Leadership expert, Susan MacKenty Brady explains not only how to silence a women’s inner critic, but how to deal with its impact on one’s ability to create work that is sustainable, energizing and rewarding.
I work with incredibly smart and committed women who serve at all levels of organizational leadership. While many exude confidence, every single one of them admits to this: her Inner Critic is making too much noise.
As I explain in my new book Mastering Your Inner Critic and 7 Other High Hurdles to Advancement, the Inner Critic is the voice keeping you from returning to your compassionate center. She’s knocking you down one minute and filling you with feelings of superiority the next. The Inner Critic is the voice holding you back from being the best leader you can be.
But confronting your Inner Critic can be daunting. If you’re feeling defeated, here’s what successful leaders do:
Take a deep breath. Relax. Of course, if this were easy or familiar, you would already be doing it. Don’t forget, if your Inner Critic is mainly focused on you (and it most likely is), whispering some sweet nothings to yourself will feel a lot better (and funnier!) than the nasty you’ve been dishing out on yourself.
Tap into the most compassionate part of you—and get ready to give yourself a whopping break. Think about someone you feel loving toward, or a memory of when you comforted someone you loved. You need to call upon that same energy, but focus it on you.
Remind yourself that you are human—and thus imperfect. Get gentle with whatever it is that is making you critical of yourself. You can coach your Inner Critic by simply pausing when you notice yourself being critical—and then thinking about compassion.
Try it. It will feel funny at first, but it can change your life—so it’s totally worth it. Remember, the voice of your Inner Critic is usually immoderate or at least pestering. Typically, she’s extreme, out in left field, and unreasonable. So, if being loving to yourself isn’t in reach, ask yourself, what’s the more moderate version of what you’re feeling?
In that vein, here’s my most recent Inner Critic true story:
“Susan, honey, oh-lovely-spirit-in-the-world, so you put on a few L-Bs over the holidays and now you’re heading poolside for some fun in the sun for winter break. You need not starve yourself this week. You can feel glorious and know that once upon a time you were a smidge trimmer. Oh—and you’ve been fatter, too, so stop this silliness now and go have a magical vacation.”
I will repeat this mantra a dozen times in the next week. It’s self-corrective. I don’t want my Inner Critic to spoil my much-needed R&R with my family.
Don’t forget that on some days, mastery is a moment-to-moment practice. If your Inner Critic has been not-so-nice about others, keep in mind that you won’t be intrinsically motivated to stop those nasty thoughts. Why? Because even her subtle criticism of others feels a whole lot better than when your Inner Critic voice is pointing her harshness at you.
That means we need to ask ourselves questions like the following, and listen to our answers:
- What about this situation or person isn’t working for me?
- What can I do about it?
- Do I have a request to make about how something can change?
- Do I need to accept this person or situation and let go of “my way”—if only for my own sanity?
- Can I (gulp!) get compassionate with this person—perhaps giving them a whopping break?
A colleague just confessed to me that she was noticing how critical she felt about someone we work with. When I asked her a few of the questions above, she recognized that she was ready to shift her own thinking. So often, if we don’t want to stay irritated, we need to either accept the thing that irritates us or make a request for something to change. In this case, my colleague had to choose between accepting the situation and making some requests. Making this choice was liberating for her, because she realized how much time thinking about this person and situation had taken up.
And this leads us to this unfortunate truth: we can’t change others. We can try, but it likely won’t go well or result in the outcome we want. We can only change our own minds and choose different actions. When we take the time to get introspective about ourselves, our motivations, and our feelings, we take a positive step toward mastering our Inner Critics and becoming the very best leaders we can be.
My next step for today, you ask? I’m off to buy some new sundresses for the spring version of my killer yet imperfect 40-something body. I have some beach going to do.
Susan MacKenty Brady is Executive Vice President at Linkage, where she launched the firm’s global practice in Advancing Women Leaders. She serves as the co-chair of the company’s Women in Leadership Institute™, which is now in its eighteenth year.