Killing the Inner Critic
There was a time when I thought my anger was about the world out there. But, anger, frustration, and complaints are first about who I am and then about other people, circumstances, and environments.
Not liking my performance:
There’s always room for improvement. Translation, I’m falling short.
For example, I always see ways my last presentation fell short. There are always “could haves” and “should haves.” Encouraging compliments from audience members never silence my inner critic.
Here’s another example, reading past blog posts is disappointing. Like jello, there’s always room for more – more improvement.
Yet another example, I hate missing a coaching moment. I was too bold or too passive. I asked the wrong question or created distractions.
Dealing with the inner critic:
How can we keep leading, presenting, writing, or serving if our inner critic keeps beating us up?
- Better is good when it’s found in the aggressive pursuit of excellence. Perfection stands aloof mocking your progress, laugh him off.
- Be constructive more than critical. Ask what can be done more than what was done.
- Adopt systems. Systems stabilize, guide, track, and evaluate. Systemize coaching, presenting, meetings, problem solving, or leadership development. John Bernard’s new book, “Business at the Speed of Now” is helping me think more clearly about systems.
- Give and accept today’s best. You did what you could.
- Embrace the imperfect present while reaching for excellence. If you can’t define the problem progress is meaningless.
- Don’t make it personal. The “not liking my performance” moments I listed above indicate I make it personal. Improvement is about strategies, techniques, and methods.
Bonus: Keep learning.
How do you deal with your inner critic?
Subscribe to Leadership Freak today. It’s free, practical, and brief. The subscribe button is in the upper right of the home page. I’ll never sell your email address, promise.
I think we can deal with our inner critic by being honest and ready to accept reality. When we do not accept our inner critic, it blocks improvement. Generally people who do not accept inner critic are egoist or arrogant. They might be ignorant as well. They might not be aware about their own weaknesses. But one thing is clear. They are fearful and are not ready to accept their critic. Actually being fearful is good as long as it energizes you to work harder. When it sucks energy, then you need to introspect. I accept inner critic, though it is difficult. I compare my achievement and growth with my past. It keeps me connecting with my goal. When I compare with others, it frustrates me. So, I think we need to compare our critic and success by self. It is pure, selfless and right.
Ajay, I agree that some people are living “blissfully” unaware of reality. But in my experience, the “inner critic” is just as much a function of ego as the “inner ignoramus.” Learning from the mistakes of the past has its place, but I have to go there with the guidance of someone who can keep me balanced, and stop me if I start beating myself up. One of the healthiest decisions I’ve ever made is to take the word “should” out of my vocabulary, and “should” is my inner critic’s favorite word! Perfectionism paralyzes.
I absolutely agree with you. There should be someone to guide you so that you can not make wrong decision. I always question myself, how do I know whether decision is right or wrong even it is based on facts, information and data. I think, itis the outcome that justifies our decisions. Again, I think experience is the best teacher. When we look for guide, we dont know who is right because of our limited knowledge and information. So, guide is needed but experience is better teacher.
Hi Dan –
The inner critic (any critic, really) is all about the past, looking for blame. Not a very productive space.
You hint at a crucial idea in a couple of different ways in your post: all we have is right now, the present moment. Be the best you can be right now.
You can’t do anything about what’s already happened.
What are you doing now, what choices are available to you?
Sure, learning is about reflection, looking back. And, what you just did is what has put you where you are. It’s what we do after a “mistake”, in the present moment, that demonstrates whether we learned anything from it.
This one is really good, and quite timely for me. Like most women (and men) I know, I can have some really awful negative tapes playing in my head. I’ve made a commitment to stop being so hard on myself. But now what? I can’t stop a “bad” behavior without also replacing it with a more constructive, positive one. Someone suggested that I replace beating myself up with a new task that I do every night before bed. Make a list of 2 things I accomplished that day, 3 things I like about myself, and 5 things for which I am grateful, with no repeats within a week’s time. I just started this last night. We’ll see how it goes!
Christy nice comment, I would add to this, with your earlier comment to Ajay in mind, that as we improve invariably so does the compnay we keep, so the yardstick unwittingly gets more demanding. Ajay’s guidance to only measure against yourself is a sound – as long as you always make sure you remember where you started from and what progress has been made.
“Embrace the imperfect now”, and “keep learning”.
As we all try to improve our “best” we ultimately find that we will still fall short of perfection every time. I have discovered this in everything that I do- speak, operate, teach, etc.
