There is an inner critic inside all of us who is constantly scrutinising and criticising our every action. Our inner Critic can be far more vicious than that we might hear from the outside. Our inside have intimate knowledge of us and can zero in on our weak points. This can be damaging to our self-esteem and self-image and holds us back from achieving what we want to. We end up beating ourselves up about not being and doing good enough.
Your Inner-Critic is developed by your constant self-talk. You might be told by this critic that you are not competent or intelligent enough, and the other things that you don’t like about yourself. Sometimes the guilt of what ifs caused by this critic can make it difficult to accomplish your goals and you can have tough time to let go of the never ending story of imperfections that are created by it.
Is Your Inner-Critic always damaging?
More often, your Inner-Critic is the baddest and biggest bully that keeps you from making progress and delays you from becoming the best version of yourself. But at the same time, this may not be true always. Your critical inner self can also be an effective motivator and a protector. Your Inner-Critic is judging you in order to protect you from hurt and pain. It helps you in being cautious, in perfecting something, in getting successful and intelligent.
Most of the times, It tries to fit you into a perfect ‘self’ by prescribing some rules and attacks you when you try to violate them. Even though it gets you acquainted with your imperfect self or with the things you don’t like about yourself, it need not make you less acceptable. Instead, by establishing a positive connection, you can come up with constructive self-criticism and can turn that into a taskmaster. This will get you to work hard or to be disciplined or to avoid being mediocre.
Know what your Inner-Critic is doing for you.
Your critical self is made of opinions that come from the environment you live in, parents, teachers, peers, media and from your own conclusions. It is a voice based on your so formed beliefs. To know whether your inner voice is helping you or lowering your self-worth, it is important to know which type it belongs to according to the following:
If your inner voice has high standards of behaviour and performance then it tries to get you to do things perfectly. On the downside, it might prevent you from creating anything for the fear of not being good enough and can make you work forever trying to perfect something.
This inner voice tries to point out mistakes and attacks you for some of your past action or behaviour that has been harmful to you or to others. Because of the violation of a deep-help value, it takes you on a guilt-trip.
This critic tries to control your behaviour that might not be good for you or might be risky. It tries to be harsh in certain situations where you slip up.
This kind of inner voice tries to make you feel worthless and undermines your self-confidence. It undermines your confidence of taking up to difficult tasks and keeps you away from taking risks so that you won’t fail.
This critic tries to state facts like — You are a loser, You will never amount to anything and so on and attacks on your fundamental self-worth. It shames you deeply thereby stopping you from taking action.
This critic tries to get you to fit a certain mould. It attacks you when you aren’t and praises you when you are thereby making you feel inadequate.
This gets you to work hard and to be disciplined in order to be successful. It can also lead to over-striving and workaholism.
By having a clear sense of what your Inner-Critic is, what it sounds like and how it is directing your behaviour, you can decide to either work with it or try and make necessary changes to make it into a constructive critic. You can do this by being aware of both its benefits and its consequences. Follow these steps to establish a positive connection with your Inner-Critic
Know your thought patterns
How you respond to your inner voice depends mostly on your thought patterns. Analyse your critical thoughts. Certain thought patterns may make you experience motivation and achievement. Others might be negative patterns acting as your enemies. Ask yourself the question: would you put up with a person saying negative things constantly about you? If you wouldn’t tolerate, then why put up with you own negative self. Identify the triggers and content of these negative patterns in order to break out of them.
Make a list of your self-critical statements
Writing down your self-critical statements heightens your awareness and allows you to take a closer look at their usefulness. Look at some of your statements that you wrote down and ask whether they are guilting or are they trying to protect you or improve you. Some of them can be negative beliefs you hold about yourself. How well these statements are serving their purpose? Come up with some alternatives or constructive statements to use next time when any of these pop into your head.
Challenge your Inner-Critic
Challenge your critical inner voice or statements to test their logic and authenticity. You will come to know how realistic their concerns are or if they are just unnecessary fears. Analyse how likely each of those things are true. Reframe some of these statements and get a correct perspective. Find the positive things about you — you as a person or your achievements and focus on these when your Inner-Critic tries to break you down. Next time you hear your critic, ‘turn it off’ by replacing negatives and shifting your attention to something more positive.
Work on your self-esteem
People with very low self-esteem have a more vicious and demoralising Inner-Critic. It makes them stop being challenging and since they can’t live up to their own critical voice, they lose trust in their abilities. If you base your confidence on the evaluation of your achievements and the validation or approval of others, your confidence keeps varying every day. Keep it irrespective of these factors. Seeking validation from others leads to negative and unproductive thinking. Don’t let others’ opinion take control of your thoughts. Be confident in your own abilities. Higher the levels of your self-esteem, the more productive will be your Inner-Critic and its critical analysis of you.
