In business many of us tend to present ourselves as extroverts to a greater or lesser degree.
Even those of us who are perhaps more naturally introverted must have highly developed people skills.
We have to continually project confidence to our teams, and demonstrate expert knowledge and empathy to both our clients and the wider world. This is all part of the great game of running your own business.
But as most of us know, behind the extrovert mask is often a seething mass of self-criticism and over-thinking. I would suggest there's actually very few of us who don't experience high levels of self-doubt or feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’.
The inner questions and contradictions we grapple with are, of course, many and varied but in my case include these:
- A tendency to be hard on myself and very self-critical. This is compounded by being incredibly competitive and a will to win that was drummed into me from my time in the military.
- My willingness to learn and adapt, and yet at the same time being stubborn when it comes to some issues and finding it hard to change direction.
- How do I become someone who makes some small measure of difference in the world, both my personal and business life? How do I actually measure this?
- Being driven and disciplined in some areas, and quite the opposite in others. I launch myself into what interests me with huge determination but constantly procrastinate over the smallest, quickest tasks because they don’t excite or motivate me. In this way I continually self-sabotage.
- Being more conscious of my work failures than my successes. I am my own worst critic, and sometimes feel I hold myself to a higher standard at work than my team mates. I readily accept they may not all agree!
- I often get so busy with work that I forget to take care of my own needs. Even on holiday I tend to work to some extent. I take calls, answer emails and have an inner voice which tells me this is what is required of me.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Negative 'mind loops'
If this resonates with you, apparently this is because we find ourselves stuck in 'mind loops'.
Mind loops are basically our default or learned settings in our heads. While generally useful, when added together these loops form our personal operating systems, for good or for bad.
We all have an inner critic, and this can impact our own degree of self-awareness.
This kind of constant internal questioning can become massively mentally and emotionally exhausting.
Working through a work-related issue or problem takes real commitment, and even more so if we listen to that inner critic.
If, like me, you are not a brilliant sleeper, the volume on the inner critic is turned up much louder in the wee hours.
This can lead to physical exhaustion and so creates a cycle of less than helpful behaviour.
As we get increasingly tired, we can become more entrenched in poor or unproductive behaviour.
Decisions to change direction may be delayed, stubbornness sets in and we may become reluctant to admit we were wrong on a particular issue.
It all comes down to self-awareness of these problems. Once this way of thinking has been acknowledged, we can start to reframe our usual courses of action in our own minds.
Turning down the volume
Doubt can be exhausting, and it takes time to turn down the volume on your inner critic, whether that's silencing it completely or at least holding it at bay.
But this is time we all need to take.
It might be time on our own or with loved ones, but it is time spent fully recharging our batteries.
Switching off from work and the intrusions of technology is a great first step.
Finding a trusted friend or a mentor to discuss issues with can also be incredibly helpful. I've had a constant mentor for over 20 years, as well as countless others who have helped me along the way.
Although I'd recommend finding a mentor, it obviously doesn’t have to be as formal as that.
It can mean keeping a diary or journal and writing every day. It can mean taking time out in the day just to go off and have a quiet think. I am told by my less dour friends that this should really be a daily practice, and is called mindfulness or even meditation!
There are a few other things that I've found to be helpful in managing the inner chatter.
A key one is learning to say no to overly demanding colleagues. Also, book holidays (and then actually take them), and build in time to work from home every now and then.
You could also consider setting yourself challenges outside of work, or becoming involved in other activities that would refresh and inspire.
I genuinely believe that a better quality of life follows. The intractable becomes less so.
To paraphrase the old saying: problems seen through the windscreen seem much smaller once viewed in the rear-view mirror.