The inner critic along with the shadow of fear can be instructive to us, but only if we control them, set realistic expectations, celebrate all victories, no matter how small, and do not let impossible and goals that can never be achieved pull us down blind alleys where we are accomplishing nothing.
If there are really ways to improve past performances, in things like blog posts, do it. But, if you find that after a few sentence changes, it is all beginning to ring hollow, or you can’t find the flow, move on to something else.
The time and the spark of ingenuity and inventiveness will come if and when it is needed, but only in its own time. You will know.
Liked the post for bringing self-improvement by listening to your inner critic. A brief critical analysis of what could bring further improvement next time and learning from your own experience are the good ways if you do good prior written planning. Appreciate all the points as listed to bring out the best in you.
It’s more of whether I feel satisfied with what I have done today as best. If not, what things I need to take care next time.
I likes your punch line as Bonus. The key to grow professionally is of course ‘keep learning’ from your own performance and situation based behavior. As you grow, there are less chances that someone will point out your mistakes or guide you where and how to improve. It’s YOU alone need to learn and beat your own performance records.
Dear Dr. Asher,
A very insightful comment. I truly agree with you on satisfaction factor. Inner voice is true and powerful when we listen to it. We need to create strong inner belief system. I strongy agree that as you grow, people will point out your mistakes rather than correcting you. But, there are some good and trusted people who will share honest and encouraging suggestions.
I face this critic everyday … the point that stands out to me is “Embrace the Imperfect Presence” … as the “could of-should of” of the past project a lure of a perfect presence … which is impossible. Thanks for the reality check for my present day.
Something I learned that has helped me enormously in this area: Don’t say to myself something I wouldn’t say to someone else. If I want another person to perform better, is the way to accomplish this to stand over his shoulder telling him where he’s failed, that he’s an idiot, and that nothing is good enough? That yes, he did X OK, but the whole performance wasn’t up to snuff because he didn’t do Y? No? So why did I ever think that it was the way to get myself to do better? Now I’m a lot kinder to myself, which is not to be confused with indulgent. It has freed me up to fail and thus to learn from my mistakes. Also, I realized that by not accepting myself for making mistakes, I was really not accepting myself as simply human, which actually was a kind of arrogance.
Hi Dan: Just had this conversation yesterday with my boss. I think it helps to discuss with someone you trust. I’ve learned my feelings are off track sometimes and her feedback helped balance my perspective. As it turns out, other employees are experiencing the same feelings so she’s having one-on-one conversations with her staff. Also enjoyed the earlier comment about removing the word ‘should’ from my vocabulary.
As an alumnus of Butler University, this post reminded me of the Butler Way which started in the athletic department but has now permeated the entire University culture. “The Butler Way demands commitment, denies selfishness, accepts reality yet seeks improvement every day while putting the team above self.” It’s the “accepts reality yet seeks improvement every day” part that really strikes me here. Reminding myself that my inner critic is helping me to get better for next time instead of regretting what happened before helps me spend less time looking backward and more time trying to improve.
I love this topic. Our ‘hearts are as one today’ – (appropriate for valentines day!)
Your number 5 is the winner for me: “Embrace the imperfect present”.
I think the inner critic is a huge cost to so many people, myself included, my last post on my occasional blog ( http://wp.me/p1dwCb-3x ) ‘Shameless’ addressed the need to throw away all the perfectionist garbage in order to be a successful Expat (something I have struggled with).
From your post I will take “the imperfect present” but also continue with the strategy that mostly gets me through “just go ahead and do it, nobody is interested and even fewer care!”.
I would also add that I think blogging is quite cathartic as well – you hang yourself out there both as the bloggee and even as provider of comments (which as you know number far fewer than your readers for exactly the reason that ‘they might be wrong or less than perfect’).
Anyway I know I am perfect, but fortunately I’m getting better at being far less than perfect
I agree with you Croadie, the blogging and responses do ‘hang yourself out there’…so it’s a case of the inny and the outy critics. And way to set that lowered perfection bar! 😉
So timely…and so spot on. Thanks Dan!
This is a long-ish excerpt but I knew when I read it yesterday that it would be relevant soon:
“I imagined, like everyone else at school, that my parents were sitting just out of view like those quiet doctors behind clean mirrors, watching and reprimanding my every move. As I reached adulthood, the habit continued. I walked around constantly troubled by what others must be thinking of what I was or was not doing. In this, we are burdened with the seeds of self-consciousness. From this we trouble our spontaneity and the possibility of joy by watching ourselves too closely, nervously unsure if this or that is a mistake.” – Mark Nepo (full text here: http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=4891a)
This was an insightful post, Dan. You ended with this question: How do you deal with your inner critic?
