Making peace with your inner critic – to create better solutions
“It’s perfect.” Tom, my customer, doesn’t move one muscle in his face. “Really perfect…”
I know it is.
I worked two weeks on it. Day and night. It’s a fully customized click dummy. Shows how life would be with our software. As a BDR. Sales rep. Service manager. Marketeer. Executive. User journeys tuned to the last bit and byte.
Every button sits right, is labelled right, is colored right. I know. I researched it. Did discoveries. Many of them.
That voice in my head kept me going. Saying: Not. Good. Enough.
Anyway, Tom’s approval makes up for it.
“…it’s TOO perfect. I cannot use it. Nobody will believe we could EVER pull this off. That’s too far off from where we are today.”
My jar drops.
“But Thank you. Great job!”
I screwed up. Big time. But why? How?
The voice I heard: my inner critic. I am a perfectionist. You’re probably too, if you’re SE. Inner critics are loudest here. I let mine take over.
(a) Shifted my focus from Tom to me. Empathy toggled off.
(b) Cared more about tech than its purpose for Tom.
(c) Lost Tom, lost the deal, Tom lost a great solution.
My lesson: Screw the buttons. People first.
Easier said than done, though…
What if you made peace with your inner critic?
If you are a sales engineer, a solutions consultant, or in any sort of presales capacity, chances are high you are both empathic and analytical. You are prone to structure and content. To creation and genuine human interaction, too.
If that’s true about you, chances are also high that you have a very active inner critic. Wondering “Is my work good enough?“, “Am I good enough?“.
Don’t let your inner critic drown your analytical thinking, or your creative process. Ever. Easier said than done, I know. What helps me (a lot) is Stoicism. Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus. Bear with me. Ain’t no super-intellectual stuff to impress. Simple words of wisdom. Written down about 2,000 years ago, yet more contemporary than ever.
“First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do.”
Visualize your future self, assess what you know today, analyze how you get from here to there. Make a plan to become your future self, and execute it. Focus on this path and tune down distractions. Keep asking yourself: “Why am I doing this now? What good is coming from this? Who am I doing this for?” Be assured that sticking to a plan will add to your confidence and help in any dialog with your inner critic.
“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.”
So you failed facilitating your first design thinking workshop? Your customer thought your demo was confusing? You stuttered during your speech in front of the CDO? Guess what: IT’S OKAY! We all have been there! Take a moment, take a breath, understand what happened and why – this time your inner critic might even have a helpful suggestion on what to adjust. Carry on then. Don’t quit on your plan.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Mind over body. Simple. We select a set of data from our observed reality based on our biases. Add meaning and assumptions to it. Draw conclusions. Adopt beliefs about how the world is, and act on it. That’s called the Ladder of Inference. Things per se have no meaning. We interpret things and give them meaning. We nurture our inner critic, a vicious circle of self-doubt. That’s destructive. You can’t have that – you want to be creative, confident, convincing.
What’s the way to break that circle?
I suggest consciously working with the Ladder of Inference as a mindtool. Pause, breathe, reflect. Here are steps to work your way through the ladder, adjust your reasoning, and get some perspective on your inner critic.
Presales Lessons Learned: Treat you inner critic as a friend, not a foe. Learn tools to calibrate your reasoning. Learn how to focus and clear your head for creative work. Know the difference between “perfect“, and “good enough” – know when to aim for what.
We all have an inner critic. It’s how we react that changes what we create.