Getting a grip on your inner critic

“Who do you think you are?”

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve probably heard that a thousand times or more during my career. Not from others but that voice inside of us all. Lovingly called, the “inner critic” or “Self 1” as Tim Gallwey calls it in the Inner Game series of books.

The challenge with the inner critic is that we can’t silence it forever. It’s part of our being. But it is our responsibility to deeply follow and listen to our natural self, the Self 2. And the best way to do is by engaging Self 1 with questions. Not regular questions to distract it from the situation but ones that would challenge it’s assumptions.

Like all critics, Self 1 doesn’t like to be questioned. Yes, they’ve got strong opinions but in almost all cases they hold them weakly. Asking intelligent questions gives Self 2 the time and space to do what comes to us naturally.

The other day I had a great conversation with a prospect who’s in an industry I don’t know anything about. Even the business challenge he faced was new to me. And I told him so. Puzzled, he asked me the obvious question, “how are you suppose to help me if you don’t know anything about my industry or the business challenge that I’m faced with?” As you can tell, this wasn’t the first time I’d heard it. Self 1 had already asked it before the meeting. Just a tad nastier.

My response to both Self 1 and the prospect was this, “Well, even if I had the right experience my services wouldn’t be bought simply because I have a turnkey solution handy since I didn’t even take the time to diagnose what the real challenge is. Is that a safe assumption?

The prospect nodded his head. Self 1 didn’t have anything to say either. So, I continued, “let’s start from the constraints and how did we get here.” I wish I could end this post by saying that I won the deal but I didn’t. The scope of work was just a bit too much for a solopreneur, so, I recommended a peer who’s got the right team and infrastructure to deliver the services.

And despite my apparent failure, Self 1 didn’t have anything to say. It had moved on. So, my hypothesis is this — if you don’t shut it up, it won’t. The idea is to use Self 1 to enable Self 2 and the most effective way I’ve found is to ask questions that are intelligent and challenges assumptions.

P.S. “Effective” is an understatement. I’ve had great breakthroughs following the above strategy. Think of it as a mind hack that can supercharge the way you think, feel, and act.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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