Not physically. I’m not hoarse, and I don’t have a sore throat.
It’s something psychological. I’m not saying what I want to say. I’m blocked.
For years, I’ve wanted to focus on this stuff. The stuff of how our minds work, what gets in our way, what helps us thrive. For years I’ve wanted to learn more, and bring my knowledge and experiences to bear in a way that can help other people.
I’m now at the point where, alongside a load of personal development and geekery, I’ve got a Master’s in Psychology and have done all the training for my Diploma in Transformational Coaching. I’m ready to DO this!
… But something’s blocking me.
I’m wise enough by now to know that the thing blocking me, the thing standing in my way, is internal. I’m holding ideas and fears that keep me quiet and full of doubt.
I’m feeling the imposter syndrome. It’s been creeping in for a while, without me noticing. It’s the result of the conversations I’ve been having with my inner critic, Brian*. Here are a few of those conversations:
Brian: “What if you don’t know what you’re talking about?”
Brian: “What if people think you’re sanctimonious? Or a fraud? Irritating? Sales-y? Pushy? Soft?”
(There are lots of interchangeable words here, many of which contradict each other)
Brian: “What if you’re not actually good at this?”
You’ll notice I don’t say much in these ‘conversations’ of ours. I just hear what he says, and feel the doubt and fear creep in. Part of me also feels annoyed at Brian. I kind of just want him to shut up and leave me alone.
But notice that ‘kind of’. The thought of Brian not being there, and me being free to do my own gloriously uninhibited thing, is scary! What if I’m not actually good at it? What if people think I’m X, Y or Z?… Those questions become louder.
That’s the sign that tells me Brian is internal, he’s part of me. I can’t just tell him to f*ck off (as much as I’d like to sometimes). We need to have a grown up conversation.
I know what can help. I just need to pause, breathe, and gently walk myself through the steps. At the end of this post I’ll invite you to do the same.
First of all, I’m going to picture Brian clearly in my head. Brian, for some reason, is an older man with a brown fuzzy beard, large 80s glasses, and sandals (not with socks. He’s not that much of a stereotype). Brian is a lovely guy, and wants the best for everyone. But he’s a worrier, bless him. He had a career in risk management and, though he’s retired now, his brain works overtime spotting risks. He really wants to keep me safe.
Once he’s clear in my mind, we’re going to have a conversation:
Me: “Hey Brian. I really want to be putting myself out there, sharing my thoughts on topics I care about”
Brian: “What if you don’t know what you’re talking about?”
Me: “Hmm yes I hear you. We don’t like frauds do we. We don’t like to blag it. But you know me, whenever I state facts I’ll always be pretty confident it’s right. I do my research.”
Brian: “But what if you’ve missed something? You can’t know everything in the world!”
Me: “No, that’s true. But no one can. And you know that I think about things carefully, and when I get new evidence I’m happy to change my mind.”
Brian: “Hmm ok. But what makes you the expert?”
Me: “Well, I’m mostly going to be sharing my thoughts and experiences, which I’m actually the world expert on, if you think about it.”
Notice that Brian doesn’t always feel reassured by just one answer. Once I’ve reassured him on one worry, he comes up with another. But I reassure him on that one, and the next one, and he gradually starts to relax. You might also notice that I’m using a combination of logic, self-awareness and kindness in my responses. I find them to be a dream team for this stuff.
On this occasion, Brian and I have a few conversations. I’ve been feeling really blocked about broadcasting my coaching service, so we talk about that. (“What if people think you’re sales-y?”, he asks). It takes a little while before he runs out of things to say.
When he does, I thank him. After all, he’s put a lot of time and energy into trying to keep me safe. And I give him one final piece of reassurance: “Don’t worry, I’ve got this”.
Then I picture myself walking him out of the room, to go and rest somewhere else for a while.
I feel so much better.
Instead of trying and failing to ignore these fears, or judging myself for having them, I’ve actively reassured them so that they can take a back seat. Brian and I are feeling much more chill.
If you ever struggle with your inner critic, self-doubt or imposter syndrome, I’d invite you to try this exercise.
It can feel awkward at first. Believe me, I’ve been there. I used to greet these ‘creative visualisations’ with an eye-roll. But if you’re prepared to feel a bit awkward or silly, and just commit to it, it can be really powerful.
- Visualise your inner critic. You can also name it, as I have, to help you spot it more quickly when it comes up. I find giving mine a real-person-sounding name helps me treat it with compassion.
- Listen to your inner critic. This might sound counter-intuitive, but if you consciously listen to what it’s saying, it’s less likely to get the better of you. I find writing the words down helps me bring it into consciousness.
If you’ve not done this before, this step alone can be incredibly powerful. If you find your inner critic is saying some pretty hateful things to you, be kind to yourself, and know that this is really, really common.
- Remind yourself that this part of you has evolved to try and keep you safe. It really does mean well. So when it gets in the way of what you want, speak to it with kindness. (It’s a part of you, after all).
- Respond to your inner critic as you would a friend. You can visualise having the conversation in your head, or write it down on paper.
- Listen again. Keep the conversation going until you’ve responded to the key things your inner critic is saying, and you both feel calmer.
- Thank your inner critic. Acknowledge that you know it’s just been trying to keep you safe. (It might have been doing a TERRIBLE job, but it really doesn’t know any better).
- Reassure your inner critic – you’ve got this.
- Visualise walking your inner critic out of the room to go rest somewhere.
I would love to hear how you find the exercise, or any other strategies you have for managing that inner critic.
Above all, be kind to yourself! Everyone experiences a really disruptive inner critic from time to time. This is all just part of being human. You’ve got this.
(*Sorry Brians out there, it’s nothing personal.)