A Coaching Power Tool Created by Sarah Jones
(Executive Coach, GERMANY)
Even our worst enemies don’t talk about us the way we talk to ourselves. I call this voice the obnoxious roommate living in our head. It feeds on putting us down and strengthening our insecurities and doubts. Arianna Huffington
Everyone has one. That voice in your head that says, ‘you can’t do that, you’re not good enough, you’ve failed before,’ to share a few examples. We have all experienced the inner critic speaking loud and clear and the impact it has on our thoughts, feelings and actions. It jumps to conclusions, limits possibilities and weakens our self-confidence. Our dreams, goals and abilities are called into question. No wonder as coaches we meet many clients battling to silence their inner critic. And as coaches no doubt we have also found ourselves in the same position; ‘you’re not a good coach, you didn’t do that properly, you failed to notice that in your client, that wasn’t a good session’. By being fully present during coaching sessions, we can keep our own agenda out of the client’s space and not allow our thoughts and experiences to influence the session to ensure we maintain the focus on the client. We can however tap into our experiences to deepen our connection with our clients by demonstrating empathy; the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
What is the Inner Critic?
Early life experiences, the world around us and our belief system shape the way we think about ourselves. Parents, teachers, siblings and peers all influence the way messages are delivered and this gets imprinted in our mind;be it loving, encouraging and supportive that frames our positive voice, or detrimental, critical and belittling,framing the negative voice.We unconsciously adopt these words and feelings.
What it the impact?
The brain gives more importance to negative thoughts over positive ones because negative thoughts pose a threat of danger. When we think positively our brains assume that everything is under control and no action is needed. When we think negatively or are faced with frightening situations,our threat protection system is activated and the fight or flight response kicks in to deal with the stress to help us avoid pain and stay safe. However, these negative, self-critical thoughts can become destructive.Our thoughts greatly influence how we feel and behave; telling yourself that you’ll never be successful or that you aren’t as good as other people will reduce your feelings of self-worth and deter you from facing your fears. The inner critic can also inhibit our performance and growth. When we are self-critical we don’t give new experiences a chance hearing‘why work outside your comfort zone’ or ‘you don’t need to do that’. This can keep us in the comfort zone whilst protecting from scary, challenging, new and risky situations.
What is the Ally?
The ally is our supporter. Our biggest fan.The bearer of self-compassion; gentle, kind and understanding. When our early life experiences are predominantly loving, encouraging and supportive the feelings and thoughts unconsciously adopted help us to keep the inner critic in check. The positive voice from our ally dominates our mind,rising up to help us deliver; I can do this, I am good at what I do, I accept the challenge and commit to sticking with it.When you have a more positive force and a passion for what you do, the inner critic becomes redundant. It keeps you moving forward in a positive manner,promoting confidence in your authentic self.
What is the impact?
When you focus on promoting your ally, you can keep moving through tough times shifting from self-defeating to self-motivating. Actively choosing a positive thought over a negative one creates new ways of thinking and new opportunities. You are empowering yourself to make your positive voice louder, stronger, more confident and committed to supporting you.
How can the coaching process support our clients in silencing their inner critic and promoting their ally?
The ICF competency describes Creating Awareness as:
The ability to integrate and accurately evaluate multiple sources of information, and to make interpretations that help the client to gain awareness and thereby achieve agreed-upon results.
Awareness of when the inner critic is present and at work is vital. Once the client is aware of what is happening and when it happens, they can start to identify ways to deal with this emerging awareness.Awareness is the first step to behaviour change.
Powerful Questioning, ICF competency number 6
Clear, direct questions that lead to new insight and move the client forward. Open ended questions using What and How that are clear, direct and succinct.
will support creating this awareness for the client and start to uncover known and unknown beliefs about the inner critic.
Support the client to:
Listen consciously when it speaks
- What is it saying?
- When is it saying it?
- Where does it come from?
- Who is behind the voice?
- How is it speaking to you?
To understand it
- Why is it saying it?
- Where does this opinion come from?
- What is it based on?
- How does the voice rule you?
- How does the voice limit you?
- What triggers it?
- What feeds the voice?
- What external factors exist here?
To identify it
- What name would you give it?
- If you could draw it, what would it look like?
- What colour is it?
- How does it smell?
To get curious
- What aren’t you seeing?
- How does it affect your behaviour?
- How does it make you feel?
- What are you being protected from?
- What does it not want you to experience?
- What is its positive intention?
- Do you want or need to believe it?
To get compassionate
- What does a balanced mindset look like/feel like?
- What assumptions are present here?
- What is stopping you being kind to yourself?
- How can you alleviate your concerns?
- How does your ally describe you?
- How can self-care support you?
To get reframing
- Imagine what would happen if it was nicer or more productive. What would that be like?
- How would that feel?
- What good things would happen as a result?
- If you loved yourself fully, how would you treat yourself?
- What would you say to your best friend experiencing a similar dilemma?
- What is one phrase that doesn’t support you which you could rephrase?
- What new habit could you adopt that would allow you to be more compassionate?
To get empowering and into action
- What skills and resources do you have already that could help you move forward?
- If you were at your best, what would you be doing?
- What do you need to do differently?
- How do you plan to move forward?
- What one thing could you start doing today?
- Who can support you?
- When are you going to start?
A client I worked with recently bought his challenges with his inner critic to the coaching session. His formative years had been spent ‘doing the right thing, not saying no and conforming to what his parents expected of him.’ He realised that this was impacting his ability to deal with conflict and he felt it difficult to say no to his manager. His inner voice was so loud he was scared to put himself in the position of not doing what he thought people expected of him. Our session focused on the impact of his inner critic; what it was stopping him from saying, how it was manipulating his behaviour and what the impact of this was on his performance. Following our session he had the courage to deal with this. ‘I’ve taken the action to solve the issue and to speak to my boss in an assertive and bold way: it worked and I gained back my energy. So the next step is to do it in a systematic way and not to wait two months’
The inner critic is there throughout our lives. We need to create awareness and practice acceptance; to identify and implement habits and strategies to stifle or silence our inner critic when it impacts our confidence and creativity and to cultivate a growth mindset assisted by self-confidence and self-compassion. However, we don’t want to ignore it! The inner critic also serves a purpose; being self-critical can help us develop, be disciplined and keep us safe. No one can predict what lies ahead, but we can employ our inner critic as an empowering ally to help us face and embrace the future.
My inner critic prevented me from writing this for months……
We are shaped by our thoughts. We become what we think. Buddha