Practical ways to identify your inner critics and put them to work for you.
The definition of an imposter is: “A person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain.” (Oxford) Wow! And many apply this definition to themselves, suffering from “Imposter Syndrome,” which is basically doubting one’s abilities and feeling like a fraud. It’s unbelievable how hard we are on ourselves.
Ironically, this syndrome affects high-achieving people more than anyone else and augments the stress they already feel to be continually on, to be productive perfectionists.
Our inner critics often reinforce beliefs that we are not good enough. They make us feel like imposters and have likely been with us throughout time, those annoying inner voices constantly giving us feedback, criticizing and correcting us, and showing us rare kindness. The critics were born from our role models and the people who raised us, often well-intentioned people who corrected us throughout time, trying to make sure we could survive in the world and take care of ourselves.
The critics, while sometimes useful, sap our energy and keep us from focusing on what is here and now. They move us quickly into fight, flight or freeze, pushing us to ruminate on the past, or to predict worst-case scenarios for the future.
What can you do today to soften the critics and realize that not only are you good enough, you’re more than good enough, and you no longer need to feel like an imposter?
Step 1: Clearly identify where you feel like an imposter.
Taking on a new job, the birth of a child, starting a college or a graduate program, getting selected for a keynote, going in front of the board, any number of our life experiences can make us question ourselves and our ability to realize success. There is typically something that triggers you to question your worth. The first step is to clearly name what is making you feel this way. What are the instances in your life where you feel like an imposter?
Step 2: Ask yourself why and acknowledge your emotions.
Now that you know what’s making you feel like an imposter, ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Is it because you haven’t done the job before? Are you afraid of failure? Have you failed at something similar in the past? Are you worried you might embarrass yourself? Think through and identify the emotions associated with your current situation, and jot them down in your journal. Then, ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen in this situation? What will be the result of that?”
Step 3: Use the wisdom of your heart to support yourself.
Once you get to the heart of the emotions associated with your situation, and you’ve clearly acknowledged and investigated them, enlist the power and wisdom of your heart to nurture and support you. This might come in the form of your current, mature self, comforting and caring for your inner child, a spot from where many of these emotions and insecurities begin. It’s sometimes helpful to visualize the adult you putting your arm around the shoulder of your child and reassuring him or her that all will be well.
Step 4: Look more deeply into your inner critics.
It’s incredibly helpful to identify your critics. When you catch yourself, or that voice in your head, admonishing you for something, try to figure out who that inner critic is and what they’re telling you. Most of the time, they’re trying to provide helpful advice, but they’re typically not subtle or kind. Put a face and name to the critic. One of my harshest critics, for example, is my perfectionist. She expects me to be perfect, 100% of the time, and when I’m not, she’s there to tell me about it. I have named her “Penny the Perfectionist.” Next, draw a picture of the perfectionist in your journal with his, her or its name below your drawing. You honestly might have more than one. I have four of them.
Step 5: Acknowledge your critic(s) and ask for guidance.
If you continue to ignore your critics, they will come back stronger than before. One of the best things that you can do is to create an awareness of them. When you find them being hard on you, try to picture them in your mind, visualize moving them to the front of your consciousness, and asking them what they are trying to say. What advice are they trying to provide for you? Now, rather than being a harsh voice, my Penny helps me to reflect on areas of improvement, accepting that I could do something better next time. Thank them for their guidance and gently set them on the ground beside you.
Try not to ignore your critics. Not only is it bad for your health to bottle up those voices, but ignoring them makes them more powerful. Instead, make them work for you.