"It isn’t good enough," said the negative inner voice in psychoanalyst Marion Woodman’s head. "You haven’t anything new to say. You don’t say it well enough.’"
Like Woodman, who was writing her book Addiction to Perfection at the time, many women struggle to ignore an inner voice of negative self-talk that repeatedly seeks to undermine our work.
This voice in our minds does everything it can to embarrass and undermine us, and it does so especially when we are putting ourselves forward or expressing ourselves in front of an audience.
Our inner critics manifest themselves in all kinds of scenarios, like these ones my colleagues and I have heard from some of our clients. They include:
- A financial planner making a presentation to colleagues hears a voice in her mind saying, "You’re going to fail. Not everyone in the room wants you to do well. They’ll be thinking, ‘She’s done well up until now. Let’s see if she can handle this or if she falls on her face.’"
- A managing director hears, "You’re losing deals. You’re such a failure. Don’t expect to win this one."
- A manager returning to work after a maternity leave thinks, "Everyone will be watching my every move, wondering if I am up to the challenge. They’ll be testing me, judging me, and looking for signs of fatigue."
- An entrepreneur hears an inner voice saying to her, "What if you fail? Maybe you shouldn’t have given up that secure job. Are you crazy?"
- A woman sitting at a meeting knows the answer to an issue being raised, but questions, "What if they think I’m wrong? Maybe I should just keep quiet."
Women often have louder inner negative voices than men because we have been socialized not to stand out—so when we seek to do so, our inner voice challenges us.
But we don’t have to live with the sound of this cackling crow. There are many things we can do to silence or soften that negative voice. Here are five ways you can do so:
I once asked an audience of 200 women, "Do you have an inner crow?" Heads all around the room nodded in confirmation. So I asked the participants in our women’s seminar to write down on a piece of paper the things that their inner critics say.
Becoming aware of this negative inner voice is the first step in silencing it. It allows you to separate that voice from your own and realize it is not necessarily you talking.
One of the most simple but powerful to take away the critic’s power is by refusing to repeat out loud what it says to you. After all, no one else hears it.
As one woman in our seminar said, "You may think you’re fat, or look in the mirror and say, ‘Oh my god, look at that body!’ But what you see is not an image that the rest of the world sees. Don’t call attention to these negative self-perceptions."
The whole world doesn’t need to know about every mistake, slip-up, or inner critique, so keep it to yourself.
Your negative inner voice feeds on your insecurities, so anything you do to bolster your confidence will diminish its power.
Preparation is crucial here. As one woman explained, "I have weekly calls with my senior leadership team. I used to be nervous about them and went in cold, without preparing anything. But now I actually take time to think about what I want to say. This eliminates some of my self-doubt."
Replace the critic’s voice with your own confident inner voice.
One woman told me she kept repeating, "I am the program manager. I am the program manager. I am the program manager," before giving a important presentation.
By repeating this positive self-talk this she was able to drive her positive message home and replace her negative voice with her own positive thoughts.
Chances are when you’re sitting at a meeting, there are times when you feel afraid to put your hand up to speak. You may fear that what you say will not come out clearly. You may fear that others will disagree with you.
Challenge yourself to defy this negative thought and put your hand up anyway. The more you do this, the more the critic’s voice will fade.
In university I forced myself to put my hand up once in every class. It worked, and eventually I didn’t feel reluctant to do so anymore.
Adapted from Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed, by Judith Humphrey. Copyright © 2014 by Judith Humphrey. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.