Sometimes when you fail to meet your standards, your Inner-Critic because of its protective nature focuses on your short comings, triggers discontentment and prompts you to become defensive and avoidant. When you try to silence your inner self-talk, you tend to intensify its judgement. Instead try to approve yourself by viewing your mistakes with understanding and patience. Express empathy towards the fears held by your Inner-Critic. This way, you are more likely to take responsibility for your part and can focus on mending the situation.
Adopt a positive attitude
Adopting a positive attitude towards your life will free you from your damaging critical and negative self. Your Inner-Critic corrupts your mind and gradually pollutes your behaviour, emotions and your attitude. By developing a positive attitude, you get freedom from your inner voice like ‘How can I achieve that?’, ‘I am incapable of doing that’, ‘No, I am not good enough for this’, ‘I am a failure’, ‘what if something goes wrong?’, and similar thoughts. Inner-Critic makes you succumb to your fears and prevents you from taking a step forward because it makes you feel incapable of doing something. By keeping a positive attitude, you need not surrender to them and you can make yourself strong enough to stand your ground. You become free and liberated and can see different possibilities.
Replace negative words with positive
What kind of words do you usually tell yourself? Are they helpful?, or do they make you feel burdened. When you say things like, ‘I cannot get anything done’, or ‘I am sure I will fail’ and so on can make your Inner-Critic more strong in making you believe that you cannot improve and are incapable of doing something. Therefore these words need to be eliminated. Replace them with positive and affirmative phrases. For instance, When you find yourself thinking ‘ I am not good enough for this job,’ you can tell yourself ‘I may not be the best at this job, but I will learn to improve.’
Stay clear of using phrases like I already know, I’m sure, as they make you burdened with the responsibility of doing something in a certain way as this leads to self-doubt and you might lose yourself to negative thinking. Don’t resign to the fact that you will never be able to do something just because your Inner-Critic is telling you so.
• Be conscious of your Inner-Critic.
• Make your Inner-Critic work for you and not against you.
• Don’t let your Inner-Critic’s ‘you-can’t’ suppress your ‘Can-do’ attitude.
• Remember that your Inner-Critic is just one part of you and not whole of you.
• Take your Inner-Critic seriously when it comes to correcting your faults and weaknesses.
• Practice positive self-talk. Cultivate a habit of using words like ‘can’, ‘will’ and ‘yet’.
All of us do our best to achieve our goals. It is not always easy, there are probably times where we think we could do more. Our Inner-Critic will always beat us up about not doing enough. But if we spend more time feeling guilty about it, the less time we will spend putting positive steps in place to achieve our goals. Do not let your Inner-Critic try convincing you to give up. Instead make a positive connection and work with it in order to reach your goals.
The ability to produce quality work and the ability to quickly master hard things is an important requisite in today’s work environments. The process of using rapidly changing technologies requires that you hone the ability to learn increasingly complex set of relevant skills. To be able to transform these skills into valuable results, your attention needs to be focused without any distractions. But in today’s technologically advanced world, producing quality work at an optimal rate has become a difficult task as we embrace distractions at various levels and this decreases our ability to do high quality and meaningful work. The main culprit being the culture of connectivity where one is expected to respond quickly to a mail or to a message. Checking mail and social networking sites, surfing the web, and visual mediums have become major obstacles in cultivating a deep work habit.
Here are certain behaviours that distract you from quality work.
Trying to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously, your attention remains divided. There will be a residue of your attention that remains when you switch from one task to another. Those who experience attention residue after switching tasks are more prone to distractions.
Constant need for connectivity
Workplaces with trends like active presence on social media might create more opportunities to collaborate but they do so at the cost of many distractions. We increasingly becoming the victims of online distractions. They fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate. They tend to pull your attention thereby weaken your willpower to focus on important things.
Without any built-in goals, rules and challenges you cannot produce work of real value. When you lack planning and cannot figure out what you should be working on and for how long results in shallow work and short-term gains.
By sending and answering mails at all hours, scheduling and attending meetings constantly, instant messaging within seconds when someone poses a query —all these behaviours make you seem busy but do not always result in high value work.
Lack of priority
Our dependence on connectivity results in paying attention to irrelevant things. When you lose focus on really important things, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong instead of what’s right giving into frustration,stress and triviality. These shallow concerns take up most of your time thereby keeping you away from doing quality work.
