3 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic May 1 2012

So, here’s the scenario: You’re the newest member of a leadership or management team. Today is your first regular leadership team meeting. It’s that part of the meeting where you go around the physical or virtual table and everyone reports out for five minutes or so on the latest and greatest things happening in their part of the world. As it happens, your seat at the table positions you so you’re the next to last person to report out. There are eight people ahead of you so that gives you about 40 minutes to do what?

That’s right – not listen to a word that anyone else is saying. That’s because you’re listening instead to that little voice inside your head that’s saying, “Oh, man, you are in trouble. You’ve got nothing. Everyone of these people know more than you do. They’re more experienced than you are. They’re smarter than you are. Geesh, they’re even better looking than you are.”

Having read a lot of the research on this topic, I can tell you what the clinicians call this inner critic voice. They call it the “itty, bitty sh***y committee.”

It might be a leadership team meeting, a big presentation, a tough conversation or any number of situations. If you’re a leader in any capacity, the likelihood is that itty bitty committee is going to shout at you at some point. The problem, of course, is that in the same way that dogs smell fear, your colleagues can smell a lack of confidence. As I write in “The Next Level,” leadership begins with picking up confidence and letting go of doubt. How do you silence that inner critic so you can show up with the kind of confidence that compels people to follow your lead?

Here are three ideas:

  • Do Your Homework. More often than not, the situations that cause your knees to knock and your inner critic to speak up are fairly predictable. If you look at your calendar for the next week or the next month, you can probably spot a few items that make your palms clammy When you do, commit yourself to doing some homework in advance. Ask the people that have been there before for their advice.
  • Visualize Your Picture. Doing things for the very first time can make anyone nervous. The same is true even when you’ve been there before but the stakes are high. Get yourself into the zone the same way world class athletes do. Visualize. To do so, ask yourself two questions. What does a successful outcome look like and how do I need to show up to make that outcome likely? The more detail in your answer the better. When you get to the real thing, you’ll feel like you’ve been there already.
  • Dispute Your Critic. If, after doing your homework and visualizing your picture, your itty bitty committee still chimes in, dispute it. Recognize the voice and (silently) respond, “Really, what’s the evidence for that?” or “That doesn’t square up with my track record up until now.”

That last tip leads to one more bonus tip – believe you should be there. The likelihood is that you’re in that stressful situation because someone else believed you could handle it.

What are your favorite ways to silence your inner critic?

8 Responses to “3 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic”

  1. Chris says:

    About a year or so ago, I stirred across Gail Blanke and her "Throw Out 50 Things" book. The idea is to physically declutter your life, which will lead to a mental decluttering. Once there, you can begin to write on that clean slate. She advocates having your own theme song – that one song which never fails to put you in a good mood and get you pumped up. I don't think the lyrics have to be apropos, it's the fact that the song gets you energized. So when my inner critic pipes up, I drown her out by (mentally) playing my theme song at full volume!

  2. Sandi Martinson says:

    I liked this blog, thanks Scott! I think our mind and our itty bitty committee negative thoughts prevent us from achieving all that we are capable of. I like the homework tip and I believe whole heartedly in Visualization! Our minds and thoughts are very powerful! If we teach them to be powerful in a positive way we can achieve more than we even imagine.

    Over the last year when I start to hear the itty bitty committee’s negative thoughts, I shout "Stop!!" mentally, if lots of people are around and verbally if I am alone. That stops the itty bitty committee’s negative thoughts and before it starts up again I say a few positive affirmations about myself while I visualize those positive affirmations. This cycle of replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts starts to minimize the frequency of the itty bitty committee's negative thoughts.

  3. Camille Macchio says:

    Great Post, Scott,
    When that inner voice crops up in my head, I clear it out by thinking about past challenges and how I overcame them to success. How did I do it? what did I do? That thought process helps me to focus on the present situation and move to a confident place.

  4. Great post, Scott. Thank you! I’ve encountered opportunity to cast out my demonic itty bitty committee a few times as of late. My hands-on-hips-face-off-shout-down when she shows up is “I am enough!” I also repeat it to myself several times to help it sink in.

  5. Tom Feil says:

    I've got a situation not unlike this coming up. One tool I've been focused on is realizing that I've been through similar situations like this many times, and more often than not, these situations go from "high anxiety" to "old hat" in less than a year. It always helps to also try a little mental ju-jitsu and transform your perception from that of a situation where you may possibly fail to seeing the meeting as a neat and precious life experience.

  6. Brett says:

    I've learned two approaches to stifle my inner critic when he gets rolling. One by one I look at the other people in the room and ask myself, "What does she/he need from me right now?" Shifting my focus to someone else often seems to stop me from spiraling inward.

    If that doesn't work, I give myself a slightly challenging math problem to do in my head. This is based on the premise that the inner critic really is the voice of my fear. The fear response lives in the older, deeper part of my brain. If I can shift control to the newer, frontal part of my brain — the part that I need to engage to do a math problem, for example — then I can lessen the fear and dial back my critic.

    Finally, I've also learned to stop judging my performance based on my level of nervousness. My inner critic used to have me convinced the butterflies in my stomach during some meeting were proof that I'd done poorly. Now I realize there's very little connection between those butterflies and how I actually performed.

  7. NorthPointe says:

    Very interesting commentary…a topic very rarely spoken on. No one wants to admit they have that voice of doubt.

    And as others have said, when its all said and done we performed much better than we feared we would.

    - NorthPointe http://www.northpointe.us

  8. I also agree that it’s a good idea to experience new things together. Visit a country you never traveled to before.

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