Preamble: I have neither experience nor academic ties to the fields of psychology or cognitive behaviour therapy. This blog post is part regurgitation/part clumsy expansion of an idea written by Dr Aziz Gazipura, an authority on clinical psychology and social confidence. The extra bit I’ve introduced is purely to help myself, and uses terms from a sport we don’t really play in the UK. Maybe it could help you too, and I hope it’s especially relevant to anyone developing a career largely by themselves.

“Baby lego” level reflection

If you’re anything like me, your default setting is to be reliably plagued by intrusive thoughts and hypercritical self-judgement. I’ve no idea how this began. My best guess for the self-judgement bit is something I rationalised many years ago, turned into something I believed was helpful, and applied everywhere:

“If I make a mistake, I’d prefer to get angry with myself. That way, I’ll be less likely to make the mistake again.”

Great idea, you flippin’ womble.

Additionally, if you have the time to engage in further analysis after this auto-beatdown, you can start calling yourself every name under the sun, telling yourself false stories (“I’m useless”, “my school teacher was right all along”, etc) and using those stories to inform future actions (“this probably won’t work out favourably”, “back in your box, Fleming!”, etc). All from some minor blunder or two? Yep. It’s a really efficient system! One you can do without.

Gazipura wrote in “The Solution To Social Anxiety” that a good way to stay on top of these thoughts is to treat them as though they came from your inner “boardroom”, whose members he called names like “Admiral Doom” (the inner critic), “The Blind Prophet” (the part of you terrified that something will go wrong), “The Complainer” and more.

Your job is to act like the chairman of this board. You’re in charge because you can offer the most rational influence.

It can be wise to doubt, or be fearful, but only with sound justification. Board members can keep their seat if their counsel is constructive, balanced and helpful. They need to present unadulterated, empirical information along with their statements, and until they’re able to do this, they can stay quiet, or leave for good.

There’s a reason you’re sat in the big chair, and they’re not. You have a balanced overview of all goings-on; short-term folly, biased opinions, and most importantly, the wider picture. Part of your job is to keep these characters from running the meeting, and cut them off when they’re talking nonsense…because that’s what it is!

Since it’s you steering the ship, you get the final say on everything discussed in the boardroom. Ultimately, you’re the one accountable for chosen actions, so set the table such that misinformation, ill-feeling, bullying and slander aren’t permitted.

Maybe your boardroom doesn’t need as much a clear-out as a few additional contributors.

I’ll introduce a few, borrowing ice hockey terms, and repurposing them:

  1. “The Enforcer”
    • Advocates firm boundaries, like working hours, standards of practice, and health-related rules (like the quality of food you eat, screen shut-off time, etc).
    • Pushes to allot time for skill development.
    • Eats tough decisions for breakfast.
  2. “The Pest” (a gentle one!)
    • Urges you to consistently follow up business by requesting a review or a recommendation.
    • Tells you to remind anyone who enquired about your service that you’re still available, and that if your time is limited, say so!
    • Pushes you to make a 9th phone call after eight popular local spaces politely rejected your request to sell your work for commission.
  3. “The Grinder”
    • Knows the difference between being a bit tired and being exhausted, and the choice times to give you a boot up the arse.
    • Recognises that hard work is truly the only thing separating you from a full and successful work life. It’s nice to have good ideas, but they’re nothing without repeated, sustained action.
  4. …”The Cheerleader”?
    • Keeps you motivated (thinking about your goal), on days when your discipline (devotion to good habits) might falter.
    • Regularly reminds you that you have a lot of good strengths.
    • Knows when you’ve earned the right to celebrate.

Notice how each of the above points is constructive. If you can make a list of your own like this, full of irrefutably good advice to yourself, stick each of them under a powerful name, or one you can think of positively, attach a face, dress them well, and shake hands with your new board member.

You’re the one making all the decisions, but if your brain is rife with conflicting and unhelpful stories, send the characters telling them to the end of the table, and pull up chairs for a few fresh ones!

If you’ve any tricks you can share to keep your inner monologue from impeding you, please share them in the comments below 🙂

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