How to transform the critical dialogue in your head into an empowering one.
I haven’t run into any leader who hasn’t experienced some level of doubt and vulnerability throughout their career journey. As common as this experience is, when you experience these moments, it can feel as if you are the only one feeling that way. The internal dialogue can be full of judgmental and critical thoughts that sound loud enough to be true. “I am not enough, I’m not an expert in this, what if I fail, what if they find out I’m not good enough, what if I’m too old or young, I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” etc. In our Georgetown coaching program, the doubt and non-supportive thoughts were called “the Itty Bitty Critic Committee”. In the pandemic when our stress levels are high and our coping skills feel tapped out, some of my clients have experienced moments when this Critic Committee is louder and more intense than in the past. What can you do to transform this negative inner dialogue into a supportive, compassionate, and empowering one?
Don’t judge yourself and acknowledge when you are having these thoughts. What does this mean? When you are noticing that your inner dialogue is anything but compassionate, be still and acknowledge it. “I feel bad. These thoughts feel real. I can hear that I am beating myself up.” Taking a step back from the critical thoughts can allow you to notice that they are not helpful. If you can stop judging your thoughts (aka “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”), it initially may feel uncomfortable for a moment to truly acknowledge how critical the inner dialogue is for yourself. This awareness begins to loosen the grip of the Critic Committee and you can simply experience them as thoughts versus a true storyline of who you are. Then, you can continue to take a few deep breaths to reduce the stress response and remember you are more than all these critical thoughts the Committee was telling you.
Replace the inner dialogue with supportive messages. Once you notice your Critic Committee thoughts, create an intention of replacing them with more supportive, compassionate thoughts. One example could be, “I ask for the removal of my doubting thoughts, and I ask for a belief that I am enough.” This intention is an action that can begin a new dialogue with yourself and create a thought pattern that supports you instead of tearing you down. It is not about creating a Pollyanna story for yourself. It is about countering the critical inner dialogue with information that is supportive and true for you. Many of us are fierce champions for our friends and family. Isn’t it time now to start being a fierce champion for yourself?
Shift expectations of yourself. Each day, I believe most people can give their best effort regardless of how graceful it ends up looking. This doesn’t mean we need to be a superhero every day and conquer everything on our to-do list, juggle all our priorities smoothly, and smile at every challenge that lands at our feet. When we are struggling, this does not mean all is for not. No successful musician, artist, or athlete looked graceful in every action they took. Their success came with dedication, focus, failures, and practice. What I have seen with myself and my clients is that self-compassion allows us to be our authentic selves in a sustainable way that is supported by kindness as opposed to toxic criticism. Studies have shown that leaders practicing self-compassion have a growth mindset and approach to success that supports creativity and a resiliency to lead teams through challenging situations. For this month, create one action that supports the best version of yourself from a place of compassion versus what you think you should be. For example, you could decide to not work late every night and most weekends but create some space for yourself to rest, exercise, talk with a friend, listen to music, etc. Self-compassion includes not only shifting the inner dialogue, it includes shifting our expectations and taking actions that support ourselves.
For my clients, I have seen the benefits of self-compassion. They have become more authentic as leaders, more understanding and empathic of themselves and others, and they have created actions that demonstrate a renewed belief in themselves. Having a healthier inner dialogue is a gift that keeps giving. It can provide you the energy, creativity, and ability to attract opportunities that align to your best self. It can create exponential business results by developing professional relationships that foster creativity, initiating an environment of resiliency to address problems, and the willingness to take risks they would have otherwise moved away from. In a time when many don’t feel they are doing enough at work, home and for themselves, this can be a great time to leverage the benefits of self-compassion. To learn more, check out this HBR article on self-compassion, or Three Components of Self Compassion video by Dr. Kristin Neff (a self-compassion researcher, author, and teacher).
Janeen Shaffer is a PCC certified coach helping individuals and leaders with their internal development and external performance. If the article resonated with you … follow me on LinkedIn, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.shaffercoach.com, IG @janeen.shaffer, Pinterest Shaffer Coaching + Consulting.