“I’m not good under pressure.”
“I’m not creative.”
“This is probably a bad idea.”
These are all the things we say to give ourselves an out.
It is time to brainstorm. Or solve a problem. Or have a tough business conversation, and we find ourselves hedging. We may give excuses. We may hold back.
We realize that it is time to be creative, but others are evaluating us, and so it seems safer to qualify our ideas and preempt the group’s pity or ridicule by admitting that this is not our expertise. We do this because our tribe doesn’t want us to stand out. Our brains tell us it is safer to be one of the pack.
In fact, today there is not a more dangerous place for us, personally, and for our organizations. Not standing out is dangerous because it is hard to get attention. Because of the pace of technological change. Because of our very unpredictable future, we all need to be all in.
We need to share our very best ideas. We need to present these ideas, improve them, and champion them.
The moment we step out though, forces work to pull us back in. Of these forces, the most present but the least understood may be our inner critic. The inner critic is the little whisper of self-doubt that begins anytime we try something new. Our peers may reinforce these little whispers with their own words of doubt which may be inspired by their inner critics.
Notice the cycle. We have a great idea, and soon our inner critic tamps down the idea until we stall out. Or we have a great idea, voice our great idea, and someone else notes concern, which fuels our inner critic, exciting him to nag us until we stop moving forward.
But right now we need champions. People, organizations, and teams who are willing to take a great idea and run with it. How can we do this in spite of the inner critic cycle? We can do two things:
Recognize your inner critic
How can you tell when your inner critic is talking to you? What does he or she say? Do you always assume he or she is right? Every time you try something new, from now on, become hyper-aware of what the inner critic is saying and decide whether to listen or not. Steve Chapman sheds some light on his inner critic in this 13 minute TEDx talk, and it may shed some light on yours.
Recognize the inner critic cycle in our teammates
You are not the only one with an inner critic. I have one. Nearly everyone older than 4 has one. Our colleagues, peers, managers, and teammates are also fending off their inner critics. Our helpful words of caution could be the very things that wildly kicks their inner critic into gear. So work with the team on the culture that will propel you to your goals. A culture in which we encourage and cheer, but spend far less time warning.
Understanding our inner critic might be the one thing that allows us to do our very best work now.