Think back to the last time something went wrong in your business.
How did you respond to yourself about it? Did you say something kind and encouraging? Something like, “This is so hard, but it’s going to be ok and I still believe in myself”
Did your inner dialogue turn critical? Did you say something to yourself along the lines of, “You idiot! I can’t believe you made such a dumb mistake!”
I hope your response was more aligned with the first option. However, chances are, you’ve had that second voice appear on at least one occasion. For some of you, it might be a voice that’s whispering in your ear all day long while working to bring your dreams to life as the owner of your own companies.
Being an entrepreneur can be incredibly stressful and isolating work, which makes it the perfect place for a critical voice to creep in when you make a mistake, procrastinate on an item on your to-do list, or don’t meet your weekly goals. That voice is what I like to call your “inner business critic.”
You might have heard the term “inner critic” used before. We all have a critical voice inside of us and labeling it as our inner critic can help us create space from it and eventually loosen the hold it has on us. However, you might not have considered how it manifests in your work as an entrepreneur before. I certainly hadn’t. Until I attended a Mindful Self-Compassion course last summer.
Under the guidance of two leaders in the field of self-compassion, I spent 5 days learning about the latest research on this topic, and practicing guided meditations and journaling exercises designed to help us learn to treat ourselves more kindly, gently, and generously. Having worked with many clients to increase their own compassion towards themselves, I was shocked and delighted to discover just how powerful many of these exercises could be when I tried them out on myself.
I returned from the course determined to maintain, and deepen, the daily self-compassion practices I’d begun. But, one surprising discovery was just how relevant and helpful they could be when I applied them to the challenges I faced as an entrepreneur as well.
I consider myself a recovering perfectionist and I’ve struggled to let go of my overachiever ways, while still pursuing the dreams and goals I have about how I want to spend my limited time on earth. Tapping into the tools of self-compassion seemed like an ideal avenue for staying connected to my intrinsic motivation and my values and vision for my company, while also providing me with tools to increasing my ability to take risks and recover from mistakes.
I became curious to learn more about how self-compassion could help entrepreneurs and other professionals thrive in their own careers and discovered I wasn’t the only one who was curious about this topic. A few months ago, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled “Give Yourself a Break: The Power of Self-Compassion,” in which the author noted that fostering a growth mindset, helping employees to be true to themselves, and creating more compassionate leaders, were all benefits of bringing self-compassion to professional environments. Greater Good Science Center also published an article last year with tips on how to implement self-compassion practices in your work day.
Over the past few months I’ve been working with my clients to help them to direct self-compassion towards their own performance at work when dealing with issues such as mistakes or failures, considering a pivot, or struggling with burnout. One of the objections I run into time and time again is this:
“being more self-compassionate will make me complacent, lazy, or unproductive.”
Many of us have a deep rooted belief that if we stop being beating ourselves up when we don’t live up to our standards, then we’ll stop working hard. However, there’s an increasing amount of research that suggests that self-compassion is more effective than self-criticism at helping us motivate ourselves to achieve our goals. When we treat ourselves with compassion, we also tend to believe that we’re more capable of achieving our goals. It’s also negatively associated with fear of failure, which means that the more self-compassion we show towards ourselves, the more likely we’ll be willing to risk failure.
Believe it or not, self-criticism comes from a place of wanting to take care of ourselves. It’s part of our fight-flight-freeze response, which is designed to keep us alive. When we perceive danger, this threat-defense system is quickly activated so we can respond to the danger. This is great news when the danger is threatening our physical bodies, such as a fast approaching car. However, in our modern society, most of the threats we face are challenges to how we see ourselves. Just how the “fight” response may have helped us in the past when faced with a predator, our brains may still respond with “fight,” but towards ourselves.
The good news is that we can also override this tendency to criticize ourselves by practicing self-compassion. And when it comes to running our businesses, we can lessen the voice of our inner business critics by tapping into and strengthening a different voice. That of our inner compassionate business coach.
The following journaling exercise is adapted from “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook,” by Kristin Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD, and is designed to help you tap into the voice of your own inner compassionate business coach.
If you’re short on time, you can also try using the “self-compassion break” exercise with a recent setback or disappointment in your business. Check out my video for a guided version of the self-compassion exercise.
Step 1. Identify the voice of your inner business critic
- What’s something you often beat yourself up about related to your business? Choose something that’s unhelpful to you and that’s causing you unhappiness. If it’s your first time doing this exercise, choose something that’s a 3-to-5 on a scale of 10. Also, choose something that you could actually change. Some suggestions might be:
I procrastinate too much
I’m quick to lower my fees with clients
I spend too much time on social media
- What do you usually say to yourself when you notice yourself engaging in this behavior. What words does your inner business critic use? What tone does it have? If there aren’t any words, is there an image that comes up? How does your own business critic show up?
- Take a moment to think about how it FEELS when you criticize yourself. How much distress has your inner business critic caused you? If you’d like, you can try directing some kindness and compassion towards yourself for how difficult it is to talk to yourself in this way. You could say things to validate the pain and show empathy towards yourself with words such as:
“This is so stressful.”
“This is really hard.”
“I’m sorry, I know it really hurts to be spoken to like this.”
- Reflect for a moment on why this criticism has happened for so long. Is your inner business critic trying to protect you? Is it trying to keep you safe from danger? Trying to help you? Could it have good intentions, even if the result isn’t productive? Write down what you think is motivating your inner business critic.
- If you’re struggling to identify a way that it’s trying to help you, that’s ok. Sometimes self-criticism is entirely purposeless. If this is the case, you can practice self-compassion for how hard this has been to listen to your inner business critic for so long. However, if you did find a way that your inner business critic might be trying to help you, see if you can actually acknowledge its efforts. Try to write a few words of gratitude towards your inner business critic and let it know that even though its efforts are counterproductive, you can see that its intentions are good and it’s trying to do its best.
Step 2. Finding your inner compassionate business coach
- Now that you’ve identified the voice of your inner business critic, let’s try to make space for a different voice, that of your inner compassionate business coach. This voice comes from a part of you that is wise, kind and recognizes that the behavior that you noted before is hurting you. Although this voice wants you to change, it wants you to do so for very different reasons.
- Put your hand on a part of your body that is soothing and notice the warmth of your hands (I prefer to put one hand on my heart and one on my stomach). You can also wrap yourself in a hug, or hold your other hand. Whatever feels best for you.
- Once again, reflect on the behavior that you wrote down before that you’re struggling with in your business. And repeat the following self-compassionate phrases:
“I love you and I don’t want you to suffer.”
“I care about you deeply and that’s why I want to help you make a change.”
“I know how difficult this is and I’ll support you in making this change.”
“I fully believe in your ability to do this and will be here even when things get tough.”
- Next, try tapping in to the voice of the self-compassionate inner business coach and try writing a message to yourself about this behavior that you’d like to change. Try to write spontaneously, without thinking about it too much. What do you notice inside of you when you say these phrases to yourself? What words do you need to hear in order to make a change? If it’s hard to think of the words, it can be helpful to think about the words that would flow from your heart if you were speaking to a friend or colleague that you deeply care about who was struggling with this same problem.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this exercise and if you think practicing self-compassion would be helpful for you as an entrepreneur.
If you’d like to learn more about practicing self-compassion, and how to cultivate it in your personal and professional life, you can set up a free 15-minute consultation with me to learn more about online therapy. My approach is ideal for highly motivated clients because it’s goal-oriented and includes small assignments between sessions to help you get the most out of your time. If you’d like to get in touch, please fill out this contact form.