There are many stories out there of people achieving their dreams despite fear and discrimination, and they are a strong reminder of our daily choice to believe in our limitless potential.
As a South African I often marvel at icons like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – “What passion might I pursue if I were unconstrained by expectations?”
Spending time in the bush with my family, discovering the magnitude of the world we inhabit I often find myself considering – “What do I want my legacy to be?” – What mark or imprint do I leave, what is my unique footprint?
Then this voice interrupts from nowhere – slapping me in the face – be realistic Deborah, how small are you in relation to this greater universe.
This is the tension between potential and the inner critic that resides on our shoulder.
You read the stories of perseverance and are reminded of your own lack of fortitude. The courage, strength of character, moral strength and endurance that is required to fight for your life, for your legacy. These stories inspire but also incite fear that we often squander opportunities and time. That voice that says – “if you haven’t made your mark yet, will you ever?”
As humans we are susceptible to this inner critic. We often react with the fight-or-flight mentality engrained in us in order to protect ourselves from harm. In primitive times this was our only means of survival, yet we have carried this habit forward into today’s society. We instinctively run from conflict or difficult situations that lead us to exposing ourselves – for fear of not winning or exposing our true self – as that equals vulnerability.
So we have convinced ourselves that this “inner critic” protects us. Protects us from potential danger, making a fool of ourselves, living the life perhaps we were destined to live. How tragic. We fight the temptation to dream bigger and we flee from potential greatness for fear of failure or exposure – to what I ask myself? What we are actually doing is fleeing from the potential of greatness, the potential of making a difference and above all we flee for fear of being our true self.
Much of my coaching, whether individual or corporate involves supporting my clients to recognise this voice and work towards disengaging from it. Recognising that it closes down opportunities for us rather than opening them up. It hinders our passion and it does not protect us from failure it leads us directly towards it.
So How do we Silence this Voice?
• Notice It
Start noticing when it appears – write it down and notice what patterns it has created. You need to build capacity to notice it and be aware of when it arises.
“You incapable of doing that. You don’t have the skill”
“You can’t do that, you will make a fool of yourself and no one will like you”
“You can’t work and be a good parent”
You can’t join that club, sport has never been your thing”
Can you notice the absurdity of these claims. They are extreme and they are binary.
• Personalize It
Give it a name if need be. Once you have noticed it and then given it a name, it can no longer hide or pretend to be our friend or indeed be you. This naming allows us to discredit it as the mean-spirited bully that it truly is.
• Manage It
Create a mantra – “thank you for your opinion, however I am good please go away”
Do not limit your potential to release your passion based on the playground bully. Practice this mantra whenever you feel yourself listening to that voice. Breath and silence it with your practiced mantra.
• Be Curious about It
Most of the time our inner critic is limiting more than supportive. But it is not entirely useless. Be curious about the small rantings of truth that are worthy.
In Peter Bergman’s article, “Managing the Critical Voices inside Your Head”, published in the Harvard Business review, he writes:
“Resist the urge to judge whether the voices in your head are right. It’s impossible to know and it doesn’t matter anyway. Are you lazy? The truth is you probably are, in some ways. And, in other ways, you are not. But that’s not the right question. Instead, think about the outcome you want and ask this question: Is what this voice is saying – and how it is saying it – useful right now?”
So be curious about its usefulness, and determine if listening to it serves you.
We cannot silence this voice. We can build resilience towards it. We can test those self-imposed boundaries
We will fail, however, it is a momentary setback that can be handled with humour and curiosity. How else will we discover what we are capable of?
So the choice is ours. To be free or to be imprisoned.
Who claims the centre stage?