August 29th, 2012 | 1:00 pm

Career Coaching for Your Inner Critic

filed under Ask A Career Coach

Contributed by CEO Coach Henna Inam

We all have an inner critic. She’s usually telling us:

  • “You’re not really going to ask for that raise are you? They’ll laugh you out of the office.”
  • “C’mon you don’t actually think you deserve that corner office, do you?”
  • “Don’t be bragging now. Just do the work and hope they don’t fire you.”
  • “You were never really good at convincing people, so just shut up now while you’re ahead.”
  • “Wow, you look really fat in that outfit”…right before you enter the boardroom for your presentation.

Our inner critic pops up without notice to give us unsolicited advice. Her constant whispers keep us from reaching our potential. She saps our energy, kills our creativity, fans our fears, and squelches our spirit. What to do? Here are five steps to work with our inner critic.

1. Name her.

A client of mine calls her inner critic “The Roberta Anderson” tapes, named after her mother. Identifying your inner critic and giving her a voice and persona helps her step out of your unconscious where she can create a lot of havoc and into the conscious where you can watch her. Describe what she looks like. Get creative and find her a good personality. Mine is called “Erma.” She dresses in large muumuus, has red hair, and a really sarcastically funny sense of humor.

2. Befriend her.

Most people suggest that we ignore our inner critic. I tried that and it didn’t really work for me. Erma is persistent. So I decided to befriend her. After all, I reason, she’s just trying to keep me safe from what she perceives as the dangers of being a high-ranking executive. I am a firm believer that anything we resist persists. Erma’s voice represents limiting beliefs I have and the only way to deal with them is to bring them to the surface. I talk with Erma and hear what she has to say from a place of empathy. I write down her points of view in my journal. Writing down her points of view helps me see her beliefs and create some distance so I don’t have to own them as mine. I can then examine them from an objective viewpoint as if Erma were a candidate for political office. It’s really fun discerning her track record of being “truthful.”

3. Gather the evidence.

Once Erma’s points of view have been noted and put on paper, we can be good journalists and gather the evidence. It’s important to ask the right questions here. A good investigative journalist might ask “How do you really know you’re not good at (insert limiting belief here)?” Another question might be “What evidence do we have to the contrary?” Examining the evidence gives us a balanced point of view rather than just seeing what we believe. Most times I come up with evidence that Erma’s just paranoid. Each of us has stories or assumptions about ourselves and the world that can limit us. Turning these limiting beliefs to empowering beliefs can be done by gathering the evidence for the empowering belief.

4. Learn the ways she sabotages you and plan for it.

As you get to know your Erma well, find out how she sabotages you. For example, I was a painfully shy kid and Erma’s voice always reminds me I am completely inept when it comes to socially polite small talk with human beings (with aliens, I’m completely comfortable by the way). So when it comes to networking or being in large groups of people, I expect Erma to be in my ear telling me I’m incredibly boring and talking to me is like watching paint dry. I give Erma a big hug, thank her for protecting me from talking to strangers, put on a big smile and go.

5. Find your inner coach.

If Erma is Political Candidate A, then Political Candidate B is my Inner Coach. She’s the person I’ve named Ms. Wise. She was my favorite teacher from high school who completely believed in me and thought I could save the world. She’s got bright blue eyes, short white hair, lots of wrinkles, and a great big smile. I just have to think about how much she believed in me and any challenge becomes easier. I talk with her frequently too and she helps me discover all kinds of hidden strengths, be resilient in the face of failure, and comforts me when Erma is being harsh.

So in managing your inner critic, I hope you’ll not worry too much about multiple personality disorder. I hope you take the opportunity to take action on these five steps. I would love to hear how they work for you and more importantly how they help you be more powerful in the dreams, goals and work you’re pursuing.

Henna Inam is a CEO Coach focused helping women become transformational leaders. A Wharton MBA, and former C-Suite executive with Novartis and P&G, her passion is to engage, empower, and energize women leaders to transform themselves and their businesses. Sign up for her blog at www.transformleaders.tv.

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  1. Lily

    I really like the idea to name your inner critic… I’ve heard a lot of different ways to identify and separate out the negative voices, but personifying it is a new one for me. Thanks!