I am writing today’s blog post as an answer to a question a Magic Monday community member asked. Here is the question that she sent me:
I love your blog posts. They make me think, and see where I can improve. Thanks for sharing your insights in simple and honest words. But here is my problem. I tend to be overly critical of myself. It inhibits my confidence, and makes me question my capacity to achieve something. Do you have any thoughts on how to handle this?
Please take time to reply. It will be a great help. Thank you!”
First of all, thank you, KT, for sharing this with me! I am honored that you feel I will have a good advice to offer. I sure hope what I am about to write helps you in learning how you can make your inner critic work in your favor instead of against you.
I am sure that KT is not the only person who feels this way. Almost every single one of us has to deal with our inner critic from time to time. The intensity of that critic varies based on your personality, gender, and social and cultural background. But unless you learn how to deal with it effectively, this inner critic will turn against you.
Every time I looked for a solution on this, I heard a plethora of advice on “How to silence you inner critic”. But to be honest, that never really fit right with me. First of all, if I were in a position to silence my inner critic, I would not be asking such a question in the first place.
Secondly, when you silence your inner critic, you are also denying the benefits you can have from it.
So today I am sharing 7 ways that work for me. Hint: They do not silence your inner critic, but discipline it to work for you.
1. Be grateful for your inner critic
The fact that you even have a voice that is telling you where you can improve is tremendously powerful. That means you care about being even better, achieving more than what you already have, and growing through your experiences.
This desire separates you from countless people who do not have either time or energy to think about such learning. Some others do not feel the need for it.
It is certainly a privilege to be in a position to be able to think about more than just your daily life. And to take it one step further, having the capacity to do so is one of your strengths.
Be thankful for both of these!
Now let’s see how to tame this beast.
2. Evaluate, don’t criticize
What is the difference, you may ask? Evaluation means finding value. Criticizing means forming and expressing a judgment. Evaluation is an opinion. Criticism means “I am an expert, and I know this to be right”.
The question is, are you REALLY an expert on every topic? No!
Hence you have to take your opinion for what it is – an opinion of one person, not an expert comment.
When you are trying to find value in a situation or a person or an object, you are bound to find what makes it good. In the process, you will also notice where it can be improved. But you will not be fixated on the shortcomings only.
From now on, train your inner critic to be your inner evaluator. Every time it tells you what is wrong, ask it to find out what is right as well. Your inner critic has wonderful analytical ability. It should have no problem coming up with the strengths.
3. Rewire your memories
One of the reasons why your inner critic rules over you may be your memories.
We have all been through situations where others have made us feel bad or inadequate. That is just bound to happen with social beings like humans. But it hurts us so badly that we remember what they said for a long time – even after it is not applicable anymore. That memory keeps it so alive that we blow the comment out of proportion and out of context. We forget that whatever the remark was, it happened a long time ago. We may not even be the same person anymore.
Let’s take a hypothetical example:
Let’s say you used to be a designated garlic peeler in your house when you were 15 years old. One day you left some skin on it, and your mother – who was tired from all the day’s work – reacted by saying, “When are you ever going to learn to dedicate some effort to your tasks! You never completely do any task to perfection.”
Now clearly, she did not mean what she said at that time. Even if she did, the context was peeling the garlic on that day. But you being a sensitive teenager may take her remark to heart and verbatim, and keep questioning if you can ever show excellence in any of your work 15 years after the incident.
Such memories are a burden on our brain and heart. No need to hang on to them. This short article on the science of rewiring your brain to change your memories will tell you how. It is possible!
Instead of remembering the remark or who made it or how you felt, just remember the intention or lesson behind the remark. Your mother wanted to bring out the excellence in you. She may not have said it right. But that’s her issue, not yours. Just remember that, be thankful for the lesson, love her for the intention, and forget the rest.
In some cases, people will not have any good intentions are heart. It’s OK. Move on by forgetting their behavior, forgiving them for that behavior, and keeping the distance from them in future.
In any case, do not let this be a burden on you. Why to carry the burden of others’ mistakes?
Just think, the longer you remember their hurtful remarks, the longer they are in control of you.
Take control of your own mind, and define your own abilities starting today.
4. Strive for realistic self-awareness
If you cannot answer what your strengths and weaknesses are to your own satisfaction, you have some work to do. It is always going to be a work in progress. But self-awareness is an essential first step to development. And this realization must be realistic.
I have seen people who think they have no weaknesses. That’s impossible because nobody is perfect.
I have seen people who think they have no strengths. That’s also impossible because everybody has something to offer to this world.
I have seen people who are not aware of some of their weaknesses that are clearly evident to others. But those that they are aware of, seem much more debilitating to them than to others around them.
