Three times a year I run Safe Brave Circles - a group of 8 to 12 people rediscovering themselves and their personal purpose within an intimate and supportive community. Over a period of eight sessions, they create a Being ME profile. This is a one-pager that captures: 1) What I bring; 2) What I care most about; 3) How I work best; 4) What gets in my way; & 5) How & where I want to contribute (personal contribution commitment).
Once this is completed, they move on to create a Safe Brave Plan - a second one-pager, which documents a simple 6–12 month activation plan to bring their personal contribution commitment to life.
An Eye-opening Reality
One of the biggest insights that emerge early in the circle process is the realization that most of us have, at one time, had greater clarity around who we are and how we want to contribute, but over time seem to have lost sight of these truths. It is as if cataracts slowly build over our personal gifts and possibilities to a point that we no longer see clearly our potential or our path.
Although the loss of our ability to see is scary to discover, within the safe brave space of the circles, we begin to gain access to ideas and tools to restore our sight. Restoration, as with most things, begins with understanding and addressing the core causes.
A key contributor to my blurred vision: the inner critic.
Gaining Clarity By Dealing With The Inner Critic
What it is…
When I was a kid, I remember watching cartoons and seeing the classic angel and devil on the shoulders arguing back and forth and creating what I call, mind storms within the main character. This visual is the best representation of my inner critics, minus the angel. It is almost always when I chose to step bravely into something new or when I’m venturing into a space that is close to my passions and values. Most of the time when they show up it seems as if it is just a subtle whisper, a question, or even an inner funny look. They often include … “you aren’t or weren’t prepared”, “you don’t have the experience”, “who made you the expert?”, “that was embarrassing”, and “why don’t they listen to you?”.
How they impact…
When the critics arrive, I begin to spin. My focus of reality gets blurry and I get hyper-focused on untruths and/or exaggerated truths. I lose traction and I lose connection with myself and others. The ripple effect can be messy and can echo beyond myself to my family, my friends, and my colleagues.
What you can do…
The great news is that over the years I have learned some amazing techniques to understand and manage my critics to mitigate their impact on both myself and others. The first step is to find them, know them and name them.
Find them: A critic's arrival always creates an energy shift in your body. Heighten your senses to detect these, normally negative, energy spikes.
Know them: When they arrive, capture…
The critic’s message (don’t engage with it; just write it down).
The situation when the message arrived (where you were, what you were doing, who was there).
Your response (either actual or initial intention).
The outcome of your response.
Name them: Creating the critic profile:
The critic’s name (be creative, have fun with the name). A friend of mine calls hers stinky pickle and has a stuffed pickle by her desk as a reminder.
Their most common messages.
When they most regularly show up.
Becoming more aware of their arrival allows me to manage and mitigate them.
Three of my favourite methods to do this are:
‘Thank you, not now’ – the magic of taking ownership of the situation through these four words is astounding.
‘Leverage the happy birthday tune’ – I first heard this through Ian Cron. Simply take the critics messages and sing them to the tune of happy birthday. I was amazed how this simple step shifted me to laughter and helped put the thought into proper perspective.
Learn to SAIL – when the critics arrive:
S – Stop and breathe.
A - Acknowledge and allow (remember, energy/emotion is not you; it is simply happening to you).
I - Investigate. What might be behind this? How does it impact you and others when you feel this way? Is this helpful?
L - With this broader view, I then decide whether there was anything to learn and after that simply let go.
Critics Are Like Birds
Rishika Jain suggests that the worries and tension created by the critics are like birds. "We cannot stop them from flying near us. But we certainly can stop them from making a nest in our mind.” By more consistently applying some of the above exercises, I have been more successful in keeping those nests from being built and moving from critic to triggers to truth - rechanneling the negative energy towards positive action and expanding safe and brave spaces within myself.