Many of us assume that we can transform our working life from distracted to focused overnight and that we can switch between a state of distraction and one of concentration as needed, but once you are wired for distraction, you begin to crave it and it becomes difficult to bring your focus back with one time decision to think or work deeper. Your brain becomes accustomed to on-demand distraction and is hard to change the habit even when you want to concentrate. You will struggle to achieve higher levels of concentration unless you disconnect yourself from these distractions.
You have to make your deep work a priority to meet your personal and professional goals. By integrating the habit of doing high quality and meaningful work into your schedule and supporting it with routines and rituals, you will be able to achieve your concentration ability.
The following strategies can help you maximise your personal ability to produce quality work. By adapting to some personal work habits, you can take more effective action towards your goal of achieving real results.
Schedule your work
Scheduling eliminates shallow obligations by having a highly valued professional or personal goal. By dedicating some clearly defined stretches of time to vital tasks, you can leave the time for not so important ones. By developing routines, by making sure little bit gets done on a regular basis, you can fit deep work habit whenever you can into your schedule. To make most of your time, build rituals of the same level of strictness.
Focus on your ‘priorities’
Your work should be aimed at small number of important goals. Simplifying and focusing on priorities will improve your intensity to get valuable results. Identify a small number of outcomes to pursue with your quality work hours. Spending more time doing quality work may not generate lot of enthusiasm. Instead have a specific goal that would return tangible benefits.
Work on the ‘lead measures’
Lag measures describe the thing you are trying to improve and lead measures are the hours spent working on your important goals. Lag measures cannot immediately generate a noticeable change in your ability to reach your goal. You cannot change your behaviour as the performance that driven them is already in the past. Lead measures on the other hand, turn your attention to improving the behaviours you directly control in the near future and will have a positive impact on your long-term goals.
Keep a scoreboard
By recording and tracking the hours spent doing quality work or your lead measure, creates a sense of competence and drives you to focus on these measures even when there are distractions. Keeping track of quality work hours with simple tally of tick marks maximises your motivation. Your scoreboard can help you understand what leads to bad days of work and most important, to figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead. This way, you can disconnect with your distractions to keep a compelling scoreboard and can create a pattern of accountability.
Set expected time of completion for your important tasks on your priority list. You can motivate yourself by setting a countdown and can work with greater intensity and with no distractions. You can plan on taking occasional break from focus to give into distractions. By providing interval training for the attention centres of brain, you can minimise the number of times you give into distractions.
Apply the ‘law of vital few’
Many different activities can contribute to you achieving your goals. According to the law of vital few, only twenty percent of theses activities provide the bulk of the benefit. By listing some of your distinct and beneficial activities for each of your life goals, the top two or three such activities only make most of the difference in whether or not you succeed. Try to list only those which are specific to your goal.
Structure your ‘leisure time’
Don’t use networking tools for entertainment when it comes relaxation as they weaken your mind’s general ability to resist distraction thereby making it difficult for you to concentrate later when you really want to. Structure your leisure time by filling your free time with something of more quality than instead of allowing your mind to be lost in unstructured web surfing and other distractions. If you give your mind a quality alternative, you’ll end the day more fulfilled and can begin the next day more relaxed.
strengthen your distraction-resistant muscle by practicing productive meditation. You can do this when you are occupied physically but not mentally by focusing on a single well-defined professional or personal problem or a hard task. When faced with hard tasks, your mind will attempt to avoid them by looping over and over again on what you already know. By structuring your thinking, you will be able to redirect your attention to the next step and will be able to set a specific target for your attention. This way, you can strengthen your distraction-resistance and sharpen your concentration.
Distraction remains a destroyer of deep and meaningful work. Try and optimise your efforts and keep them structured by following above mentioned strategies.
Take back the control of your time and attention from the many distractions that attempt to steal them by making your deep goal a mental priority.
“We need to focus on the present moment, the only one we can really live in, to be truly effective.”
Ability to manage our attention is an important determinant of our success. But we are continuously bombarded by external events in our daily life and experience various distractions and information overload all the time. Most of us never go beyond a narrow, personalised sense of self that is conditioned by past and an anticipated future which is far from present. As a result, our ability to pay attention at will comes under control by external factors and by our past conditioning. We constantly attach thoughts and feelings to external factors, events from past and imaginary future. Because of this, the world around and people in particular come to be perceived as threatening. We begin to judge and the need to compete and dominate arises. Our perceptions and interpretations change and we take actions based on anger, despair, fear and frustration. The actions thus taken generate an automated cycle of negative behaviour where we tend to react to everything automatically without any present moment awareness and attention.
