I have a terrible habit. I get an idea – let’s say, to start a blog on something I’m interested in – reading self-development books, for instance. Initially I feel excited: “Wow, this will be fun! I love this topic, and it’ll be a great way to get chatting to likeminded people. Maybe I could set up a Facebook group for them too? Hey, I could organise a retreat – a week in Italy where we’d talk about our favourite books and how we’ve grown through reading them. It’ll be SO much fun!” Then – some of you will already know what’s coming next – the inner critic pipes up. You know her: that unhelpful voice in your head that, in a bid to keep you feeling safe, will do anything to talk you out of leaving the comfort zone. She says: “Yeah, but that would be a LOT of work, and would take up so much time – what if you are ill or too busy at work and can’t post in your Facebook group? You’d let everyone down. And it’d be hard finding a suitable place for the retreat, and people wouldn’t want to travel, and what if they have a terrible time and post bad reviews on social media? Or you might get trolled. That would be really upsetting. It doesn’t sound safe.” And just like that all the energy and fizz fades away and another potentially fun thing to do ends up going nowhere. All because I allowed my inner critic free rein to push me into a spiral of catastrophising.
It’s as if I have a pack of seeds, and I’m just about to sow them when, in my mind’s eye, they’ve become a forest of thirty-foot trees that might keel over and smash my house down. Or, I think “what’s the point of planting that seed? Hardly any of them will germinate, and even those that do will take ages to grow to a decent size, and in the meantime they might get eaten by caterpillars. I just don’t know how this is going to turn out, so I won’t bother”.
Chatting to a coach friend I mused that rather than focusing on the outcome of things and only committing if I can see a guaranteed return (because when in life does that happen?!) I’d like to develop a more curious, adventurous mindset of doing small things that might seem a bit aimless, purely for the enjoyment of them in the moment, rather than what they might lead to. The way I used to as a child before time became a precious commodity, and self-doubt kicked in. She challenged me to spend a fortnight doing one tiny thing every day that was a little out of my comfort zone, just for the pleasure of it, without being attached to any outcome. Even better if it meant taking a bit of a risk. And to allow my inner wise woman to override my inner critic.
On the first day I noticed a Tweet from a senior colleague about a call for short submissions to an academic journal. Inner critic said “You’ve never done this before, the other writers will all be experienced researchers, why would they be interested in what you have to say? It’s not paid, and it won’t get you a promotion, why spend the time?” My inner wisdom said “It’ll be a good opportunity to learn. Just email your colleague with an idea and ask for honest feedback”. I received an enthusiastic offer to support me with the submission, and also a request to discuss my research and how it could benefit our workplace.
Day two I started writing a short proposal – my next challenge will be to send it, and take on board the feedback, if it’s not 100% positive, without becoming discouraged.
On the third day I told friends on Facebook about my challenge and asked if this tendency to self-sabotage was familiar, and if anyone would like me to create a workshop to explore it. Ten people said “yes” immediately, so now I’m putting together a session plan (before inner critic gets the chance to say “who are you to be running a workshop? You can’t help anyone!”) I started designing some PowerPoint slides, and reading some background material.
Next day I told a work colleague about the session and she said “You should do that here, it’d be so useful” so I quickly sent out an email invitation – inner critic didn’t even get to draw breath on this one!
Today I was invited to take a useful but usually quite expensive psychometric test for free. It came about as a result of contacting someone for information about a lecture I was giving – which was in itself a favour for a colleague. “What??” complained inner critic. “Aren’t you busy enough without adding in extra work? It won’t lead anywhere, you know!” She was wrong though – it led to an interesting conversation, making a new connection, establishing myself as someone with a little expertise, and I’ll learn more about myself as a result of the test.
So after just a few days I have challenged my expectations of myself, helped some other people, got others interested in the things I enjoy, and have gained so much in return. Who knows where else these small actions may lead? Maybe nowhere, but it will have been enjoyable and rewarding as a complete experience.
I’m looking forward to planting a few more of these seeds and seeing what comes up. Why not join me? What small things could you do in the coming days to show your inner critic that it’s worth taking tiny risks? And that even if acorns don’t lead to mighty oaks it can be fun planting them anyway. Even if you don’t benefit, a squirrel somewhere might!
Claire Robertson, Ollie Coach
Claire Robertson is an Ollie Coach and NLP practitioner with a degree in psychology. She runs a private practice in the West Midlands, in the heart of Shropshire, working with children, young people and adults. Claire is also a university lecturer specialising in business, marketing and supporting students, has two children, and enjoys reading, crafts and walking.
To get in contact with Claire, email Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us
Image credit: Jen Theodore, Unsplash