We all have that familiar voice in our head, which creeps up to tell us what we can’t do. You know, when it tells you, you’re not smart enough, not tough enough or you’ll never be capable of anything.
We all have that voice and we all struggle with it.
It’s what’s commonly referred to as our inner critic. A flurry of sounds that jumps up to berate us, scare us and is usually just a downright asshole.
Sadly, we can’t get rid of it. It’s programmed into that big old operating system of ours called the brain.
No one is immune to it, no matter how tough you think you are.
But, what we can do is change that voice from critic to coach. We can work to turn it from hurtful to helpful.
So, instead of it screaming at you “you’re doomed, you can’t do this, run away” we can work to change this train of thought to something more like “Ok, we’re having some uncomfortable feelings right now, let’s recognise that and find some ways we can work through this in the next few moments”.
That train of thinking with the voice as a coach might sound a million miles away now, but it’s certainly achievable with work.
I like many of you, have been prone to the inner critic in my head on a variety of subjects. I’ve been spending many years transforming it to my own personal little coach but it’s not perfect, and always a work in progress.
I bring a lot of this approach into the work in my 9-5 life where I’m continually helping people to believe in the enormity of the possible. A big part of developing others, is helping them move past limiting self beliefs, low confidence and developing the courage to do new things, not the resolve to suffer forever in the phase of development they’re in right now.
The ability to navigate the inner critic is a huge asset in skill development and career progression. I remember vividly speaking with a performance coach many years ago about the destabilising power of mindtalk now that I’d just moved into a management role.
At this time, me and my inner critic were having a movie highlight of my insecurities about whether I was good enough for this promotion, if I was capable or even credible of leading other people, amongst many other thoughts which I’m sure some of you can understand.
The coach told me that mindtalk is natural, and in many ways necessary to keep our egos in check too. The concept of turning the inner critic into a coach first stemmed from this conversation, when my coach said “We both know you’re good with understanding new technology and how things work, what if you could apply this mindset and look to re-code your relationship with your inner critic?”
It was a good point but not one I acted on until many years later and several bouts of back and forth with mindtalk. I eventually decided to make a change when I recognised that the way I talk to myself when I’m partaking in one of my favourite pastimes of Thai boxing and throwing around kettlebells, was in a far more positive and reassuring voice of a coach.
These days, I rarely if ever, get critical with myself when doing these activities. Instead, I hear my own voice coaching me through the good and bad. Talking me through the setup of different movements, highlighting when I need to reset, take a breath and how to navigate a challenging position.
I realised, I never talk to myself like this when it comes to my work – but why don’t I?
It’s obvious that I could as I’m doing it in every workout session. What I came to understand is that this stemmed from years of practice in working with my inner critic in these situations. When I first began in these disciplines, I’d beat myself up all the time.
Yet, as time went on and I became more experienced, understanding that fear and limitations in certain moments are natural to all in life – the relationship with that voice began to change.
From this revelation, my work began in deploying this approach into all areas of my life and using it to help others in their work too. No matter if they were new to the world of work, a seasoned individual contributor or a people leader – all could benefit from better navigating their inner critic.
Obviously, now you want to know – how do I do this too?
Here’s a few ideas:
Embrace your emotions
I get you might find this difficult but it’s key in turning the negative mindtalk around to a helpful coach.
We all have emotions and emotions drive our behaviours. Process what comes your way the best you can but always challenge when needed. Work through what you’re feeling.
If you’re experiencing a rather unpleasant set of emotions and thoughts, ask yourself, why am I feeling this way right now? Is it helpful for me at this moment? If not, let’s take a breath and focus on how we can work through this.
This won’t become instinct overnight but as with all these ideas, the more you practice, the better you’ll become.
Challenge what you hear
I love the quote from BJ Miller on not believing everything you think – because it’s so true.
We have something crazy like 15,000 thoughts a day and 90% of them are utter garbage.
This is why it helps to develop a practice of challenging the more troublesome thoughts that arise. This doesn’t need to be complicated, it can be a back and forth in your head, or I’ve found it useful to write questions out to myself in a notepad or my phone.
What matters is that you try to challenge and not always accept what your inner critic says. For example, you might be giving a presentation to your team and your voice pops up to say, “You don’t know anything, why should they listen to you” – a perfect time to challenge.
Walk this through, remind yourself, why have I been asked to present today? What are my talents and skills? How can these help the people I’m speaking with? Quite quickly, you’ll find that coaching yourself to the real and positive outcomes can be reached and enable you to build your confidence.
Practice, practice and keep practicing
We’ll spend most of our lives navigating our inner critics, so it’s essential to always be working on changing the narrative from criticism to coaching.
No silver bullet exists, it’s about constant practice and repetition – recognise, challenge, repeat.
You’ll find over time that your critic can become a coach but only if you put in the work.
Before you go… 👋
If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.