Leaving Vader on the shelf and silencing my inner critic

“I can’t do that, I’m not good enough”.  Insight into the musings of my own inner critic ‘affectionately’ known as Darth Vader. The inner critic: that running commentary that we all have inside our heads that holds us back, puts us down and shames us.  It makes us think that we are not worthy or that in some way we are ‘not enough’. The same inner critic that so often knocks our confidence, stops us from making the change and transformation we want for ourselves and locking us into the paralysis of fear instead.

What is a saboteur?

There are numerous schools of thought on what the inner critic or saboteur is, how it manifests itself, why we have it and more importantly what to do about it. When I worked for Adobe I was lucky enough to attend a breakfast event where Nora Denzel was the speaker. What an inspiration she was.  For those that don’t know her she is on the Board of Directors for Ericsson and AMD, she has served on other boards and has a very impressive CV. Her credentials were not what inspired me though. What I found amazing was her ability to name, shame and speak about her own inner critic. I recall her referring to ‘the voices’ and how they would show up when she was feeling anxious or unsure in any given situation. The vulnerability and humility she showed in her inimitable self deprecating style is something that will always stay with me.

The fear of disconnection is more powerful than the desire for fulfilment

If we are honouring our values, are clear on our destination or vision, have spent time articulating our ‘why’ i.e. why all of those things are important to us, it follows that fulfilment should be just around the corner.  We should, in theory, be on a graceful path consciously heading in that direction. It makes sense and it is certainly a huge part of the work I do with clients. That said, we are all human and as Brene Brown eloquently describes in Daring Greatly we all have a strong desire for connection with other humans and belonging. In Coactive Coaching: Changing Business Transforming Lives it’s noted that often our fear is stronger than our desire for fulfilment and this is one of the primary reasons why we self-sabotage.  We fear the loss of connection with others and belonging.

Change incites the saboteur

As coaches, we sometimes notice this as a ‘disturbance in the force’ (I had to put that in given my ‘star wars’ theme!) We are trained to recognise the voice of the saboteur and help our clients hear it.  Often the saboteur will lobby for a cautious approach at a time when the best thing for the client is to take a risk.  Saboteurs like things to stay the same as that’s a safe place for them to hang out quietly. When we start thinking or talking about making a change to the status quo this is a rude awakening to any saboteur.  It sets off alarms and triggers negative thoughts and commentary to begin swirling through our minds. It’s my job as a coach to help you recognise that, to understand the impact it’s having and to enable you to take steps to loosen its grip over you.



Recognising your saboteur

So how do we recognise our own saboteur behaviour and become more resilient to its hold over us? Brene Brown talks about shame resilience and likens shame to ‘the gremlins’ from Steven Spielberg’s 1984 film noting that “shame derives its power from being unspeakable”.  If we are brave, vulnerable and aware enough to speak it and name it then we can stop it in its tracks in the same way that exposing the gremlins to light killed them.

Photo Credit: Daniel Arrhakis via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Tame your Gremlin

In Taming Your Gremlin Rick Carson talks about the “vile, vicious, villainous, insufferable bully lurking in the shadows of your very own mind”.  Your gremlin is not only your inner critic and your negative thoughts but the source of them.  It has overzealous control over your life and living. Carson takes you on a journey of self-discovery teaching that noticing and observing your gremlin behaviour over time allows you to acknowledge it for what it is.  By putting it to one side you will start to appreciate and enjoy life more. So the notion of self-awareness and realising how ‘your gremlin’ is holding you back is key to freeing yourself from its clutches.

Take the test

Shirzad Chamine takes this to an even deeper level in Positive Intelligence where he sets the scene by asking why feelings of fulfilment can be fleeting “when we achieve what we thought would bring us lasting happiness”.  Observing that “new leadership skills acquired in workshops soon give way to old habits”.  He notes that we are being tortured and punished and that the torture is self-inflicted. “The reason so many of our attempts at improving our success or happiness fizzle is that we sabotage ourselves. More precisely, our own minds sabotage us”. There is great detail about identifying the sorts of self-sabotage we most commonly display as individuals and an online test on his website to allow us to discover our saboteur for ourselves.  I recommend it to the majority of my clients (www.positiveintelligence.com).

He has characterised a whole troop of saboteurs that are lurking within us ready to strike.  The Judge is commander in chief (my Darth Vader) along with his partners in crime The Stickler, The Pleaser, The Hyper-Achiever, The Victim, The Hyper-Rational, The Hyper-Vigilant, The Restless, The Controller and The Avoider. He also focusses much attention on the antidote to all these saboteurs: The Sage.  This is the wiser version of yourself and for me, this takes the form of Yoda.

Saboteur Resilience

Each of these strategies converges around the theory that combatting your inner critic involves a combination of:

  • Recognising and being aware of what your own saboteur or self-limiting behaviour is
  • Noticing when it shows up and what triggers it
  • Being objective & curious enough to reality check the saboteur behaviour e.g. is this a rational fear
  • Being compassionate with yourself
  • Finding a different perspective
  • Having clarity around your values and purpose
  • Being mindful enough to reduce the interference and distraction of the Saboteur

Over the course of my own career I have battled with my own inner demons.  The work I’ve done with my own coach to recognise and identify what has really been going on has been enlightening. The step I took to walk away from my Corporate Role certainly brought Darth Vader to the fore again.  I often hear that electronic breathing or the hum of his light sabre. I’m able to recognise now that this is simply me getting in my own way.  I always try to leave him on the shelf acknowledging that whilst that’s not aways easy I must be kind to myself and accept that it’s a work in progress.  After all I’m still an apprentice Jedi!

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can” – Yoda



Featured Image Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

Recommended Reading:

Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, Penguin Books

Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamise, Greenleaf Book Group Press

Taming Your Gremlin, Rick Carson, Harper Collins



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