When was the last time you set out to do something – big or small – and soon heard that familiar voice in your head trying to talk you out of it? If you’re like me, the annoying chatter – which often includes: "You can't...you shouldn't…you're going to lose, be embarrassed, be rejected, disappoint someone...you're going to fail" – is hard to overcome.
Overcoming Your Inner Critic
We all have an inner critic, who I like to call your own personal, dedicated Saboteur. Almost always in my coaching sessions, three separate voices come to the table to talk things through: the client, me and the client’s Saboteur. Whatever issue my client is trying to tackle…like transition to a new role, meet with a big honcho, or have a tough conversation with an employee…the Saboteur has a list of reasons for not moving forward. Left unchallenged, the Saboteur wins, leaving the client feeling immobilized. (For more, see How you self Sabotage from Positive Intelligence).
Are you feeling stuck? Here’s how you can tame your Saboteur, take control of your thoughts, and live a happier, more productive life.
Launch a mental counteroffensive. Start by understanding what’s truly most important to you – I call this building your internal arsenal. Assess your Saboteur’s comments and criticisms. Then deploy your Saboteur’s worst enemy, your internal Sage.
Interested in a Happy, Productive Life?
1. Understand Your Personal Values
What do you cherish most in YOUR life? What are the things that make YOU feel fulfilled? These are YOUR values…your reason for living. They become a roadmap for making decisions throughout life. Create a list of your top 5-10 values. Then rank your values in priority order. Here’s a list of core personal values for you to consider.
Don't confuse your values with what's most important in someone else's life. Your values may be aligned with those you care about, but they are unique to you. When you're clear about your values, they give you the clarity and strength to assess and reject the Saboteur's arguments. You’ve built your internal arsenal.
2. Assess your Saboteur's Arguments.
Write down all the reasons not to do whatever it is you have in mind. Then be really honest with yourself and identify which ones are just excuses. Maybe your Saboteur will have what seems like a good, plausible reason why you shouldn't do something...but, boy oh boy, you need to be SO cautious of that little trickster. Recognize the difference between a valid reason and an excuse. How do you know the difference?
3. Deploy your Saboteur's Worst Enemy: Your Sage.
This is your internal voice that truly has your best interests at heart. Your Sage works very hard to honor your values. When armed with these lethal tools, your Sage can spot a valid reason from an excuse.
Here are examples of Sage Advice: If family and balance are high on your list of values, trust your Sage when he or she says, “Starting a company may not be the next big thing for you right now.” But let’s say challenge, freedom, hard work and resourcefulness are top priorities on your list. Then if your Saboteur says, “Stick with what you know…don’t risk your financial safety,” your Sage has the right ammunition to pounce on those excuses.
The Saboteur won't back off easily. As long as you keep your top values front and center in your mind – and even on your bathroom mirror – you and your Sage can keep your Saboteur at bay and help you move forward.
Seeing the Light
Here’s a real life situation (details changed for confidentiality): Jody, a mid-40s, successful architect, felt like she was in a rut. She didn’t want life to go by without more meaning in her work. During her youth, Jody wanted to be an artist, but that wasn’t practical so she went to an Ivy League school to get a masters degree in architecture.
While she liked her work, it didn’t satisfy her secret artistic desire: to be a photographer. She often thought about leaving her career to pursue her artistry, but her Saboteur always countered with: “You’re not good enough. You wouldn’t know what to do. If you haven’t done it by now, you should just throw in the towel. Besides, you can’t give up your income.”
When Jody focused on her top values – art, beauty, creativity, being reflective – her Sage voice helped her realize all of those negative comments were sabotaging her passion in life. She found a way to incorporate her photography into her architectural work through her website and social media.
Fear of failure is one of the biggest Saboteur reasons for not pursing a dream...and maybe, like most people, you don't value failure. However, some of the most successful people value failure because that's what propels them forward. Here are examples of famous people who failed before they succeeded. Recognize you’ll make mistakes; without mistakes, you aren’t learning. When you do make a mistake, quickly acknowledge it, fix it and move on.
Whatever you do to move forward, be prepared for the Saboteur's repeated attempts to distort or distract you from your picture of success. Continue to supply your Sage with ammunition to tame the Saboteur. The more you can expose the Saboteur's arguments and shine a spotlight on your values, the stronger your Sage, the weaker your Saboteur, and the closer you'll get to living a happy and productive life.
If you’d like to find out more about how to conquer your inner saboteur or would like more information about my services, please see Corporate and Individual Executive Coaching.
Monica helps leaders, business owners and other highly motivated people succeed by being the best at what they love to do. She is known as an insightful, effective and empathetic coach, with great business judgment and an ability to fuse clients’ personal and professional goals into actionable steps toward self-development and transformation.