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Many of us were raised to believe that acknowledging our strengths and being proud of our achievements was arrogant and the best way to succeed was to be hard on yourself. Furthermore, we were led to believe that cynicism is synonymous with intelligence. In other words, be sceptical when good things come your way (as they’re probably too good to be true) and don’t set your hopes too high because your dreams probably won’t happen. Scary, isn’t it? Especially because it translates to… Criticise yourself and don’t be too optimistic about life. It gets even scarier when you look at the research conducted the past 20 years showing that if you want to be successful and happy, the exact opposite behaviour is needed. So, let’s take Key Steps this week and… Silence your inner-critic.
- Realise that being hard on yourself does NOT work. Many believe that being hard on themselves will make them better people. However, scientific research does not back this belief. In fact, ongoing self-criticism has been shown to reduce motivation, increase procrastination and increase rumination. This is the paradox of the inner critic: It attacks and undermines you to protect you from the shame of failure. The stress is incessant. Psychologist Leon Seltzer of Del Mar, California explains that as a result, “When you do something well, you won’t jump for joy but merely breathe a sigh of relief: You’ve escaped from being criticised or censored.” But the relief lasts only until the next expectation presents itself. It’s the perfect setup for anxiety and depression.
- Know that you are not alone. People with a strong inner critic usually have one thing in common. No matter how great their success, they don’t feel it’s genuine. They feel like an imposter. The inner critic blocks any real sense of achievement for the fear that it will cause slacking and a drop in achievement. The irony is that you cannot win, you cannot ever become a true success and good enough. You’ll keep pushing harder though and be driven more by fear of failure than inspiration.
- Learn from the past. What the critic doesn’t offer is true room for growth. All too often it sends us back to a zone where we find ourselves safe, but also stuck. For many of us, this harsh critic goes all the way back to a time when we feared the disapproval and rejection of caregivers. It’s no coincidence that an internal critic’s words often sound as if they’re coming from a strict parent: The critic is often literally an echo of a parental figure’s voice. When you internalise its judgments and expectations, you corroborate the demand that you always need to do and be more. But no matter what you do, you are never good enough. Constant criticism of yourself isn’t going to make you better. In fact, it likely to make you bitter.
- Tell the negative committee in your head to, “Sit down and shut up.” Okay, maybe don’t be quite that harsh 😊. Your inner critic is likely to dig its heels in if you try to silence it in that way. What can help is to increase your in-the-moment awareness of your critic and then say aloud, in a firm assertive tone, “This is not true and it does not serve me.” Research shows that when we consistently and firmly challenge our critic aloud, it interrupts the negative pattern we have established and has the ability to reprogramme our neural pathways. This is emotional intelligence in action.
- Stop living in the past and take steps forward. There are much better, and healthier, ways to take an honest look at yourself and learn from your mistakes. Instead of criticising, practise self-compassion; learn how to be your own champion and courageous challenger. In other words, treat yourself the way you would your best friend. In fact, distancing yourself from the critic by imagining that what had happened was to a friend and not to you can be very powerful. Think of one thing you have done this week that you feel badly about or wish you had done differently. Imagine this had happened to a friend so you can practise viewing this action from a place of self-compassion and understanding. Stay focused on what you learnt and produce a plan of to do better next time. This stops the rumination, allows for story editing or reframing of the event so you can reduce your anxiety, see yourself positively and take Key Steps to…
‘be the difference that makes the difference.’
NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.
About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides
Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 20 years’ experience in leadership and organisational development and transformation. She is a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner. She is also one of only three women in South Africa to hold the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – it’s the Oscar of the speaking business.
Sharon’s PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that has been published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of Henley Business School and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. Sharon has become known for her practical approach, useful tools and genuinely caring manner. She is really looking forward to working with you and taking Key Steps to ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’