Moving beyond the inner critic

Do you always find yourself second-guessing your ideas, thoughts and decisions?

Are you afraid to try something new because of the fear of failing?

Have you heard voices in your head telling you, you’re not good enough to do something?

These voices in your head might be sending you messages that limit you from growing. This is what I explain in my book Step Up, calling this voice the ‘inner critic’. This ‘inner critic’ shows up every time we want to make a change, or do something that we were previously afraid to do. Especially with women, this inner critic is filled with messages from our past, messages from societal norms, telling us what we can and cannot do, what we should or shouldn’t do. These messages stop us from setting different goals, fulfilling our aspirations, making difficult decisions and growing as leaders.

A successful senior software quality manager was once teamed up with three other male colleagues to organize a conference. Being the only woman on the team, she managed to carry a major load of the work and efficiently put together the conference. During the recognition session, she could not get herself to join her colleagues and be appreciated. She let the men take the stage and stayed behind. All because of a voice within her head saying: “You’re not ready to be out there yet. Have you really done such good work that needs appreciation? What if you go up there and blank out when you have to speak?”

The inner critic had replayed messages she had heard time and again, when she was in a tough spot or about to speak in front of a large gathering. This voice had managed to stop her from acknowledging her work and being seen and heard for her professional capabilities.

The critical voice can damage our self esteem and self confidence, relationships and let our achievements go unrecognised. These messages stop us from dreaming, aspiring and creating new possibilities. The inner critic also affects the way we show up in public.

These messages are the result of years of experiences, feelings and thoughts we have carried into our lives since childhood, from our parental figures or any other authority we looked up to, society, media and representations of women and behaviour that we adapted from what we observed. All these aspects create a certain kind of observer within us and it is through this lens that we look at the world and ourselves. The inner critic is a part of this observer, that keeps playing the tapes of limiting messages whenever we look at ourselves.

Some of these messages sound like:

Stay small, stay dependent.

Speak only when you know it well.

Always be pleasing.

It is most natural to have doubts and be hesitant sometimes. But we can decide how loud and how often these voices show up in our head. We must recognise this inner critic and identify when it shows up. According to Tara Mohr, in her book Playing Big, the critic comes up when we want to act on our deepest desires and dreams, when we’re in a tough situation, when we’re trying something creative, or when we’re creating a new identity for ourselves.

Moving past this inner critic can be done by simply updating our observer. This can be done by using some affirming messages or abundance mantras we can tell ourselves, whenever we hear our inner critic. They help us reclaim our power and shape our own future.

Some affirming messages we can give ourselves:

I will be seen and heard.

I am enough.

I will learn by doing.

I will seek help and support.

I will express my thoughts and say what I feel.

I will take small steps and learn.

I will grow with others and share my story.

I suggest a daily practice of these affirming messages in my book Step Up as this starts our journey of updating our personal narratives towards success and leading mindfully.

About Physis

Physis is a Greek word that means ‘to grow’ or ‘to become’. It is the principle that is reflected in the constant evolution in nature. That is exactly the action Sailaja works to inspire — in individuals, teams, organisations and in the community.
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