Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Investigating the Inner Critic

I can be a bit critical of self-help books, so when Global Tech Women's next book club selection  ("Inner Critic Inner Success" by Stacy Sargent) fell so loudly and clearly into that category, I wasn't sure what I was going to think of it.

The reason my inner critic is so cynical about self-help books is that they are often loaded with well polished statements and implications about how the reader can rid themselves of some undesirable trait or situation with a minimum of effort. These books very often prey upon the reader who hopes that by shelling out a few dollars they will magically transform their life. 

However, I decided I would give it a fair shake, and so I dove right in.

Within a few pages, the inner critic in my head was reciting a well worn script telling me not to expect very much from this book. It seemed I had logic and facts to support this assertion. I found myself noting critically that Sargent was not saying anything new; everything she was talking about in the opening section had been written about in the cognitive science and psychology literature. And why didn't she cite the references? my little voice nagged dismissively.

A more forgiving and compassionate voice in my head waved to get my attention. It pointed out that Sargent was doing a pretty nice job of making those cog sci findings accessible to the average reader. I mean really, spoke up the quieter voice, how many people outside of the academic research community are going to read peer reviewed research studies? If putting the helpful information into a widely accessible form with a beneficial end goal in mind - might that not be a commendable thing to do?

Round 1 was declared a tie between the cynical critic and the compassionate commentator.

Having made strides on clearing the way mentally, things started to get interesting because this book is FULL of exercises and activities. Detailed exercises and activities. I don't have time for this! I groaned at first (the obstructionist cynic), but it occurred to me (the determined optimist) that perhaps I wouldn't be in a position to reach any justifiable conclusions if I didn't give it, all of it, a fair go.

How so? Well, it just so happens, that I am in the middle of undertaking some pretty exciting professional career planning. Thinking big, and figuring out how to pursue things I am really passionate about. Which, as you could probably predict, leads at times to wondering just how crazy I might be.

So when the book started asking me to apply certain activities and introspection to things that might cause me to get in my own way I discovered I had plenty of fodder to work with. The first couple of activities I embarked on were perhaps toughest because that same cynical voice said things like "you know yourself well already, you know what your greatest inner critic is, you can skip this exercise". I squashed that voice, but only because I had promised myself I would.

Er...and discovered on the very first activity, that, as Sargent suggested, things change as we progress in our lives and careers, and what I had assumed was my primary self-imposed stumbling block was no longer true (e.g. The Perfectionist voice is no longer my biggest inner critic. Other voices have insidiously taken front seats). That discovery meant that I could stop putting so much energy into addressing non-existent problems and pay more attention to other ways I might get in my own way.

That first discovery was enough to convince me that this book was on to something. I kept right on plowing along through activity after activity, not worrying about whether or not I was going to finish the book in time for the conversation this Friday. Because by that point, I found I was discovering quite useful things that I can apply to my entrepreneurial career planning. Perhaps foremost being: fooey on what the stick in the mud cynics out there might have to say (including my own inner critics, who pop up up like Whack-a-Moles).

I still haven't finished the book. Maybe I will by Friday, maybe not. No matter: things have come around full circle andI heartily recommend Sargent's book.  Not only that, I'm really looking forward to hearing what other women have to say at the Global Tech Women book club meeting: join us this Friday at 9:00am Pacific Time.

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