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Everyone has an inner voice that talks to them — the part of your mind that constantly judges you and tells you what to do. This inner voice can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It can encourage you to take risks and innovate as your biggest fan, or it can be out of control as your worst critic, berating you every time you make a mistake, sapping your motivation to get up and try again.
People who work in high-tech often have especially harsh inner critics who tell them they don’t belong where they are, a mind-state which has been called “imposter syndrome.” People with imposter syndrome think thoughts like, “If only they knew the true me, I wouldn’t be here,” “I’m incompetent,” and “I’m not good enough.” They think they are imposters who have fooled everyone around them to get where they are.
Imposter syndrome is widespread at every level in high-tech. Believe it or not, your CEO may sometimes doubt that she is qualified for her position. The VC who funded your company may think he’s just gotten lucky. And your Head of Finance may worry that he doesn’t have what it takes to get your company to the next level.
Evolution has primed us with a default mindset that focuses on avoiding and eliminating threats. Our ancestors would not have survived without it, and the evaluations and judgments that come with it are still essential for self-protection in high-risk situations. However, when we over-apply evaluations and judgments to ourselves, we become the threat we need to control. That’s when the inner critic takes charge.
When we don’t know how to effectively respond to our inner critics, we feel anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed. Learning to cope with our harsh evaluations of ourselves can bring us a little more peace and freedom, even when life is stressful. The first step is to become aware of our inner critics and accept that they are there.
The problem with self-critical thoughts is not that we have them. The problem is that we let them dictate our actions. If a thought like “I’m no good at this” shows up, do you believe it and give up on what you are doing? Or do you simply notice it and keep moving?
You can learn to become more aware of these thoughts and prevent them from taking charge of your life. This doesn’t mean ignoring them. They will continue to show up whether we like them or not. Instead, it means learning to simply notice them as they occur and not follow where they lead. This skill has many names, but I like to call it “disentangling.”
Disentangling is different from what we usually try to do with self-critical thoughts. You’ve probably noticed it rarely helps to argue with them. You already know you didn’t end up where you are because you’re incompetent. Disentangling isn’t about making self-critical thoughts go away or replacing them with more positive thoughts. Rather, it’s about separating yourself from them so that you can make better choices in your work and life.
Some great disentangling techniques come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a science-based treatment for stress, anxiety, and other problems.
Here are a few:
We can’t silence our inner critic for good, but we can prevent it from running our lives. We are more than our thoughts, and they don’t have to define us.
Lyra can offer additional resources such as connecting you to a therapist if your self-critical thoughts are leading to significant distress. You can learn to lead to a life centered more around actions that inspire you and less around your uncontrollable negative mind-train.
If Lyra is offered by your employer, you can get started today. Sign up now.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Aptekar, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in using acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and other evidence based therapies. At Lyra, she manages clinical programs, develops content for workshops, and conducts therapy for high-tech employees.