Overall, it gets incredibly bad press. But on a recent Mind Your Business Podcast, Alan and I wondered whether it can have a more positive use?
Where does our inner critic come from?
According to psychologists the roots of our inner critics are found in childhood. Sigmund Freud, in particular explained the formation of our superegos as a process during which we internalise external views of ourselves – predominantly those of our parents, while at the same time, accepting wider social expectations and ethical norms that begin the generation of ego ideals – of which we then regularly tend to fall short.
A more scientific explanation locates our inner critic in the older parts of our primitive “survivor brain” that is tasked with physical survival and the fight-or-flight response to danger. Originally, our inner critic had a positive function: to ensure our survival. This includes not just spotting danger in our environment but also inner work in the form of psychological sense making.
Two things we have discussed, and written about, previously support the work to combat the inner critic; firstly, we discussed how not to create a business horror story, for which your inner critic seems a very willing and able co-writer. But also we talked about the brilliance of resilience and how to view everything that goes wrong as a learning opportunity and an opportunity to improve.
Separate yourself from your inner voice
At some stage in our lives we all listen to our inner critic, but while recognising it exists, and accepting it isn’t going away there are practical steps can we take to deal with it. The key is to be able to take on board what it says- to keep us ‘safe’- but then to ultimately move past it.
To do this, first of all, try to get a level of separation from your inner critic. For example, instead of the voice being yours, consider it’s an employee or a colleague. This allows you to manage it like you would any relationship with these people in real life. Their negative views may have some validity, but ultimately you are able to largely ignore them and move on.
Alan used this example when dealing with a business coaching client. They had a mix up on times and his inner critic immediately went into overdrive, telling him it was his fault, he was incompetent and had basically ruined his business; why would anyone want to be coached by him again? His response was to smile, actually take time to consciously thank his inner critic for its input but graciously decline to take the feedback on board.
He moved from catastrophizing the event to actually dealing with it in a calm and productive manner. The dates were sorted, the client was happy. Job done. In this way, giving your inner critic a personality is a step forward to actually managing it, but also being able to deal with it before it can have any further negative impact on your response to a situation is crucial. I know there are people that don’t have that ability, their inner critic is too loud to just silence.
I think it’s important to understand that it’s very rare for anyone’s inner critic to be a hundred percent right. The doomsday scenario doesn’t happen every 10 minutes of every day. Accept that there is an inner critic, everyone has one, but it doesn’t reflect reality, it’s a separate thing and a lot of what it says is absolute tosh.
Optimists v pessimists
I have talked a lot about the difference between optimists and pessimists. I think a natural born optimist is probably able to compartmentalise their inner critic better than a pessimist does, what brings out the pessimism is the louder inner critic’s voice and their view on the world.
Consider this concept; if the words and language we use, including our self-talk, reveals everything about how we perceive situations and how we feel, then –shocking headline- the more negatively we perceive something, the more we worry and the more anxious we feel which informs our actions and ultimately outcomes.
So if you are consistently listening to your negative inner critic and taking its views to heart then you are probably going about your business in a far more negative way and displaying behaviours and actions that are not conducive to building relationships and growing businesses. Whereas, if your inner critic is more positive, more balanced, then it probably feels better being you and being with you.
Give your inner voice chance to speak
A way I used to deal with colleagues that were always very negative was to get them to write down all of their gripes. That process often allowed us to focus on real grievances and bat off things that weren’t an issue. If at certain times you subconsciously – or even consciously – allow your inner critic to vent then maybe there is a learning opportunity in there somewhere. Maybe you’re inner critic telling you that you are about to lose a client suggest that perhaps you aren’t paying them enough attention.
From this perspective there are parts of the inner critic that are definitely useful. It could be intuition. It could be sent from the universe. It could be something built into our evolutionary fight or flight response but there’s something going on that you might want to pay attention to.
If it brings our attention to something, it has done its job. Manifest in negativity and criticism it certainly isn’t a truth detector and 80% of what it says is potentially noise around the edges of reality but there are some nuggets in there you should listen to. If we know that then we can listen to our inner critic, not take it too seriously and maybe even love it.
Another way your inner critic raises its voice is as the lead cheerleader for imposter syndrome. A way to deal with this is to quickly list facts and not base decisions on assumptions. For example, what is going on with your business? How good is your performance? What are you doing to get better? How are you leading? What are people seeing and saying about you and your business?
Then expose the lies, the made up horror stories that you have created by shining a light on them and asking yourself honestly what are you basing the decisions that you aren’t good enough on? By bringing clarity to a situation it can demonstrate that the whole imposter syndrome that has limited you as a human being for decades is based on an untruth.
A technique I use whenever I get critical thoughts about the business I score areas of it out of 10 as honestly as I can. I use industry benchmarks and competitors, but often other sources sometimes to keep it interesting but if I feel we are on a par, or better than many then we are ok to be doing well. It’s a powerful tool.
Everyone has an inner critic; we all listen to it and its voice, no matter how quiet or strong, will have an impact on our response to a given situation. Listen to it, that’s its job, and why 8 billion human beings have one, but remember, the inner critic is not you, it’s going to be negative, probably hurtful but it’s not a truth detector. Engage with it, shine a light on it, sift through the noise and find the nugget that can help you actually deal with a situation.