Taming your inner critic as a Coach

“Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…We may want to…. feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.”

— Tara Brach


In a recent supervision session, Richard — an experienced Executive Coach — was explaining how over recent months he had been doubting himself more and more.

He was aware of frequent self-talk negating the value he was offering, and the difference he was making to his coaching clients. Naming this within the supervision space, he was aware of how contracted he was feeling — and worn down by his inner critic.

Richard understands self-care is a critical component of being a professional coach — and yet because of the pandemic and his drive to serve his clients, he had found himself accepting too much client work and letting go of space for preparation and recovery.

Without this space, and low in energy and feeling disconnected with himself, it was easy to fall into the grip of this voice and feeling of not being enough; to become identified with his internal judge.  

For Richard, he realised the speed he had been operating at over recent months had created less and less time to connect to his authentic presence — or, as Tim Gallwey would describe the voice of ‘Self 2’, that quieter voice that believes and trusts in our innate potential as a coach.

When ‘Self 1,’ the inner critic, takes hold, it will drown out ‘Self 2,’ the voice of our flow state. Through our conversation, Richard could see how by consciously pausing more often he had choice to connect to the more resourceful parts of himself in the present moment rather than leaving it to chance, which is when his inner critic was likely to show up!  


“The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.”

— W. Timothy Gallwey


We also explored how Richard was tracking his clients to assess the impact of the coaching dialogue during the session. Then, to prevent any mind reading, he could introduce check-ins with the coachee during and at the end of the session, e.g. “What is the value that you have taken from today’s session?”

Through ongoing exploration in subsequent sessions, Richard realised this was not about quieting the voice of his inner critic — as the saying goes ‘what we resist persists’. He understood his inner critic was trying to support him, there was a positive intent; it was just a less skilful way of helping. 

He recognised where the voice had come from, created a characterisation of it by naming it and described this part, this created space; he changed his relationship with it and most importantly, he felt lighter. Now Richard began a practice of ‘having it’ rather than his inner critic having him.


“The judgements of those we loved or admitted are part of our story, and if we don’t spot them when they arise, they become the judgments we project on others and ourselves.”

— Sharon Salzberg


Our internal reactions to our inner critic

As a professional coach, we are likely to experience many situations where our inner critic is energised. Read the following scenarios and consider your internal reactions and dialogue:

  • Meeting a client as a novice coach – do you doubt you will be able to solve the situation, because you are a trainee coach? Or do you hold a belief in the potential of the coachee and trust in the coaching process to generate the coachee’s awareness, responsibility and choice?
  • Meeting a client that is trained as a coach – do you doubt that you will be good enough to meet their expectations? Or do you see an informed client that will potentially be an exceptional and engaged coachee within their development process?
  • Meeting a Senior Executive for the first time – do you doubt you have the experience to work with someone at this level? Or do you see the client as someone who is likely to have deep levels of self-awareness and will truly appreciate the confidential coaching process to work through their current challenges?
  • Measuring our performance as a Coach – do your doubt that you are adding value as the coachee is not having an insight and transforming before your eyes? Or do you focus on how you are co-creating with the coachee the conditions for change to happen, knowing that behavioural change can take time and the coaching relationship is a key catalyst?
  • Competitive chemistry meetings where we know our colleagues are also meeting the same client. (When comparisons are involved, the inner critic is likely to take hold). Do we start to question our experience in comparison with our colleague? Or do we trust the coachee will choose the coach that is right for them?

Taming our own inner critic is one of the key learning edges we will need to work through when we are training and practicing as a coach — especially as one of the key coaching themes we will meet is our client’s ‘imposter syndrome.’

With the accompanying emotions in the session, unless we have worked through this edge ourselves, we may become contaminated with this energy, take on these feelings and leave the session not being good enough. (rather than being about to centre ourselves and become curious about this feeling and how it may reflect the coachee’s experience).


Creating a different relationship with our inner critic

How do we come into a different relationship with our own feelings of not being enough, driven by our inner critic?  

One way we can recognise when we are in the grip of our inner critic is through journaling after a coaching session and noticing our self-talk. If we are noticing absolutes within our language such as you never, always or the tyranny of shoulds, pause, take a breath, and then observe and consciously evaluate these repetitive cycles of harsh judgment. We can notice how we are reinforcing the sense of not being enough that may be preventing us from seeing the good, the value we created in the session and how much we are developing as a coach.


“As soon as we ask whether or not a story is true in the present moment, we empower ourselves to re-frame it.”

— Sharon Salzberg


Once we are consciously aware of our inner critic, we have more choice of what we are paying attention to (remember Self 2 is there too); how this is shaping our experience and how we are responding.

Here are 6 key strategies to support you in taming it:

  1. Develop a mindfulness practice – practising mindfulness regularly will enable you to disidentify from the inner critic and choose to connect with a more grounded awareness.
  2. Practise self-compassion – our blog post on this topic provides advice on this.
  3. When you notice your inner critic, pause, take a conscious breath, and thank your inner critic for worrying about you and let it know that you will be ok. What happens when you do this?
  4. Before a coaching session, after centring, set an intention for the session; what qualities do you want to consciously embody as a coach? Now connect with the felt sense of these qualities in the body. If you notice your inner critic, take a breath, and reconnect with these embodied qualities before, during and after the session.
  5. Say to yourself “I am enough,” or “this is enough” when you notice the inner critic being energised before, during or after the coaching session.
  6. Keep a gratitude journal for your coaching practice – then once a month spend time reflecting upon what you have achieved, how you have grown and what you are most proud of.

“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

— Louise Hay


Sources:

  • Real Love – Sharon Salzberg
  • The Inner Game of Tennis – W.Timothy Gallwey