It’s time to tell your inner critic to stand aside

I caught up with a friend at the weekend. A seasoned and accomplished IT professional, Laura had recently changed roles, going from a job where she had managed a team to deliver large scale IT projects to a role where she was working autonomously as a trouble shooter untangling gnarly technical problems across the organisation. When I asked how it was all going she pulled a face “it’s not going well at all – every morning when I sit down at my laptop I’m just overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the problems I need to tackle – they seem so daunting that I’ve started doing anything else to avoid starting them…my office is the cleanest it’s ever been!”.

When we started to explore what it was that stopping her from getting stuck in, she shared that she was paralysed by the fear of not being able to succeed in finding solutions and of letting down the people who had supported her in securing the role. “As the days go on the emails mount up and the pressure rises I’m getting more and more frustrated with myself – Stop faffing around, what are you playing at? Get on with it woman – call yourself a seasoned professional? You’re never going to pull this off! – goes round and round in a loop in my head. It been so loud that I’ve been doing anything to avoid starting to tackle work of any significance”.

What Laura is speaking to and providing a perfect example of in this moment, ladies and gentleman, is the voice of our old friend and nemesis – the inner critic. Also referred to as the judge – the inner critic is what’s known in coaching and psychology circles as a saboteur – an inner voice born of our brains primitive fear response. This saboteur will say anything to try and avoid change or being in what it perceives to be psychological danger; in its misplaced attempts to keep you safe it will shout louder and louder about why you can’t do something, why you’re not good or worthy enough. It even enlists the help of other saboteurs to support its cause – in Laura’s case – the “Avoider” saboteur – because if you avoid trying to solve this problem then you remain safe and you will never fail, right?

So what can we do in the face of such a divisive inner foe?

The first thing to do is to simply notice it. Notice the critic or judge’s voice when it show’s up. It is really useful to give it a name and identity too – my own is called “Vader” which calls to mind for me a mix of Darth Vader from Star Wars and the Dementors in Harry Potter – this name feels particularly apt as this voice sucks all the joy and colour out of me when it appears. Giving this voice a name and identity also serves an important function – it separates this voice from you – you are not this voice – you are the naturally resourceful human being who is noticing this voice but choosing not taking direction from it.

So the first step is to simply notice it (in the words of Yoda “Named must your fear be, before banish it you can”). Then you might say something like “I notice Vader is saying I’m not good enough and I’m going to fail”. Next you could experiment with removing this character from the scene – you can have some fun with it – my particular favourite is sending Vader to clean out the cat litter tray or to file my receipts for my tax return – something to keep him occupied for a while. Alternatively you could experiment with turning the volume down on him or simply sending him to wait outside the room.

In his book Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine advocates first noticing and naming the saboteur voice and then taking 10 seconds to bring your full attention to your body, to your breath and to be fully present with what you are doing in that moment – the rationale being that this centring activity serves as a powerful grounding antidote to the saboteur voice. In his extensive research Shirzad has identified nine saboteurs that exist in addition to the lead judge saboteur – I know one of mine to be “the Stickler” (rebranded by me as the inner “Drill Sergeant”) and as I’ve mentioned earlier my friend Laura has “the Avoider” doing a dastardly double act with her judge/critic saboteur.

As we become more aware of our saboteur voices and quieten them or move them to one side – we create more space for our wise, resourceful selves. What if instead of having the voice of the inner critic or judge in your head you could invite in a kind, encouraging voice. Since I have a bit of a Star Wars theme going on today I’m going to invite in Yoda – as who could be a better antidote to Vader? As I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been aware of Vader chuntering on in the background “People will think you are mad talking about voices in your head and giving them characters” and also “you aren’t expressing yourself very well – others write far better articles than you!”. Wise, kind Yoda on the other hand is saying “Keep going, this information is really useful to people, clients say it has been really positively beneficial for them – you’ve got to share it no matter what judgements people might make”.

So if you are having one of those days/weeks/years when there is a voice in your head berating, judging or generally just not being very kind to you – I invite you to just pause for a moment, notice what it is saying and remember that this voice isn’t you – you are so much more than this voice – you are the naturally resourceful and capable person who is noticing the voice.

And as for my friend Laura? Well having revealed and personified her saboteur her office is now back to it’s normal state of chaos because she’s elbows deep in the midst of getting to grips with some really juicy technical challenges.

If you’d like a copy of the free Boldly-Go Saboteur fact sheet please drop me a line

For more information on Shirzad Chamine’s Saboteur work visit
Credit: CTI for introducing the saboteur concept in their training.

All the Best


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