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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Published in Executive Coaching, Leadership and Sounding Board