Being goal-oriented is all well and good, but have you noticed that as soon as you draw that line in the sand, as soon as you express a strong intent to achieve something, inner roadblocks appear.
There are lots of names for this: Inner Critic, Gremlin, Monkey Brain, Saboteur. If this sounds familiar, there’s a very good reason – our inner saboteur is a universal human phenomenon. That’s right, everyone has this critical voice in their heads! It is literally part of how our brains are wired.
In days when we were hunter-gatherers, this instinctive part of us continually scanned the wood, the clearing, the horizon for potential dangers. It was there to give us advanced warning and keep us alive. In its ancient role, we could name it Protector.
Fast forward to present day. In much of the world thankfully, we don’t face life-threatening dangers every day. But we’re still wired the same way, so what’s an inner Protector to do? It’s still trying to fulfil its evolutionary function, so it monitors all of our activities, looking for threats.
If you’re not aware it’s happening, this function becomes a liability.
When your saboteur is active, it keeps you in a heightened state of anxiety. It imagines negative outcomes. That makes it really hard to pick up the phone and make a sales call! Or attend a networking event. Or submit that proposal. Or approach that person for a date. Or take the leap to start a new venture. Or go back to school.
But there’s good news in here! Since that critical voice isn’t going anywhere, you can learn to harness its energy to help you. Here are a few tips:
Name your Saboteur/Gremlin/Inner Critic. Animated fictional characters are great because they’re harder to take seriously. Cruella, Smaug, The Joker, Loki, The Wicked Witch, there’s plenty to choose from! Once you’ve picked your character, print out a picture of it – the more ridiculous the better – and post it where you’ll see it when you have to take action to achieve one of your goals.
Say Hello to your Inner Critic. When and where do you usually get attacked by this voice? In the car? In business meetings? When talking to a certain person? The moment you can stop and recognize your Inner Critic is nattering, you are back in charge. You’ll still hear the voice but it’ll become background noise that you don’t buy into.
Externalize the natterings. Get out your note pad or lap top and give your inner critic full reign. Write out all the doubts and potential negative outcomes – all the ‘what ifs’ the voice is freaking you out with. The more specific, the better. Once you have it in writing, you can often cull useful information.
Remember, your Saboteur/Inner Critic is actually your Protector in modern context. It’s here to help you. When you know how to leverage its voice, you’ll see that guidance emerges, usually in two categories:
I don’t know how to… Any natterings that come up in this theme simply mean that you don’t have the information you need, or that you don’t know it well enough yet. Great! That’s a clear call to action to find out what you need to know.
What if this or that happens? Any Doomsday predictions that come up are an opportunity to look at your readiness. Ask yourself: What positive actions can I take to be more prepared?
Thank your Inner Critic for sharing, and take charge again. Acknowledge that it’s trying to protect you. You can say ‘I hear you. You’ve brought up some good points. You’ve done your job. I’m in charge, and I’m gonna go ahead and do this anyway.’
It takes commitment to learn how to dance with your inner saboteur, but it’s worth it! When you are in charge, all your talents and creative genius can come forth and you’ll experience more joy as you work toward your goals.