First, bust your own illusions about their confidence. All of us are grappling with self-doubt. One law firm I recently worked with surveyed its mid-level female employees and found that self-doubt was their main struggle at work. Think about that: These are high achieving women in demanding careers, facing many challenges, and this is the struggle they named as most significant.
Also, more years of experience and accomplishments don’t necessarily mean more confidence. In a recent KPMG study, professional women were asked about their levels of confidence at work. Less than half of entry-level women said they felt confident at work, but strikingly, this number changed little as women advanced, with only 10 percent more senior women reporting they felt confident. Experience, accomplishments, and promotions did not make a significant difference for most of them.
But more deeply, if you find you’re envying what you perceive as others’ confidence, I’d take that as a soul cry that it is time to change your relationship with your inner critic. Envy is just a mirror, there to reflect whatever is inside of you that’s not being expressed or dealt with.
How do we quiet our inner critic–or choose not to listen to it?
We’ve all heard the advice that as women, we should be more confident. But that is not actionable advice. In the work I do with women, we are not trying to get rid of our inner critics, because the truth is, when we’re doing the important things that scare us, especially those things that are still counter-cultural or groundbreaking for women to do, we are often going to feel self-doubt. We can’t afford to wait on confidence to get going. Instead, we can learn to hear the inner critic voice but not take direction from it. To that end, here are three practices you can do in the moment, when self-doubt comes up:
1. Name and notice.
A first step is simply to notice the inner critic when it shows up. For so many of us, the voice of self-doubt has become the background music we live with. We don’t notice or question it. When you hear that self-critical voice, silently say to yourself, “Oh, there’s my inner critic.” When we do this, we immediately become the observer of this voice, rather than mindlessly identifying with it. This lets us not be a victim but rather gives us agency for how we respond to it.
2. Create a persona for your inner critic.
Take a character from film or literature that fits your inner critic’s personality, or make up your own imagined character to personify your inner critic. Then, when you hear those inner critic thoughts, see them as coming from this character. This brings some humor and helps us take its judgments less seriously. It also helps us remember this voice is not the core of us, but just one of many voices within us.
3. Compassionately see your inner critic’s motivations.
Remember that the inner critic always speaks up in an attempt to protect us from some possible emotional pain, but that it’s likely being overprotective and irrational. Whenever you hear an inner critic thought, ask yourself, “What does my safety instinct not like about this situation?” Suddenly the whole situation looks very different. You might realize, “Oh, of course my safety instinct doesn’t like the idea of me pitching this big potential client, or taking on this leadership role.” Then you can have compassion for that scared part of you and move forward without confusing the inner critic narrative with the truth.
What are the short-term and long-term benefits of doing this?
When we aren’t ruled by the inner critic, we can do so much more of what we want to do: We can go for the careers we’re really longing for; we can speak up about our ideas; we can reach out to the people we want to be connected to. On a personal level, it means less hiding because of what the inner critic may be saying to us about our bodies or ourselves. If you’re a parent, it brings the opportunity to parent in a way that is more easeful, and more connected to your own intuition and values. Doing inner critic work has effects in every aspect of our lives.
Tara Mohr is an expert on women’s leadership and well-being. She is the author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead, and the creator of the Playing Big online courses for women. To learn more, visit www.taramohr.com.