How to Outsmart your Inner Critic and Win the Game

The Weakest Link

With a focus on recent sporting events, I recall a time aged 9 playing netball, the youngest member of the team by 2 years. It was the biggest match of our school year and we lost by one goal. I was devastated. Even more so when I heard the opposing team’s manager comment that I was the weakest link in the team. That remark stayed with me.

Has that ever happened to you, where the voice of your inner critic blames you for not bing good enough?

I think of our England football team, of Serena Williams and all those ‘runners up’ and ask,

  • “How will they come back from this, now the cameras have gone & the media has quelled?”

  • “How will they quieten the inner critic and build resilience for the future?”

Some of us are aware of that voice, others of us, less so. That self-righteous voice in our heads that tells us all of the things we could have done better; that notices all of the negatives and is packed full of ‘shoulds’ and shouldn’ts. Sometimes that voice is not our own, but the voice of a critical parent or teacher that stays with us through adulthood. Can you hear that voice?

So what can you do? Here are some tips and techniques you may wish to ‘try on for size.’ Some may seem unnatural when you begin; however, practice makes progress (it may not be perfect first time).

You’re not What you Think

First, observe the words and the language you use, both inside and outside your head, such as:

  • “It’s a disaster!”

  • “I’ll never get it right.”

  • “You should have done that better.”

Listen to those words. Sometimes that voice uses words to protect us in some way, perhaps from getting too big headed or to keep us grounded. But, are they really helpful to you?

Our thinking is guided by assumptions, which may emanate from our upbringing, our schooling, our culture, the organisations where we have worked, as well as friends and family. We can probe those assumptions by asking ourselves questions, such as, “What am I assuming that is stopping me from being successful?”

Maybe the voice inside your head replies, “I don’t deserve success.” Time to relegate that voice. Try asking, “If I knew that I do deserve success, what would I do right now?”

Access Past and Future Success

Another technique is to think of a time when you were successful, no matter how big or small that success. Take your time; maybe even close your eyes to recall. Was it at school? When you were learning how to play a musical instrument? Moving house or changing jobs? Can you identify what you did & how that made you feel? The great thing is, you can recreate that success.

Think about the next thing you’d like to achieve and visualise a positive outcome. You will have seen sports men and women do this. They can see the finish line or the conversion as the ball sails over the bar. As you visualise your success, imagine what it feels like from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes. Now concentrate on what you are saying; the words you are using and the tone of your voice. The more detailed you can envisage your success; the more real it will feel.

Identify your Tribe of Support

Maybe your inner critic has inherited our British characteristic of ‘not asking for help so as not to put anyone out’ or to ‘keep a stiff upper lip’. So in the interest of quietening that voice, enough said and thank you! Think of what you can gain by doing something different?

Within sport today, there is a tribe of support for individuals and teams. From physiotherapists, nutritionists and psychologists to coaches, doctors and personal trainers.

So where can we find that support in business? Who’s in your tribe?

Think of someone you consider successful and who inspires you.

  • What is it that they do or say?

  • What can you learn from them?

Remember, you will be successful in a different way. That’s your ‘superpower’.

You’ve come a Long Way

So as I think of that 9 year old, shattered by defeat, I think of how she moved on. I know it was a mixture of naiveté, stubbornness and lots of trial and error. She learned to tame that inner voice and developed her own brand of resilience, went on to become captain of the netball team and ultimately, school games captain. I thank her for bringing me to where I am today.

Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

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