As I said on Twitter, I dreaded clicking “open” when I saw this topic this morning – I knew it would hit close to home!
I suppose what I am about to say is a bit of an oxymoron but ….. it is good/helpful to understand why our inner critic takes the stance it does. After quite a while in therapy, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on why my inner critic developed the way it did. But eventually, there have to be “action steps.” Just as we would with a new employee/person in our lives, it helps to understand what makes them tick but there has to be a strategy for getting the best out of them. With our inner critics, I think one of the keys is to integrate it as opposed to trying to push it away. It’s going to be there so we can use the “push” it creates to do better or we can expend a lot of energy trying to ignore/fight it, which doesn’t get us anywhere.
If we are fortunate enough to have people in our lives who give us honest constructive feedback, and that feedback is completely different from our inner critic’s opinion, perhaps it’s time to understand that our inner critic is harder on us than is necessary or productive.
Paula thanks for sharing a very personal expereince/ view. I meant to mention i have just donwloaded Martin Seligmans ‘Learned Optimism’ – the inner critic is a constant source of self-work and self-discovery, and i agree that must be veiwed as a positive.
Great post!! I tell myself while I can’t go back- I can always move forward and their is always a chance to do better. I find comfort in that.
A few things I have used in the past, some similar to previous comments
1. It’s perfectly ok to not be perfect.
2. Rationalise the situation,list what you can do better the next time, and let it go… the inner critic loves those negative emotions
3. Learn to laugh at yourself and stop talking life so seriously
4. Teach yourself to see the positive in situations again.
5. Solict feedback from people that you trust
6. Remember it’s not all about you, having a powerful I.C. can be down to an overactive ego. Most people won’t have given your perceived mistake a second thought, their probably thinking about what they have on their plate.
7. Think about all your past successes and how you got here. You have more skills / talents than you think
Hope you have a great week
As we all go tooling down the highway o’ life, leadership opportunities will continually appear.
We do need to glance (only glance) in our rear view mirror inner critic (remember objects in mirror may appear larger, more important, than they actually are).
However, to avoid accidents and missed moments, we really need to look to and be prepared for where we are heading not where we have been. Watch for that sign post up ahead (not the Twilight Zone) and be scanning the horizon for the next moment.
And as Dan noted, keep (having fun) learning…;)
Thanks for the “remember that objects in the mirror may appear larger than they actually are” image. Perfect!
I recently gave a talk, and looking over the evaluation responses afterward was both disturbed and fascinated to find that my “grades” ran all the way from zero (really) to ten. It was as if they had been to entirely different talks. So while the zeroes were disheartening, and I’m of course glad to have had the tens that make me feel better, it has given me a lot to think about. I knew as I was speaking that it wasn’t the best talk I’d ever given, but how did I so completely lose one section of the audience while winning over the rest? A few years ago I would have focused entirely on those zeroes and felt horrible, lost sleep, lost self-respect, re-imagined the entire event endlessly, making corrections along the way, etc., now I can look at them and say, gee, what happened? Did I hit a trigger? Fail to show how I was connecting the dots? Talk too long? Did the respondents make any constructive suggestions (in a couple of cases, yes)? Still churning through this one, but I can guarantee that the next talk will be a little bit different!
Glad it helps Sarah, have to remind myself of the same. Because ‘grades’ are essentially a reactive process, how do we flip it to be proactive?
One way might be (and it helps stifle the inner negative critic), to say to the group you are presenting to, early in the presentation, something like…
“I am constantly working toward improving every presentation that I do and I really do need your help. At the end of this presentation, I will be asking you to give me feedback on it. At any time during the presentation or at the end, If you have a reaction, either negative or positive, please take a few moments to jot down your impressions, thoughts and suggestions on what can be done to keep it getting better. Definitely, during the breaks please give me feedback too. Written comments do help me keep track of what you think I can emphasize more, or do less of. To date, I have received XXX number of comments that have helped me improve. Again thanks in advance for your help and effort with this.”
There may be a secondary benefit, perhaps a halo effect, because you are eliciting help, receptivity to the presentation might increase. Still, as long as you are seeking both negative and positive, it’s all good.
This is a great read! It’s simple, concise and something that can be easily implemented into or lives. Thanks!
What I like most about this post is you are identifying the inner critic yet having a growth mindset to kep getting better. For some the inner critic wins and they stop growing. To the point and full of little nuggets, nice post Dan
Thanks Dan, I really appreciate this post! And all the replies help elaborating the issue in a very nice way. Thank you!
