Hang around leadership circles for any length of time and the conversation usually turns to vision. It goes something like this. In order to motivate yourself and your team, you need to have a compelling vision. Preferably one that has a strong ‘why’ and will make you cry. The idea is that if it doesn’t make you tear-up, you haven’t worked at it enough. Your ‘why‘ is what you call on in the tough times to pull you through. On the surface, that makes total sense. Here’s the bit a lot of people miss.
It’s hard to have a compelling vision when you are down on yourself.
It just doesn’t work.
How do you talk to you?
If you tune into your internal dialogue what do you hear and how do you talk to yourself? We are all wired to have an internal dialogue and the purpose of that inner voice is self-protection. Think of it like an overprotective mother or an internal Safety and Compliance Officer. The job of your internal dialogue is to point out and mitigate risk and keep you safe to live another day. That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. However, sometimes it’s protecting you from the wrong things; things you want, and you pay the price for it.
If you listen carefully, there is often more than one voice. You can have a chorus inside your head all vying to be heard and your job is to take control of the rabble.
It can feel like there is a war going on. In some ways there is.
It’s not a war you can win by fighting back. You have to be clever than that.
The more you fight back, the more entrenched the negative chatter becomes. If you want to be in touch with your vision you need to get your internal dialogue under control. Rather than silence it, the goal is to redirect your attention to the voice that makes the biggest difference; the voice that aligns with your goals and your vision.
How to recognise the voice of the inner critic
If you are down on yourself your inner critic is probably having a field day. The rabble is in control and not you. This inner critic that often shows itself as the voice of self-doubt has several characteristics. Here’s how to recognise that voice and what to do about it when you do.
- The tone is harsh and abrasive. Your inner critic has a way of communicating that if someone else said those same things to you, it would make you recoil and you would find it insulting.
- Black and white thinking as well as other thinking traps such as labelling, should statements, over generalising and catastrophising.
- The voice of “You’re not ready, yet.”
- It is the voice of perfectionism and is constantly comparing you to others.
- It is an ongoing tape that repeats ad nauseam.
- A broken record that replays the same old narrative on loop.
- It is both irrational and persistent.
- It mirrors the critical voices of the past and can be linked to shame.
Time to get the upper hand
It is not the goal to eliminate the internal dialogue and getting the inner critic under control is essential both from the perspective of creating a compelling vision and from a practical day to day point of view as nobody is at their best when they are down on themselves. If it is true for you that you wouldn’t tolerate being beaten-up on by others, start to demand the same of yourself. After all, you would accept nothing less from others: Lose the double standard.
What to do about it
To get the upper hand in this battle you need to outmanoeuvre your inner critic and reshape your internal dialogue in a way that is supportive. Firstly, by noticing you have an internal dialogue you start to separate you from it. You could even give it a name to create further separation. You are not it, and it is not you. Secondly, if we take the list above a reframe it by flipping it and do so consciously, it can make a huge difference to how we feel and therefore how we behave. This, in turn, has a direct effect on your results and your ability to hold true to your vision.
- Speak kindly to all people and include yourself in the list, after all, you are ‘people’.
- Look for the shades of grey in life and give up labelling, replace should statements with could statements, quit overgeneralising and catastrophising.
- Give up perfectionism and look for consistent and considered action instead and reward yourself for regularly for what you achieve. Run your own race, it’s the only one that matters.
- Consciously direct your focus and attention.
- Practice letting go.
- Check in to see if what you are saying to yourself has any basis in reality.
- Be your own best friend and mentor and encourage yourself to keep on going or to take a break as the case may be. Know your worth and know you are good enough. Any skill can be learned.