If you are aware that the critic is motivating you, take a good hard look…
By Tara Sophia Mohr (Founder & Principal, Wise Living)

So, you’ve been getting to know your inner critic. You realize that the anxious, mean, voice in your head is actually in charge of many of the choices you make each day.

You see how its chatter about what you deserve prevents you from honoring your real dreams for your life. How it keeps you from sharing the bold, unique ideas that will get you moving in your career. How its pontifications about your belly and arms and thighs make a day at the beach a lot less fun.

You start to contemplate no longer listening to this voice. But then a little, troubling realization pops up:

“What if the inner critic is what has been motivating me to succeed all this years?”

You realize: it’s often the anxiety screaming, “DON’T SCREW THIS UP” in your head that makes you reread and reread and reread and improve the document. It’s the voice that sighs in disappointment when you look in the mirror that ensures that you stay physically active. You wonder, could the inner critic be the motivator behind a lot of the “good” and “productive” stuff I do?

This question has been coming up in my talks and workshops, a lot. Here’s my answer.

Part I: Yes, the inner can be your motivator.
Part 2: There are serious costs of being motivated this way. Serious.
Part 3: If you knew of an alternative, would you still choose to be motivated by the critic?

The critic can spur us into action. A sense of inadequacy can drive us to work harder, to prepare more, to do more. But what are the costs of that?

Our lives don’t feel sensual, fun, luscious, when the critic is running the show. We don’t experience our connection to others when the critic is threading its voice through our interactions with others. We walk through our lives with a really horrible soundtrack in our heads, on repeat. “You aren’t enough. You are about to fail. Who do you think you are?” (You know that catchy one? Lots of verses but the chorus remains the same…?)

Second, yes the critic leads us to do stuff, but does it really lead us into wise action? When I have a speaking engagement coming up, sometimes my inner critic jumps in: “You didn’t prepare enough for this – now it’s too late and you are already screwed. This is going go very poorly. This topic is all wrong.” The critic can scare me into more preparing and last-minute rewriting, but I’ve noticed, over time – the extra work I do from this self-critical, panicky place usually turns out to be not very high quality work, or work that was needed at all.

If you are aware that the critic is motivating you, take a good hard look: are the actions it drives you to really in the service of your dreams, or your professional blossoming? The inner critic can help us have some small wins but does that matter if it has also caused us to be playing the wrong game entirely?

And then, health. I think about this a lot lately, because I’m now squarely in my adult working life, and the question occurs to me: well, if I were to keep doing it this way for the next two or three decades of my working life, what would the impact of that be?

I know that when I am being driven by the critic, there is a lot of adrenaline moving through my system, a lot of stress hormones and racing heart beats. Human bodies are not meant to be in that state for hours everyday – and it takes a serious toll on our health if we are.

But you don’t need me to tell you that. You can feel it: when you are being driven by this anxious never satisfied, voice, you can feel how it depletes and strains your physical systems. You feel the exhaustion, the headaches, the jitters. And you experience the collateral health damage – the extra reaches for caffeine or sugar to keep up the pace, or the over-eating or over-drinking to calm yourself from the stress.

So here’s my question to you today: For those of you who feel you’ve been motivated by the critic, I invite you to start to wonder into the question: how else might I motivate myself? What else could provide the push or the pull into action? And for those of you have found another way, tell us about it. If not from fear, and self-doubt, from what do you act? What motivates you? How do you name it? Love? Dreams? Values? Service? How does acting from this place feel, and what are the results? Please share.

This post was originally posted at Wise Living.

About the guest writer: Tara Sophia Mohr is the Founder and Principal of Wise Living. She is an expert on women’s leadership and wellbeing. She is also the founder of the Playing Big global women’s leadership program. Follow her on Twitter at @tarasophia.