I think balance is the key. Yeah, you need to look at the bad, but then what? Handle it productively and in a positive way. Thanks for the reminders!
I love all the deep thought and contribution here. I believe the inner critic is the human condition and it comes from the feeling or belief that “I am not enough.”
With that in mind, I have two offerings: one is a saying, and the other is a mantra.
My saying is “If you don’t know what enough is, you won’t know what more than enough is.”
My mantra when I get overwhelmed by the inner critic or find myself judging others is to repeat over and over, “I am enough, you are enough, there is enough.”
Great post Dan and one that calls for full disclosure and transparency. My IC had been in charge for a very long time so much so that I was questioning my performance with every talk, every meeting, the way I dressed, Did I make enough eye contact, will the person think I don’t care about them and the list goes on. It was paralyzing me and like Paula I sought help and discovered a group of people I trusted to make the feedback count.
I love the metaphor Joe Tye once used in one of his Spark Newsletters. He said he dealt with his IC by employing a “janitor in the attic” to keep things dust free and tidy. On somedays the janitor worked overtime banishing negative thoughts, eradicating magnified errors, keeping the wrath of the ego at bay, from which the IC derived so much strength and audacity. Then there were days were the attic janitor took siestas as the place was being kept pretty clean and only a once over was necessary to keep things pristine. Over time his IC came to visit less and less. You never fire the janitor, he always needs to be there, if anything just to scare bad ideas away. Well some of you have shared your own devices and “tricks” that helped and I went out with the help of my counselor and hired me a full time Janitor to work in my attic.
My life has been different ever since. I now enjoy the things I do right even more and as Dan beautifully phrased, have become unafraid to embrace the imperfect. I have learned ( I don’t remember who said it guys) that “anything can be called a failure in the middle. It is only failure if you quit” and in my mind only failure if I learn nothing from the experience. A critical part of my improvement plan which I am not forgetting was aligning with people I could trust and accept they had my back. I try very hard every morning to leave my ego on my pillow and pass by and pick up my “janitor” before we drive into town.
I also did one last thing to complete the therapy and that was to apologize to myself and develop a sense of self-empathy which has over time helped heal my wounds. I think everyone around me is better for it and I know for sure I am better for it and am always on guard lest my remission starts fading.
Great post, Dan – I reblogged to TEAM Legionnaire:
To battle the inner critic I read & read & read & also listen to leadership CDs. I’m also aware of my strengths and the weaknesses which I’m turning into strengths and…I trust my gut.
Also, teaching/studying Christian Apologetics, I listen intently to the [still, small] voice of God’s Holy Spirit during morning devotional/prayer time and pray for wisdom in every situation.
Coming late to this great discussion. I especially like the views several here have expressed of managing, rather than fighting, the inner critic. Why fight an essential component of yourself?
There are times when my inner critic has been my most-valuable player. But (sorry, sports metaphor), it’s a team effort and too often the IC forgets this, covering up the contributions of others. More sports metaphor: I don’t think I’d have made it to college without my IC pushing me to propel my body around tracks and cross-country courses and to manage the pain of training and racing better than many with more natural ability. I am quite sure that in those days I thought more about the unbearable, self-inflicted consequences of “losing” than about how nice it would be to “win.” (In college, it honestly came as a surprise to me when a sports psychologist pointed out that surely I couldn’t cross the finish line first if I hadn’t imagined it so in a hopeful way. Hopeful? Me? Nah…)
Since those days, I have learned to better manage my IC, and to recognize the role of counterbalancing parts of myself. This includes respecting the IC’s considerable value (see, for example, Julie K. Norem’s wonderful book The Positive Power of Negative Thinking). I have also found that my IC has given me great insight into (if not sufficient compassion for) others who are so clearly at the mercy of their IC. I better understand those who — like my IC – – are skilled at diminishing the contributions of others through subtle and persistent negative suggestion: “Great that he won that race, but it’s a shame he had to run here when the real competition was at another meet.”
One of the very helpful threads here is the discussion of looking forward vs. looking back. Nothing has been so helpful in this pursuit as looking back at the words of R.W. Emerson:
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Reblogged this on Triz Tristain and commented:
Usually we are not aware of our inner critics. We may not notice them even if we have yelled at someone, showed a finger to another fellow car driver or just feel anger during most of the day. That is only frustration trying to find their way out of your system when you are not letting it get out.
Reblogged this on Jots & Thoughts and commented:
My favorites are
2.Be constructive more than critical. Ask what can be done more than what was done.
4.Give and accept today’s best. You did what you could.