Cruella’s at the door
That’s what I call her: Cruella, my inner critic, the woman who’s perched in my psyche just dying to point out how much I suck. She raised her mean head just this week after I flubbed a presentation at a critical meeting. I was mortified at my own mistake, seeing in my mind’s eye how foolish I must look and thinking that the audience surely must be judging me as unprepared and incompetent.
No one is harder on me than myself, and I bet that is true for many of you, too. To help me break through destructive cycles of self-critique, a coach I was working with some years ago advised me to name my inner critic. I picked Cruella. It has proved a powerful tool: By naming my inner critic, I’ve learned to keep my emotions in check even after what I’ve assessed as my own suboptimal performance. Yup, my presentation was not on par, but we made the points we needed to make and we got the buy-in we needed; our plan was approved. Score one for my team (who were with me and stepped in as they saw me flounder).
Serendipitously, just as I was working through these thoughts, a fine piece appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Stop Being so Hard on Yourself is a timely article that offers a good opportunity for calibration. In it, author Melody Wilding points out that self-criticism is a bad strategy if you want to improve performance, especially when engaging in it as some sort of perverse motivational tool. Research shows that the opposite is true. Excessive self-criticism is associated with decreased motivation and increased procrastination and leads to losing self-discipline.
The author gives five readily adaptable guiding steps to begin to control one’s inner critic. (Note: It requires repetitive practice to get them to stick.) The first step is to Name Your Inner Critic to create psychological distance from self-criticism by personifying it. She goes onto highlight:
Avoid Generalizations: We tend to misjudge or overestimate our own behavior, especially when the attention is on us. To combat that, consider your performance in aggregate as opposed to focusing on a particular and negative event.
Flip The Narrative: Human nature is wired to find answers and make meaning out of things we don’t (yet) understand. To constructively empower your consciousness, pose productive questions to channel thinking with greater precision.
Set a Timer and A Goal: Your inner critic can make mincemeat out of you — demoralize, distract and reduce your productivity! And with excessive self-criticism comes shame and humiliation, two super destructive emotions. The author points out that you have it in your power to control these emotions. She gives guidance on how to define how you want to feel and what is it going to take to get you closer to that state.
Expand Your Definition of Success: At the end of each day, take a minute to reflect on your professional highlights, write them down, and write down where you made yourself proud. Acting with integrity and values is a true measure of success, as the author reminds us.
Once you begin to master your tendency to be too hard on yourself, you might see other parts of yourself begin to bloom.