Thursday, 10 November 2011

The voices in my head - Coach or Critic?

Lately I've been thinking about the voices in my head and what they say to me.  I think about the voices often; not because I'm crazy but because I'm in dialogue with myself.  We all are.  I say "voices" (plural) because in different situations we might encounter the Critic or the Coach.

The Critic is probably quite familiar.  This is the voice that tells us we've done a bad job even before we've started.  I see people listening to the Critic in their head regularly when I'm working with them to develop communication skills.  The basis of this work is practising new skills often and reflecting and receiving feedback from others in the group.  I've noticed how hard people are on themselves.  When asked what they did well, they will skip over that and jump right to what didn't work - in other words what the Critic has to say.  This Critic has a loud, powerful, persuasive voice.  

How about the Coach?  This is the voice which notices what you do well and encourages you to keep going.  The Coach acknowledges your efforts and supports you to continue to develop.  The voice of the Coach can be much more powerful than the Critic - if only we would listen to it.  In fact, the Coach can silence the Critic - if only we would let it.

And it's not just after we've done something that the voices can be heard.  As we prepare to do something the Critic can already be minimising our chances of success rather than being our own personal cheer squad.

In the communication development work, I'll ask people to think about what their objective or intention is as they approach a particular piece of work.  I'm amazed at how often people will frame their objective using the voice of the Critic rather than the Coach.  They'll say things like "I want to stop...", "I don't want to...", or "I want to not...".  The Critic is immediately recognisable and I will ask people to reframe their intention as a positive statement.  Their responses show just how hard it can be for some people to silence the Critic when they're not aware of it.  I've had people say the same thing again with a smile or repeat the same statement more emphatically.  They often don't know how to state their intention positively until they are shown.  

The Critic can also be sneaky and come out with "I'm going to try to..." or "I hope to...".  The Coach would be definite and say "I am" or "I will".

Imagine if you were working on nerve management and stated your intention as: "I want to stop being nervous and not get jittery and stop my voice shaking."  I believe that your mind will be programmed to a negative set and then you will focus on the key words "nervous", "jittery", "voice shaking".  That Critic isn't very helpful!  

Get the Coach to reframe this and suddenly your intention is: "I will be calm, serene and in control."  What do you focus on when you listen to your Coach?  "Calm", "serene" and "in control".  

The other day I noticed a great opportunity to share my Coach with other people.  I participated in a two day professional development program and at the end of the second day we each had to give feedback to the others in the group.  There were 20 people in the group, so the direction was short and succinct rather than deep and detailed.  I thought of it as a fortune cookie, rather than a paragraph.  As the exercise was explained I listened to my Coach.  My Coach urged me to frame my feedback positively and give people the best possible experience and chance of listening to it.  Here are some examples of feedback I gave:

  • give yourself permission to play
  • share that twinkle in your eye with the wider group
  • trust that others want to know what you think
  • allow yourself to show your emotions
  • use your breath to create a calm centre
As I listened to others' feedback and also received my own, it struck me how often the statements were framed in terms of "stop" or "don't".  I noticed when feedback of this kind was given to me, my Critic wanted to answer!  But when the feedback was framed positively, it was much easier to accept and reflect on.  The Coach was shaking its pompoms and doing a great job as my cheer squad.

I used to struggle with my Critic.  My Critic was pretty sophisticated and would run all kinds of justification for why I should pay attention.  Other people's reactions to me and my choices would reinforce that my Critic was right.  I have worked hard to put the Critic in its box and the voice I most often hear - and therefore listen to - is my Coach.  Thanks to a teacher I have had in my adult life, these behaviours are well instilled and most days my Critic is silent. I have learned that the Critic is at risk of emerging when I'm feeling hurt or vulnerable in some way.  Just when I really need my Coach! Knowing this helps me dismiss the Critic quickly.

Which voice do you tune into? Which voice is louder?   What happens if you consciously silence the Critic for a day and create space for your Coach?  I'd love to know your thoughts and experiences.

No comments:

Post a Comment