Performing right actions comes down to making right choices and this requires the ability to pay attention to the present moment. Giving full attention to whatever the moment present is possible only through complete acceptance, because you cannot give your full attention to something at the same time resist it.
Importance of acceptance
Accepting yourself unconditionally fosters your efforts to attain your highest potential and encourages you to live up to the highest in you. The non-evaluative observation of ‘what is’ without distortion through mindful acceptance and attention allows you to break the automatic response to the external events by disrupting the unconscious progression of thoughts and emotions. You can bring peace by connecting to your true self. This helps in promoting physical and emotional well-being by removing stress and inner conflict.
Acceptance means positive action
To some people, acceptance may have negative connotations, implying defeat, giving up, lethargy and so on. They might think by always accepting the way things are, they are not going to make any efforts to improve them. True acceptance does not mean to passively put up with whatever situation you find yourself in and to do nothing about it. Nor does it mean to cease initiating positive action. Accepting the present moment unconditionally is to let go inner resistance to ‘what is’. Inner resistance is to say ‘no’ to ‘what is’ through mental judgment and emotional negativity. Acceptance of what is does not mean that you cannot take action and change the situation. You don’t need to accept undesirable life situation, but just narrow your attention to the present moment without mentally labelling it in any way. Action with no resistance, no judgment, and no emotional negativity results in positive action and is far more effective than negative action, which arises out of anger, despair or frustration.
If you find your life situation unsatisfactory or even intolerable, it is only through acceptance that you can break the unconscious resistance pattern that perpetuates the situation. Acceptance is the starting point. Unless there is complete acceptance, we will never develop the willingness to change ourselves. This is true for every experience, addiction and weakness. Accepting your true self and of ‘what is’, you can begin to take action, initiate change or achieve goals.
Practice accepting ‘what is’
Focusing on the present moment through conscious acceptance allows you to improve your attention by breaking the automatic feeling-thought-action cycle. Acceptance allows you to take wiser decisions and enables you to cultivate a more balanced relationships. Here is how you can practice acceptance.
• Do not be concerned with the fruit of your action. Give attention to the ‘doing’ than the result that you want to achieve and in time you will be freed from what now seems impossible.
• Accumulation of past in your psyche reinforces false sense of ‘self’ by denying the present moment. You don’t need the past moment, refer to it only when it is relevant to present.
• Don’t be a ‘habitual waiter’, waiting to achieve your goals — with every kind of waiting, you reduce the present moment to a means to an end leading to non fulfilment and dissatisfaction. Strive to achieve your goals but don’t use them to substitute for the feeling of being, whole and complete.
• Watch your thoughts as well as your reactions in various situations. Notice how often your attention is in the past or future. Make it your practice to withdraw attention from past and future when they are not needed.
• Practice meditation to rediscover your unconditional self. Notice your breathing patterns and observe your thoughts and emotions. Accepting your situation through being mindful helps you gain focus and clarity about what triggers certain feelings and emotions.
• Practice focusing your attention in the present moment while eating, drinking, working and while communicating. This reduces stress and anxiety, as well as increases your emotional intelligence. Giving your complete attention to what you do results in empowered action.
• Avoid labelling every perception and experience. When you mentally name or label a situation in some way as undesirable or bad, you tend to personalise the resentment which in turn brings a reactive “me.” Break this habit by practicing “not naming.” Don’t name an experience as “bad” and instead bring an inner “yes” to it.
• When you are unhappy, stay totally with what is. Do not unconsciously designate your deficient sense of self through being ‘right’ and making something ‘wrong’. This leads to reactivity and creates conflict between your external circumstances at that moment. Instead of complaining about the circumstances, accept. This will allow you to make peace and you will be able to turn to present.
• Patiently work with your difficulties. Acceptance builds trust into the current situation and you can focus on underlying opportunities.
Notice how total are you in what you do or in your daily activities.
Watch how it feels like when you don’t want to be where you are — the traffic, work place, the people you are with, dealing with the countless things that make up your daily life — accept the ‘isness’ of the moments in your life. Whatever your life situation is,
practice completely accepting it as it is — where you are, who you are with, or what you are doing. This improves your full attention to the moment and your doing becomes more effective, fulfilling and joyful.
“Pause and remember— When you fight reality, you will lose every time. Once you accept the situation for what it truly is, not what you want it to be, you are then free to move forward.” — Jenni Young
Problems exist everywhere and may arise in all facets of our lives. They are natural part of any work related or business related process. These problems block our progress if not addressed or solved. When we fail to solve these problems, we often learn to work around them or simply learn to live with them. But they can be solved and focusing on finding solutions to problems that arise empowers us and will benefit our personal and professional lives.
