23 September 2018

Thank You For Sharing

Cat prowling for inner critic

Are you ever hijacked by a critical voice inside your head that finds fault with your work, your communication, how fast you get things done, your appearance, or any number of other things about you? A voice that’s never satisfied with anything?  You’re not alone!  Many perfectly capable, successful, and wonderful human beings are susceptible to an inner critic who berates them regularly for not measuring up in myriad ways.

But here’s the good news. There are ways to protect yourself from being thrown off course by this dynamic.  You can learn to set a boundary with yourself: you just  don’t allow yourself to be harmed by this voice.

Imagine that your brain contains a committee of voices, your very own idiosyncratic, personalized committee of voices that knows where you’re particularly vulnerable, knows what your hopes and dreams are, and seems to know all your insecurities.  We all have a committee in there.  And when we hear from the critical voices, we hear them as if they were speaking The Truth.  But that’s just a bad habit.  Your committee is just a random group of voices picked up from here and there over the course of your life . . . your mean second grad teacher, your Great-Uncle Howard, some author you read as a college student . . . you get the idea. There’s really no REASON to take their pronouncements at The Truth.

According to Tara Mohr, in her extraordinary book, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, not having good defenses against the Inner Critic is one of the classic obstacles to women’s reaching the level of success (of any type) they aspire to.  She devotes a whole chapter to the Inner Critic, examining its detrimental impact, the groundlessness of its content, and its seeming universality.  More important, she identifies 9 different tactics that can be used to protect oneself from the Inner Critic. She also offers some examples of what’s NOT effective in disarming it.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

I want to offer two favorite tactics of my own for disarming the critical voices:

  • One is to think of them as the mean Muppets in the balcony. Say to yourself, “This is just mean-spirited nonsense, and I’m not going to let it in.” Just consider it a boundary: that kind of talk is neither true nor useful, and you’re not going to allow it to touch your sense of yourself.
  • Another one (hands down, my clients’ favorite) is to hear yourself responding to them in your own voice, “Thank you for sharing.”  And follow that with, “That’s your opinion, but I’m not buying it, thank you very much. I see it differently.”  Period.  Don’t engage, don’t get into an argument. Just move on. The beauty of this tactic is that when you’re alone, you can actually say “Thank you for sharing” out loud, which is very powerful and often kind of fun!  Next time you can’t say it out loud, you can remember the sound of your own voice saying these words, which you might enjoy!

The task at hand here is to try out these tactics — mine or Tara Roth’s or someone else’s — and find out what works for you.  The more you can free yourself from the needless oppression of the Inner Critic, the more fulfilling and satisfying your life will be.

Photo by Callum Wale on Unsplash


12 November 2013

Let Me Get Back To You

I heard it again today from a client – what a huge difference it made for her to say “Let me get back to you about this” instead of her habitual “Sure, great, tell me more!” It gave her the space to think about whether or not she had the leeway to take on the new thing and whether she wanted to.  She didn’t have the leeway and she didn’t want to do it.  Now she had time  to form a response.  Having this sentence in your repertoire is good for stress management.  It supports you in having a boundary between you and the incoming request.  You don’t always have to respond in the moment!

For many of us, the habit of saying yes is so ingrained and automatic that it takes enormous strength of intention and vigilance to do something different.  But oh, what a difference it makes when you do. 

Even if you do want to take on the new project (or whatever is on the table), you might need the space to check in with yourself and come back with more of a conversation, not just a yes or no.  For example, you might want to say no, you won’t chair the committee, but you’ll co-chair with someone who knows what they’re doing.

You may get some pushback to the change in behavior.  My client today said  that when she said, “Let me get back to you on that.” The other person said, “Really? I thought you’d jump at this.” So be prepared.  No need to get defensive.  You might say something like, “I’m not saying I won’t run with this.  I just need to think about what else is on my plate.  I don’t want to say yes and then not be able to deliver.”  Or handle it lightly: “Yes, well, I’m learning that I have limitations.”

People choose to institute new behavior like this when the old way (saying yes immediately) isn’t working for them at the time, for any reason.  Maybe they’re completely overcommitted already and can’t possibly take on another thing.  Maybe they’re clearing space to finish a dissertation, write an article, or train for an endurance event. They could be grieving, and they just don’t have the energy to take on anything new right now.  Maybe they can’t stand working with the person they’d be partnering with and they need some time to figure out a tactful way to tell the truth or a way to clearly say no without telling the underlying reason. 

And sometimes it makes sense to use “Let me get back to you” even when it’s not a situation of being asked to take on a task.  You may be asked your opinion about something going on in the office or the family and you haven’t really thought about it so you don’t have an opinion to share yet.  Or you’ve thought about it plenty and you have a very clear opinion but you don’t want to share it because it’s too raw and negative.  Or what you’re being asked about is really, really important to you and you want to craft just the right response. 

There are many reasons for invoking the “Let me get back to you” option, and many situations in which it’s completely appropriate.  Consider it part of your stress management and boundary-setting skill set. 

Please share your comments, questions, or experience with this.