“Dad! Dad! Can I be an astronaut?”
“Don’t be stupid son. You come from Doncaster.” ~ Steve McDermott
Last month I published a post in the wake of the killings in Paris called Hands up if you’re scared. The thrust of the piece was about fear, and the natural (and adaptive) reactions we have to dangerous situations. It was also about the exploitation of that fear, by both terrorists and political hawks.
In addition to those external voices of doom, we also have to be on our guard against our own internal enemy. The voice from within plays into the hands of the arguments of external fear-mongers. Many people have studied and written about the many forms our internal voice takes. Sometimes we can think of it as our conscience, our guide, our fairy godmother, looking out for us and keeping us on the straight and narrow. Or it may manifest in more malevolent form, talking down your talent or competence, criticizing your ideas or dreams, mocking your attempts to break free from “who you are”.
Over many years of working with people as they seek to overcome internal obstacles, I have heard people describe their ‘inner critic’ or ‘gremlin’ in many different ways, but whatever form they take, they tend always to say the same sorts of things to us.
- “What makes you think you can do that?”
- “You’ll fail and look stupid.”
- “You’ll never amount to anything.”
- “Who’s going to listen to you?”
- “Who do you think you are?”
I recommend watching this interview between Oprah Winfrey and Brene Brown. The whole interview is fascinating, but if you only have a few minutes to spare, watch from 12mins to hear Oprah talk about overcoming the “Who do you think you are?” voice. Oprah interview
Harsh though the words of the critic may sound, they can sometimes be coming from a place that is trying to protect, preserve and keep you safe. What is safer, after all, than the status quo? It may not be great, it may not be fulfilling, but it sure is safe! Don’t try stuff, don’t change, and that way you don’t fail. When we dig down to the source of some of these voices, we often trace them to those of our parents. Most parents would be appalled to think that traces of their voices were still echoing round their children’s heads 20 or 30 years later, and getting in the way of them leaving a safe but unsatisfying job, taking up a new hobby, standing up to address an audience, or forming a loving relationship.
Whatever the source, our inner critic can make us hold back, to underachieve – to ‘play small’. When you find yourself challenging the fear being perpetrated in the world, as we must do, don’t forget to also challenge the ‘gremlin’. Be brave enough to ask where the voice is coming from, what it is trying to do for you, and in what way it feels it will help you. That level of basic scrutiny is sometimes enough to quieten the ‘voice’. But it will take practice and persistence on your part to control, abandon or choose to live with ‘the enemy within’.
Coaching is a powerful and proven approach for exploring your beliefs, inner critic and other forms of obstacle that get in your way. Would you, or members of your organisation, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to speak with you.
About the author: Louis Collins enables people to operate more successfully. You may be putting off important decisions, you may be treading water in an unfulfilling job or career but don’t know what to do about it, you may be contemplating promotion or even retirement but the prospect scares you. I can work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of living, help raise your awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately help you lead a more satisfying life.