People often talk about taking that first step towards major change as if it was the same thing as taking a step up a flight of stairs. ‘All you need to make change happen is to take that first step,’ is a commonly heard refrain. Truth is, it’s just not that simple.
If you’re wanting to make real change in the upcoming year, but have found it extremely hard to place one sluggish foot in front of the other, it’s likely there are both mental and physical cobwebs you need to remove first.
One of the biggest mental roadblocks, I’ve found, is the little guy with pitchfork in hand: your inner critic. It’s the part of your conscience that tempts you to believe the worst about yourself or your situation. The drudgery that preceded the first steps to pursue this site is a good example of this.
If I can muster the courage to ask why pursuing a blog professionally took as long as it did, I can pinpoint my pangs back to the pings of my inner critic: ‘A blog will take too long to develop,’ ‘If you wanted to do this, you should’ve started a long time ago,’ ‘There are just too many blogs. What makes you think your work will stand out in a deluge of content anyway?’
I was also influenced in large part by what I thought others expected of me. I thought my written work needed to be represented by an established syndication. But those supposed outside voices were being filtered through my own. Why did I let my inner critic stifle me for so long?
The short answer is it’s hard to face your fears. It’s much easier to bury your head in the busyness of our day-to-day. But if you’re going to make real change in this upcoming year, it’s imperative to silence your inner critic, and address those issues, real or imagined.
To help provide tips on how to do this, I lean on J.K. Rowling. The most successful author in modern history was a near-homeless mom once. She may know a thing or two about how to silence your inner critic. Here are five steps to help you silence your inner critic so you can make that first step towards change.
1. Make peace with your past. The main ammo your inner critic uses to keep you down, is by harking on your past failures. The hardest thing about regret is that we think the nature and scale of our mistakes belong exclusively to us and not those around us. In other words, what we need to move forward is to view failure differently. J.K. Rowling describes her once perceived failures this way.
“An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless… By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
“You might never fail on the scale that I did,” she told a graduating class at Harvard, “but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something. Unless you live so cautiously that you might as well have not lived at all. In which case you fail by default.”
I have spent countless nights wondering if I should’ve stayed in the safe confines of corporate finance doing work that made me feel unalive. I still question my decision. But I understand I’ve failed because I’ve been brave enough to seek more than just safety. So if nothing else, pat yourself on the back for your failures. It means you were willing to take a risk.
2.Hear what your inner critic is saying about you. Only in clearly hearing what your inner critic has to say, can you make a rebuttal. If you’re merely shooing the buzzing of your inner critic away, the ambiguity will only continue to distract you without your being able to swat it quiet.
So take some time to stare your inner critic in the face. What’s it really saying about you? Is your inner critic telling you your time as a stay-at-home mom has made you unemployable? Or is your inner critic telling you you’re stuck in a dead-end job? Or is your inner critic telling you you’ll never find stability again? Whatever your worst fears are, draw them out of your subconscious and bring them to the forefront of your consciousness. Then say it out loud. Write it down even. Your fears always look smaller outside the confines of your mind. Then find reasons why your inner critic shouldn’t have the final say.
3. Have the courage to admit what you want. It’s important to give definition to what you’re protecting your inner critic from. When you’re honest about what you truly want, you become protective of your goals. It’s the first form of defense against your inner critic.
The challenge in being honest about what you want is to hear your voice above that of everyone else’s. Here’s how Rowling did it.
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was. And began to direct all my energy into the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area, I truly believed I belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized. And I was still alive. And I still had a daughter whom I adored. And I had an old typewriter and a big idea. So rock bottom became the foundation on which I built my life.”
If you haven’t hit rock bottom, I’m not suggesting that you take the plunge. The benefits of rock bottom come by way of perspective anway. Try playing your life backwards instead. Did you know that the number one regret people have on their deathbed is that they wish they lived the life they wanted and not the life they thought everyone else expected? Life is too short. Ask yourself if you want this regret.
Sometimes what makes it hard to admit what we want is an unforeseeable path. Balancing responsibility with personal ambitions and goals is a tough act as a parent. So I’m not suggesting quitting your day job to pursue some idea you haven’t validated. But is there a way to pursue a bigger goal that may free up more of your time and add more quality life to your family, even if it means investing in just an hour a day? Try mapping out practical steps. Which brings us to our next point.
4. Break up your goals. If your life’s aspiration is to write a best-selling 8-book series, who wouldn’t become paralyzed? Instead, create smaller, digestible goals for how you’re going to achieve something.
My goal for Work Life Parent was and still is pretty lofty by my own standards. I want Work Life Parent to become a destination where moms can find not only advice and community but more flexible options for work. This isn’t something that can be chewed on in one bite. But by breaking it up, bit by bit, morsel by morsel, post by post, it felt more achievable. My inner critic didn’t have a lot to say about my ability to write a single post or article. I’ve done that many times.
5. Focus on what you can control. Letting go of what’s beyond our control requires a lesson in humility. If you believe that all of your successes were the result of your own work, and that all of your failures, in turn, are the result of your own doing, then how can you not become an obsessive control freak? The truth, if you’re willing to hear it, much of life is outside our control. I draw on J.K. Rowling once more.
“Life is difficult and complicated and beyond anyone’s total control. And the humility to know that will enable you to survive life’s vicissitudes.”
Knowing we can’t control it all can actually be incredibly liberating. It enables us to stop wasting time and focus on what we can control.
Don’t be blindsided. Your inner critic is a force to be reckoned with. It’s not background noise you can just shoo away. Left unchecked, it can paralyze you and keep you from taking life-changing first steps. Sometimes our inner critic echoes the voice of a loved one — or a hated one. But when it comes to what we hear in our own minds, ultimately we are the final filter. We have the final say in what we choose to hear and what we choose to ignore, in what we tell ourselves has happened to us and what will likely happen to us in the future. And learning how to silence your inner critic can mean the difference between taking that first step towards change or not.
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