"I'm no good at this."
"I'll never be able to raise that kind of money."
"This will never work."
"I'm a failure."
In my work teaching, training, and speaking with hundreds of professionals each year, I have learned that one of the most challenging parts of one's job really doesn't have to do with the job at all. It's the internal critic in our heads that we can never get away from. And I find that it plagues some of the most high-achieving, high-potential people I know. That internal critic in their minds just doesn't give them a break.
It's like my grandfather - God bless his soul - who, when you told him you got an A in a class in high school, would say in a half-joking, half-serious manner: "What, they don't give out A+'s?!" You'd laugh, but at the same time feel deflated. Now imagine that voice internalized in your mind, where it's you berating yourself for not achieving an A+ in everything you do, and you've got the situation so many high achieving professionals are in. You're battling an inner critic that you just can't get away from. So what can you do about this? How can you combat this critic, especially as the New Year approaches and so many of us are focused on personal growth and change?
What I've found, from reflecting on my own experience, as well as the experiences of others, there is an antidote to this self-defeating style of thinking and it essentially comes down to these three elements:
1.Let your rational self take the wheel.
If you let your emotions take control of your thoughts, you're done! For example, let's say you just started a new company, which is struggling, and your best friend from high school has a start up on the fast track to success, raising money from top investors and poised for a massive payday. Your emotional self will tell you that you're a failure . . . that you aren't good at anything. . . that your company will never succeed . . . and that you're a nothing compared to your friend. But if you let your rational self take charge, you might tell yourself a different story. Yes, you might feel hopeless and anxious, but you might also tell yourself that your friend has already started two other companies and has a big head start. You might also tell yourself that there are some early signs that your company may be onto something, and that even if this company doesn't work out, you're developing valuable skills and connections that will put you in a good position for the future. You're not lying to yourself - you're just inserting a bit of perspective into a situation that your emotions have painted as far bleaker than the reality.
2. Remember your best self.
Yes, things might not be ideal now, but is that always the case? When we are in the doldrums, we tend to overgeneralize. However, think about the full range of experiences you've had. This particular start up might feel like it's failing, but was that true last week or the month before? And are you really a failure? Have you had other successes in your life? Fixating on the negative is like generalizing yearly weather from one rainy day. Yes, it's raining - even pouring today - but that wasn't necessarily the case in the past and it won't necessarily be the case in the future.
3. Treat yourself like you'd treat your best friend.
If your best friend came to you depressed about their failures, when you knew there really was a more even handed picture, would you commiserate, or would you help that person see the broader picture? Would you agree with their assessment or perhaps offer a more rational alternative? If so, why do we treat ourselves worse than we treat our friends? Try to take that perspective about yourself, and I'll bet that it will help create clarity in an otherwise challenging situation.
In the end, you have the power to shape your view of yourself and the world. So, use these tips to stand up to that critical voice and create a brighter future for yourself in this new year.
Andy Molinsky is a Professor of Organizational Behavior and Psychology at the Brandeis International Business School. His new book is called Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence (Penguin Random House, January 2017).