Bench the Inner Critic: Strategies for Overcoming Self-Doubt

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The following article was written Sounding Board Executive Coach, Gia Storms.


I had a day where I felt like a failure. Where my inner critic, on repeat, complained: Look at you, you worthless slug, achieving nothing, failing at every turn.

In reality, of course, not only was I succeeding in my business, but I could point to half a dozen other accomplishments and brag-worthy external measures of success from this week alone. So why won’t the voice let me off the hook?

Sound familiar? At different levels, all of the leaders I work with must identify and move past their own inner critics, daring to do the brave thing in the face of old patterns that would have them seek safety over risk, familiarity over discomfort.

I have been a hyper-achiever my whole life. Let me re-frame: I have had a hyper-achieving inner critic my whole life. This particularly insidious, hamster-wheel of a voice in my head has claimed energy and space in my life for as long as I can remember. The activity, achievement, success, accolades or action I have done in given period of time is never. ever. enough.

Inner critics at their most basic are coping mechanisms, developed when we were young to ensure we survived childhood and adolescence, assisting us in critical moments to attract the right kind of attention or navigate potential threats to keep us safe. However, at a certain point, we outgrow our need for these basic protection mechanisms and are able to navigate our complex and largely non-threatening adult lives with some degree of psychological maturity.

And yet, the voices persist long past their usefulness – getting in the way of our effectiveness as leaders in our professional and personal lives. As adults, the inner critics are persistent, annoying, sneaky, totally relentlessness and they rob us consistently of the joy of being in the moment. What’s more is they can rob us of taking needed, essential action steps to move into change.

Inner critics are fear personified. They can be harbingers of the exciting and constructive change that is on the horizon; a sign that you are moving out of your comfort zone. Yet, the fear-based thinking only ever serves to keep us in paralysis and negativity.

So if you are up to big change – if you have just accepted a promotion, or are managing a team for the first time, or have big Q4 targets to hit – it is time to get familiar with the following inner critic management techniques:

  1. Get curious about the inner critic. While it’s easy to condemn these voices and want to go to battle with them, check in with them first: What’s the 2% of the information coming forward that’s actually useful? Is there a new way the fear can be instructive? If you can be gentle but firm with this fearful part of yourself, it will ultimately dissipate their energy and allow you to get back to the important work of making change happen, with the critical rap on low volume.
  2. Bench the inner critic. Get creative with how you imagine working around your inner critics. I’ve had clients imagine muting the volume of their inner critic, putting them on an imaginary bench, shrinking them down to three inches high, writing out a dialogue with them, or draw an exaggerated cartoon sketch to add humor and definition to the irrational, insatiable energy and learn to laugh at it when it appears.
  3. Return to your bigger game. When the inner critic pops up – and they will until the end of time, if we are living into our full potential – you can use it as a moment to return to your center, the core of your purpose, the reason that you’re up to this change. What’s the leader you want to be-come? Why are you on this journey? What do you know to be more true than the fear that is speaking to you now?

At the end of the day, the inner critics are not going to prevent us from making change. We are moving forward, and you get to decide who you want to listen to and put in the drivers seat. Over time, you will find yourself increasingly free from self-doubt, leading from a place of confidence and courage, acknowledging the voices that pop up with patience and curiosity.


Gia Storms is an Executive Coach with Sounding Board Inc and Leadership Facilitator based out of Los Angeles. More info at giastorms.com and soundingboardinc.com.

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Lori Mazan is the Co-Founder and Chief Coaching Officer of Sounding Board, the preeminent global leadership development enterprise platform changing the face of leadership development through innovative technology for leaders at all levels of an organization. Lori is a seasoned executive coach who has guided hundreds of corporate executives through 1:1 coaching focused on business outcomes and developing critical leadership skills. Client companies advanced by Lori’s expertise include Fortune titans such as Chevron and Sprint as well as high growth and public companies like Intellikine, and Tapjoy, plus 10XGenomics, which became a public company in 2019 while top executives worked with Lori and the Sounding Board team.
Lori has spent the last 25 years coaching C-Suite executives to leadership excellence. Many of those public and private company CEO’s expressed that they would have liked this caliber of coaching earlier in their careers. Inspired by these experiences, Lori joined with Christine to launch Sounding Board as a feedback-driven, cloud-based leadership coaching platform that could maintain best-in-class leadership coaching while lowering costs to make it affordable and scalable for leaders at every level of their careers.
Before founding Sounding Board, Lori received her Masters’ in Adult Educational Psychology/Counseling from the University of San Francisco and a Bachelors’ in Psychology from the University of Virginia. Lori is an educator and has spent over 10 years as a professor of social psychology and group dynamics while acting as the interim Dean of Students at Holy Names University, She is certified by the industry’s gold standard, the Coaches Training Institute, and is a founding member of the Genentech Preferred Network of Coaches. Sounding Board is one of <3% of sole female founded startups receiving venture funding. In 2019 Sounding Board was selected as 1 of 7 startups (out of 100+ applicants) as part of SAP’s HR tech cohort, a group that represents the rising stars of the next-gen HR ecosystem.

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Christine Tao is the co-founder & CEO at Sounding Board, a Silicon Valley startup redefining how organizations are developing their leaders. Her extraordinarily rapid career growth to executive management in the media, mobile and tech sectors of Silicon Valley became her inspiration for founding Sounding Board. As she began to manage larger teams and be responsible for growing revenues, it became clear that she needed a “sounding board” to coach her on the development of her leadership skills. That’s where her Sounding Board co-founder, Lori Mazan came on the scene. A seasoned executive coach focused on leadership development, Lori coached Christine on real-world leadership skills that had a direct impact on business outcomes. Based on her positive and impactful experience with leadership development, Christine was driven to make leadership development coaching accessible to people at all levels of the organization.
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Prior to co-founding Sounding Board, Christine was a Senior Vice President of Developer Relations at Tapjoy, a venture-backed, leading mobile advertising & publishing network. She led the growth of Tapjoy’s publisher advertising business from 0 to over $100 million in revenues in less than 3 years. Prior to that she led e-commerce partnerships and strategy at YouTube. Christine holds an MBA in Marketing & Operations from Wharton and a BA in Business Administration from UC Berkeley.

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