance, Meredith has put me in front of many great opportunities, like reaching out for advice and speaking to a contributor at the Guardian, writing content for Fortune 500 companies and finding projects that pay £400–£500 for 1,000-word pieces. I connected with and got endorsed on LinkedIn by Jaime Masters — the host of the successful Eventual Millionaire podcast and a personal hero of mine. Finally, I was transparent with my manager about the type of work I want to do and we’re currently reviewing how to incorporate this in my current job.
All of this in less than a year. All of which would have been impossible had I not changed how I talk to myself.
Take some time to think about and imagine your own inner critic and inner mentor. What do they look like? What are their names? What do they tell you when you try to listen?
Share your thoughts in the comments section!