Silence your inner critic.
It’s advice you’ve heard time and time again. In moments of doubt, you should turn down the volume on those self-deprecating thoughts, gather your courage, and take the leap anyway.
Most of the time, I think that’s pretty sound advice. But, every now and then I run into a problem: What if that little voice inside my head actually makes a pretty solid point? And even further, how do I know if what I’m hearing is my internal critic or my conscience?
Sure, that bully in your own brain often likes to tell you that you shouldn’t do something simply because you can’t. But, you know what else often speaks to you in moments of uncertainty? Your gut. The two send totally different messages, but can still be easily confused.
Deciding which one is speaking to you (and, more importantly, when to listen!) can be tough. And, while I’m far from perfect at this, I have managed to identify a few telltale signs that help me when I’m figuring out how to move forward.
Keep your eyes peeled for these indicators, and you’ll be able to identify those moments when you should actually heed the advice of your inner critic—rather than tuning it out altogether.
1. When There’s Valid Reasoning
Your internal critic can be a little irrational. She tells you that you shouldn’t put yourself out there for a new opportunity because you’re simply incapable. You’re nothing but a useless, fumbling, talentless fraud who’s only managed to trick everybody into thinking you’re skilled and accomplished.
Typically, those brutal thoughts aren’t actually grounded in reality—but that doesn’t stop us from believing them anyway.
But, what if your thoughts are a little more logical than that? Your inner critic isn’t telling you to ignore that opportunity because you’re incompetent—but because you don’t have enough time to tackle it, it’s not a project that you’re truly passionate about, or it’s not something that pushes you toward your larger goals.
When trying to decide whether or not you should heed that voice, take a moment to analyze the why. Why do you feel this way about this new challenge?
If the only reason you can think of relates to your fears of not being good enough, then you should flip a middle finger to those nasty thoughts and charge ahead. But, if there’s really some legitimate reasoning behind your feelings of doubt? You’re probably better to take some time to weigh your options before jumping right in.
2. When Others Agree
We can all be our own worst faultfinders—we’re unnecessarily hard on ourselves. And, that can make it difficult to discern what is actually a real concern, and what we’re blowing way out of proportion in our fragile state.
Fortunately, the people around us can help to get a better, clearer view of what things look like from the outside.
Talk to a close friend or colleague about the way you’re feeling about this challenge or opportunity that’s in front of you. If you’re experiencing a severe case of imposter syndrome, that person will likely be quick to shoot down your negative thoughts and boost your confidence back up again.
But, if your concerns and fears truly have some merit? Chances are, your confidante will back you up and remind you that, yes, your schedule really is too packed to add additional commitments and you should consider giving this a pass.
It’s not often that the people around you cheerily confirm the nastiest thoughts in your head (after all, when’s the last time your work best friend talked you down in your moment of panic by saying, “Yep, you’re right! You really do suck at everything”?).
So, if you have gotten some outside reinforcement on the way you’re feeling, that probably means there’s some legitimacy to your concerns—and this deserves a little more careful thought.
You might think that your conscience and your internal critic are totally different. But, unfortunately, they can often be easily confused.
As much as you don’t want to hold yourself back from new opportunities just because of your fear of the unknown, you also don’t want to find yourself stuck in a situation that you should’ve said no to—but, instead of doing so, you brushed off those red flags your brain was feverishly waving as nothing more than a little bit of self-doubt.
Figuring out whether or not to listen to that little voice in your head can be challenging at times. However, if you’re willing to press pause and consider these two signs before moving forward, you’re that much more likely to make the decision that’s best for you.
Photo of person thinking at work courtesy of Tempura/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author