Such inaccurate or false sense of what makes you, you, cannot really be called self-awareness. You have to train your inner evaluator in understanding who you really are. This takes keen observation and analysis, as well as feedback from your trusted advisors.
When you start forming realistic self-awareness, who you think you are comes very close to who you really are. It helps you own your flaws and strengths, and in the proportion in which they affect you. You become more comfortable with your weaknesses because you know that’s what defines you at this moment. It is not demeaning to you but just a part of you at this point.
Such a comfort level with your own self, gives you power over your inner critic. It is like a younger sibling – when they want to tease you and you do not react, they go nuts! Drive your inner critic nuts by owning your flaws, and the relative role they play in your personality.
5. Start working on your weaknesses
Being aware of your weaknesses will make you humble. It will help you in understanding where you can improve. But there is no point in brooding over those. Instead turn that into your motivation to make a change.
If you are bothered by one of your shortcomings, if that is stopping you from achieving happiness or success in personal or professional life, do something about it.
You either eliminate or reduce your weaknesses, or you counteract those by developing other skills. But don’t wait until you get thirsty to dig a well.
For example, if you want to be a good manager, you know you are going to have to learn how to give effective presentations. Then don’t wait until you fail to start learning how to present. Instead join a local Toastmasters today. That way when the time comes, you are ready. Your inner critic doesn’t even have a chance to point out your failure.
When you move from thinking to action, you move away from victimizing yourself and start empowering yourself.
6. Own your strengths
Enough about the weaknesses. Now is the good part! I have saved the best 2 points for the last.
Get this: No matter how hard you work on your weaknesses, you are never ever going to turn them in your competitive advantage. That means you are never going to be extra ordinary at those. Let’s say you start at 40%. Even if you work hard at it, you may get to 60% or even 80% but never close to 100%.
Instead, if you understand your strengths and work on those, they will take you much further in career and life. You already start at 80%. Plus if those are your passions, you learn quickly and will reach even 99% in a shorter time with less effort.
Being the best at your strengths is what will catapult your career and happiness.
Unfortunately, not everybody is comfortable in accepting they are good at something. I have seen that many women and people from some cultures are uncomfortable or hesitant in owning their strengths. It seems like boasting or arrogance. But it does not have to be that way. You can be humble, yet confident about what you are good at doing.
Also what you are actually good at comes so effortlessly to you, that you seem to think there is nothing special about that. But that’s exactly what makes you special.
Look for what makes you happy, what you are naturally good at, what people compliment you on. Those are the strengths that separate you from the rest of us. Own those with pride!
7. Remember, it’s NOT about yourself
Yes, you heard that right!
You are here to make use of your gifts – passions and strengths – to make the world a better place. You are here to use your gifts to help others, and in turn, you will achieve your dreams.
If you look at your career and your life from this perspective, it becomes so much easier! You take the focus away from yourself. A thumb rule for every decision becomes a simple question – “Am I helping others and adding value?”
Share your strengths freely with others. Even when you do not get paid for it, help others with it. This is the only sure fire path to discovering all of your strengths.
I am a living example of this principle. Discovering my strengths has been a journey for me. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a business owner. High tech business seemed like a ticket to freedom and wealth so I chose to be an engineer. I liked the design and creativity in engineering, and received complements on it. So I decided to turn to a clearly creative field of marketing.
Then Facebook came in existence. I started using that to promote events at the student clubs I used to lead. I did that for free for so long because I really liked it, and people appreciated it. That got me my first paid jobs in social media marketing.
There I liked writing and speaking so I always volunteered to do presentations, coach executives, and content creation. Again, that comes effortlessly to me but others totally value it as something special. Now as you see, I am on the path of becoming a professional speaker and author. Who knows what else I will discover!
I am not saying all this to brag. The point here is that take every opportunity to make use of your skills to help others. Their compliments and appreciation will shine light on what others value in you. This will not only boost your confidence but will show you what you can offer the world.
Then what you do or don’t do is no longer a result of what your inner critic tells you to do, but rather what other people ask your help with.
Don’t let your inner critic hold you back from helping others, and making a difference in this world. It’s not about that critic or even you, it’s about helping others. Focus all your energy in achieving just that.
KT, (and everybody who has to deal with their inner critic), I hope this long answer to your question gives you some tips in keeping that inner critic under control. Use it to your advantage!
How do you deal with your inner critic? Do you have any specific tips for KT? Please share in the comments, and help her.
If you have any questions you would like me to answer, please send those to me via the Facebook page. I will be glad to answer those and also, open it up for discussion in our Magic Monday community.
©2014-2015 Manasi Kakade
Thanks to Varun Kakde for the featured image.