One Question that Gags Your Inner Critic

critical inner voice

That critical inner voice — “Who do you think you are?”

I was trembling, getting ready to go in front of my first group as Chief Burnout Officer. I’d given lots of presentations at the office and to clients before, but this one felt a lot more personal.

I was helping people create the job they love..a personal mission I really believe in.

It seemed like there was a lot on the line for me at the time, although I was probably over hyping it in my mind…anxiety will do that.  I remember a critical inner voice appearing in my head asking, “I’m I really ready for this?”  “What if I mess up?”.

This critical inner voice was yelling, “Really?”.  It triggered a sweat, which is impossible to hide with a bald head.  I even noticed a tightening in my body. Suddenly there seemed to be a lot at stake – my ego.

Ever heard that voice before?

Choose to Ask the Question that Empowers

I’m not going to get all Eckhart Tolle, Power of Now, on you; but I realized that the voice in my head wasn’t something I wanted to listen to or at least not for very long.  Some people call this voice the inner critic or inner gremlin.  I didn’t care, I just wanted it to shut-up so I could get down to business.

So instead of letting the doubting voice continue to run wild with critical questions, I consciously chose to ask a different question….a question that empowers. and conquers the inner critical voice.

“How does this serve others?”

It was amazing how this instantly calmed my nerves, silenced that critical inner voice, and helped me focus on the mission at hand.

And I still call on it today.

Asking myself this question effectively took the spotlight off me and shifted it to the crowd. When I remembered the essence of my presentation was to serve others and not feed or protect my own ego, the bigger picture came clearly into focus.   I felt connected to ‘Why’ I was doing this presentation in the first place.

Suddenly I felt looser, confident, and more determined that ever.

The trembling stopped and it felt like “game time” versus “game-set-match”.

Keeping the Focus on Serving has Universal Benefits

Turns out this question can help in a lot of different places.

  • When you’re stuck on big project – Ever found yourself stuck big project that’s going on forever?  The critical inner voice might say, “milk it a little longer” or “it’s not good enough yet”.   Try asking how is this project serving other?
  • Auditioning for American Idol – What are you going to role model for America? The inner critic says, “you need more practice”.  How is more practice really serving others (although I agree that practice is s good thing).  Is your singing all about you or the people you’re giving it as a gift too?  Ask my friend Elise Testone.
  • Got a big tennis match – The critical inner voice says, “why are you playing a match when you’re not even practicing?”  Respond with asking, “Who am I really playing for?” Does a win even matter or is it more important to play for health’s sake so you be more productive and around for your friends and family?

Make the Connection to Serving Others No Matter the Situation

Admittedly within organizations, it can sometimes be hard to stomach this question, especially if you feel like you’re only serving your boss. In that case it might not be that calming for you particularly if you don’t like your boss.

Even when you’ve got to dig a little bit, it’s useful to ask “how does this serve others?.”

Try looking a few steps a head. Maybe by serving the needs of the boss or organization your life reach others in some way…like supporting a charity organization, spending time with your family, or working on a passion side project.

These are all things that serve others, just once removed. You can still make the connection and silence the inner critic.

Remind Yourself to Focus on Serving

Write this question down on a post-it note and put it somewhere where you can’t miss it.

Then the next time you’ve got a presentation or audition on American Idol, you’ll have something useful to support you even if the inner critic shows up.

To serving others!

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