We’ve all had that moment. The one when our inner critic decides to go all Rambo on us and fill us with self-doubt.

I witnessed just such an event recently; an executive client was discussing a new strategic direction when WHAM, out of the blue, she stopped talking and looked utterly defeated. I suspected her inner critic had hijacked her thinking. When I asked her what was going on she muttered, “Maybe I have no business running an organization.”

Just as she prepared to fuel the critic by abandoning the strategic project before her, I asked her to pause….  In the pause, I reminded her that she had a choice. She could either swallow her inner critic’s assertion as truth OR she could challenge it with a different truth based on fact.

I asked her, “Is there anyone who thinks you’re a talented leader?  Anyone at all?” At first, she looked blank, but then she remembered a manager in IT who had recently told her that thanks to her leadership, the IT department was stronger and the staff were exceeding expectations. Okay, that’s one.  

From there she was able to identify another, and then 2 more after that. Within a few moments she realized that, while she may not be the female version of Steve Jobs, she had, in fact, done a good job keeping her organization in solid standing despite the trying economic times. With that awareness, the inner critic fell silent and we got on with our work. 

We all have inner critics. When we are little, we do things that frustrate our parents and make them mad. We’re just being kids and they are just being grown-ups responding to broken toys, fights between siblings, and spilled milk. 

As children, we often interpret normal parental frustration to mean that they are frustrated or mad because we are bad, stupid or… any number of negative expressions.  Sadly, for almost all of us, that critic remains, ready to slam us when we are vulnerable from stress, weary from the hectic-ness of life, or dropping balls from having too many in the air.

Over time, our inner critic typically combines the harshest of our parents’ words with the worst of our fears about ourselves and rolls that information into one demeaning refrain. 

So, the next time your inner critic lays one on you:

  1. Ask yourself, “Is this really true?  Is there anything (anything at all) that can refute this assertion?”  
  2. Aim to find at least 2 examples to help remind you it is not true.
  3. Say them aloud and take a moment to really hear the examples that counter the critic’s refrain.
  4. Finally, remind yourself that your inner critic is born of fear and not fact.