Why learning to recognize your Inner Critic is so important

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Every day we make hundreds of choices. It’s what is behind each choice that’s important. Are you being guided by a clear understanding of what you want your life to look like and what matters to you or is your Inner Critic making your decisions?

The answer to that question is the key to beginning to make new choices that will help you create a life that serves you.

Let me be clear, there is no shame in having one or more Inner Critic voices in your head. We all do. The trick is simply recognizing that’s what’s happening so we’re not letting them have the only say. This is one of the differences between people who move forward and people who stay stuck.

I have a bunch of different Inner Critics (or Saboteurs) rolling around in my head. They are the voices that tell me not to do even the most slightly risky things I really want to do, not to grow, and not to change. When I get wise to one then they find another way to keep me small. It’s annoying but once I caught on it’s kind of a fun game to call them out (nicely, I mean they’re really just trying to keep me safe).

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about and want to know more, I really like this explanation from Psych Alive on Youtube:

Letting the Inner Critic make decisions

Of course, I didn’t always know that Inner Critics were a thing. So I just believed what I thought was my own voice and judgment.

For example, twenty years ago I went to career counseling. After doing all the evaluations and going to weekly sessions, coaching came up as the number one career for me.

I was initially really excited. The thought of helping people really felt right. But, my enthusiasm was quickly drowned out with thoughts like, who am I to coach anyone? I’m so young. I’ve barely been in the workforce. I’ve hardly lived. Who would take me seriously?

While those may have been valid questions to ask, they didn’t need to be the whole story. There was no opposing voice saying “You are intuitive and curious about people! You can work with young people, or in schools. You’ll be so good at this of course people will take you seriously.”

If I had looked at the situation from all angles, without fear, and still decided to get some real work experience before pursuing coaching that would have been a conscious choice. Instead, I listened to the Inner Critic, got scared, and dropped the whole idea.

So what happened next was, I pursued — and eventually got — an exciting job in an advertising agency. It seemed like a perfect fit and I was practically floating on my first day. I remember the receptionist called up to my new boss and said, “Sara is here and she’s really excited”.

And I was right to be excited. It was a fun job. The people were amazing. The clients were high profile. And the work was project-driven and varied which I liked a lot. Because I had done the career counseling, I knew these were some of the things I was looking for in a job.

So maybe my Inner Critic wasn’t so sabotaging after all?

As much as I loved the job, some aspects, especially the stress and working on accounts that weren’t aligned with my values took a toll on me. My health suffered as a consequence and I ended up quite sick and out of balance. After a couple of years of compounding health issues, it took me the better part of a year and some major lifestyle changes to turn things around.

I went on maternity leave just before the birth of my first child, whose arrival – along with her brother’s two years later — quickly brought into focus what was most important to me. I decided just before her first birthday that I wouldn’t go back.

I’ll always be grateful for that job. I learned from the very best in the business and had so many amazing experiences. I owe everything I’ve done since to the skills I developed in advertising. And the experience taught me how important it is to me to make a meaningful contribution and that I have to prioritize my health and well-being to be truly happy.

Of course, now that twenty years have passed, I’ve gained that life experience I thought was lacking. And here I am, full circle, back to coaching. This time I know to expect my Inner Critic to offer an opinion but I know it’s not the only voice.

Other Inner Critic resources you may find helpful:

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About the author

Sara Smeaton

I help you discover the joy and power in midlife and navigate the transitions on your own terms. I am passionate about changing the narrative about aging and am trying to fill the world with profiles of real life people who are thriving and more alive after 40 than ever before. The best is yet to come and there are role models all around us. Book your free 30-minute connection call.

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