It may not be clear what the problem is unless it comes to light. Understanding the problem is important in order to know whether to spend the time or money to find a solution. As a problem solver, you need to understand how the system meant to work and the fundamentals that affect the problem so you can follow a systematic approach. You can find solutions to almost any kind of problem in a methodical and disciplined way.
Here are some do’s and don’ts when diving into problem-solving.
Understand the problem
When we face a problem, we tend to come up with many ideas of what might be wrong and how to fix it and quickly get to work without proper understanding. Anytime you come up with a potential cause that you are not certain of ‘you are guessing’. Guessing is naturally reinforced throughout our lives and we like it because it is quick and works for some of easy problems.
Guessing has number of drawbacks as itrobs you of your time and resources to test every guess. With a long list of your guesses, you will end up wasting both and worse sometimes you may miss out the root cause on your list. You might cause new problems as you really don’t understand the root cause.
Next time around, when these guesses are going to bounce around and distract you, do not suppress, write down your guesses, recognise them for what they are and get them out of your system. Take time to analyse and understand the problem before you rush in to solve it.
“If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” – Naoto Kan
Do not Hide Behind Ignorance
We are often afraid to admit what we don’t know, because it is comforting to imagine that we already have a good idea of the solution to our problem and can take action. The fear of looking ‘ignorant’ or of being ‘exposed’ by asking questions one is “ supposed to know” causes many to hide behind their ignorance. You fail to solve the problem by pretending to know something you don’t under false understanding.
When you are in a problem solving situation, you must focus on learning what you do not yet know. You need not present yourself as all-knowing. Embrace your ignorance and challenge what ‘everyone knows’ by asking questions to make sure you have facts. These questions shatter assumptions and provoke new insight and gets you closer to the problem-solving.
Define the Problem
Get your problem definition right. The way you define your problem influences the solution. Not knowing the problem you are solving might lead to wasting your time and resources to fix something that was never the problem in the first place, whereas defining lets you have a measurable observation and you can remove guessing and emotional attachment to the problem.
Don’t get trapped into solving the wrong problem by defining with prejudice or assumption. Make sure to define your problem as something that is fully within your scope and precisely describing what you observe.
“A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved.” – Dorothea Brande
Don’t wander aimlessly, Generate Possible Solutions
Sometimes, we aimlessly wander around looking at too many things and reams of data. Instead try to ask specific questions about the behaviour of the problem and generate as many solutions possible.
Understand what is going on behind your problem and what controls your problem. Here are some questions to ask:
1. What does the problem look like?
2. Is it the same every time?
3. When did you first see this?
4. What pattern do you notice?
5. What is its cause?
Be detailed and thorough to know how the problem manifests and use the answers as guides. You can develop a pattern of failure to understand where the problem does and doesn’t happen. Try to find specific information and generate possible solutions. Consider about the positive and negative consequences and what you want the solution to do or not to do.
“You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability.” – Michael J. Gelb
Arrive at simple solutions
Many of us are used to a pattern of poor problem solving that we have come to believe that complex problems have complex solutions. The complex solutions tend to be often expensive and end up fixing the symptoms instead of the actual problem. Break your assumption and believe in simple solution to complex problems.
Once you understood the root cause,
evaluate them for their effectiveness by considering the following:
1. Does the solution solve the real problem?
2. What are the consequences of implementing the solution?
3. Would this solution help you solve the problem permanently?
This way, you can eliminate many of the variables that aren’t working and can arrive with best and simple possible solution.
Simple solution will always give you the most effective outcome and you will be able to approach the problem correctly rather than work around it.
Don’t make opinion-based decisions
If a particular problem that is ‘known to all’ is being solved, a common method is to use “wisdom of the group.” In solving such problems, do not use your assumptions about facts or the assumptions of others to make decisions, rather verify the facts yourself. Opinion-based decisions prevent progress and you might end up in a wrong direction and won’t solve the problem.
When solving your own complex problems, recognise your opinions for what they are and set them aside.
Use facts to determine which solution is most objectively valuable and has more impact. Be persistent in getting the right facts and make fact-based decisions.
“Your ability to solve problems and make good decisions is the true measure of your skill as a leader.” – Brian Tracy
Finally, Focus your efforts to stay on the solution-finding path and avoid distractions. Don’t get bogged down by expanding the scope of your problem endlessly. Instead break up your problem to eliminate the variables that are not contributing and dig into those you can’t eliminate. This keeps you on the path to the root cause.
Next time you are faced with a problem or an issue, try to structure your efforts systematically and focus on an organised approach to get to the possible solution.