Transforming Our Inner Critic

January 23, 2015

Everybody has an inner voice and it can help you think and guide your decision making. But what happens when that voice turns critical? In moderation, this can be helpful and even motivating. We can turn towards these critical voices, give them space, and find out what they are worried about so that we can release and relax. But, when that inner voice turns into a pessimistic monologue stuck on repeat or it multiplies into a whole committee of negative members, then issues arise.

The most common issue that results from an overactive inner critic is the impostor syndrome. The impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where people are unable to internalize their own accomplishments. They see their success as chance luck or good timing. They believe that in time, others will recognize what they believe to be true – that they are not smart enough and that, in fact, they are a fraud.

Sound familiar? It probably does, because this syndrome afflicts many scientists and many well-accomplished individuals. As an example, Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou reportedly said, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’”

Luckily, Angelou continued to write in spite of her inner critic. Take inspiration from her and begin to act on ways you can overcome your own inner critic.

Remember Your Achievements
Superstitious thinking often fuels the cycle of impostor syndrome, so think about your top three accomplishments. What are you the most proud of? Write these achievements down and then go into detail about everything you did in order to reach that goal. Be detailed and don’t be modest.

Reframe Self-Doubt Statements
“I can’t do anything right!” Respond to critical statements like this with a less universal and kinder viewpoint such as, “I had a rough day today; I hope tomorrow is better.” Take this a step further and instead of saying something vague like “I’ve had a rough day,” state the observation.  This is exactly what happened to me at this time/date/place. Observation is the highest form of communication and it can help lower the intensity of the emotion around that event.

Positive Affirmations
Saturday Night Live was on to something when they did skits featuring Stuart Smalley and his mantra “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” Come up with your own positive affirmations to combat moments when self-doubt pops into your head. It might take time to figure out the source of your self-doubt, but then create an affirmation that will directly combat that.

A helpful and free guided meditation podcast called “Getting Bigger than What Bugs You” can be found at Focusing Resources. Talking to mentors, peers, career counselors and therapists can also help immensely. You will most likely find out that you are not alone. You will never be able to fully silence your inner critic but hopefully, in time, you can turn down the volume.


Building Confidence for a Successful Career in 2014

February 25, 2014

Almost everyone faces challenges with confidence in the workplace at some point in their life.  Challenges with confidence can be more noticeable if we live or work in a culture that is different from the one in which we were raised.  Our family, cultural background and personal preferences may also affect our comfort with expressing ourselves in a confident way.  However, one can stay true to their values and still learn to express themselves confidently.  Two key steps to increasing your confidence include:

1.       Identify areas where you feel both confident and unsure.

In an article in Science Careers, Sharon Ann Holgate offers many useful suggestions about developing confidence.  She notes, “For those with low self-confidence, establishing appropriate metrics and measuring your progress against them can be difficult, so make sure to involve people you trust to offer honest feedback and support …Conversely, seeking out constructive criticism is important whenever you are feeling supremely confident about your job performance.”

The take away message from her article is that confidence needs to be grounded in reality. Seeking support and feedback are essential because we can both underestimate and overestimate our abilities.

2.       Practice confidence-building activities.

There is some interesting research from Harvard which indicates that your body language not only affects how others see you, but also how you feel about yourself. A power pose is to stand in a posture of confidence – standing tall and upright with shoulders squared and back. The simple act of power posing can have a positive effect on increasing confidence and reducing stress.  Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, shares how this works in her TED talk.

Confidence is often built over time with repeated practice, so seek opportunities to continue to develop your skills.  Start small in an environment that feels safe to you and push yourself to work from there. The OITE has many workshops that could be a great starting point in developing your confidence.  For example, do you feel uncomfortable asserting yourself in lab? Then, make a note to attend the workshop Speaking Up: How to Ask For What You Need in the Lab and in Life.  Are you feeling less than confident about your English speaking skills? Then, be sure to come to the two day class on Improving Spoken English.

Whatever the issue may be — self-doubt happens for many.  When it comes up for you, make sure you take time to recognize it and then take steps to make it more manageable for yourself.