We kicked off the Confidence Catalyst programme for women leaders in STEM a few weeks ago, and I was struck by something one of the professional women mentioned. It’s a hard truth we don’t often talk about: our struggle to silence inner critic voices as we get older.
Hard Truths Not Discussed
Roberta (not her real name) admitted that as she got older, in some ways, her inner critic had grown louder. Roberta joked that she missed what could be described as the naïveté and accompanying confidence of her youth. She laughed: ‘I just want to get my mojo back,’ to which the other women in the group smiled and agreed.
Roberta was now in a very senior and publicly esteemed position in her field. Her title was evidence she’d ‘made it’ – she was part of a recognised group of women leaders. However, it made her all the more aware of her critics, some external, but often her own internal critic voices, or ‘gremlins.’ These voices of self-doubt are what we take on during the 8 week intensive programme to boost confidence.
Silence Inner Critic Voices to Make a Change
Indeed, as any professional woman working in a very male dominated field can feel, Roberta’s presence amongst men in her field heightens her sensitivity to any criticism from ‘the guys.’ This is true whether that criticism is real or imagined. As a ‘Hyper-Achiever’ and ‘Pleaser,’ her minority status amongst them only heightens her ‘inner critics.’ The ability to silence inner critic voices is something I’ll be covering over the next few months, and you can see which of the 9 saboteur voices are your loudest here.
It’s a myth to think you will get rid of all of your self-doubt as you age. It affects us all, particularly as we become more visible because of our successes, much the way Roberta and other women leaders have. Indeed, a pinch of self-doubt is what keeps people ever-improving – something all leaders should want in themselves and in the teams on which they rely.
This is something I talked about at length in my third book: ‘The Con Job: Getting Ahead for Competence in a World Obsessed with Confidence.’ The work we do in Confidence Catalyst is merely quietening those voices so the self doubt doesn’t take so much mental energy and time away from the things that really matter.
Quieten, Because They Can’t Be Silenced
Can you identify with Roberta? Reaching the ever-dizzying heights of your career can somehow sharpen some of your self-doubt. The truth is you’ll always have elements of that inner judge. The good news is you can silence inner critic voices, or at least ‘quieten’ them, when you want to.
The mental fitness practice of creating more robust and resilient neural pathways helps take you to a faster mindset shift towards seeing challenge as an opportunity. Plus, it helps remind you that you’ve likely been challenged before and got through it.
The faster those more positive mindset neural pathways work, every time you face a new hurdle you more quickly ask: ‘What is the opportunity in this challenge?’ or ‘What am I learning here that I can use in the future?’ With that, your confidence builds.
Build Your Mental Muscles
Positively, there are many ways to build your mental muscles for these challenges, which we explore in the programme! For example, for Roberta, this neural pathway may be strengthened by reminding herself that she’s faced challenges in the past.
Initially, those challenges likely seemed overwhelming, but she’s now successfully on the other side of them. Reflecting on that is where confidence comes from for women leaders. New hurdles always seem huge, but when we look back, we got through them and even through the discomfort, those experiences left us with some valuable lessons; things to repeat, and things to avoid.
If you are in this place with too frequent self-doubt, ask yourself:
- When did I face a big hurdle in the past?
- How did I get through the challenge before?
- What helped my confidence the most as I was going through it?
- What does my older, wiser self want to remind me now?