I have been spending a lot of time watching the Olympics, commercials, and all. One commercial about coaches and athletes caught my attention. It said, “The words of great coaches inspire great athletes.” That led me to think about our inner coach, the voice inside our head that speaks to us seemingly non-stop, and all too often in a critical way. What if you could transform the critic into a coach? Our inner coach serves a function. To help support us by offering guidance, encouragement, and compassion, or as a critic, to diminish us with negativity, hostility, and deprecation. This commercial reminded me of some coaches I have had in my life, and how the distinction between guidance and criticism can be useful when thinking about how to rethink your inner critic, especially one prone to perfectionism.
When I set out to obtain a black belt in Tae Kwon Do before turning 40, I had no idea that I would be taking the first step along a path that would have me training three times a week for years. As anyone who has watched Karate Kid knows, martial arts offers many lessons and opportunities to test you physically and mentally, most of which are determined by the coach or Master you train with. I was fortunate to have two exceptional coaches, one who learned from the other, so their approaches were similar. They were both phenomenal athletes and extraordinarily talented martial artists. They were friendly and encouraging, but stern. They were there to guide me along my journey as I advanced, sometimes at a seemingly glacial pace, through the ranks of the belts. They had good work ethic and didn’t tolerate whining. They would let me know when I had done something well and offer suggestions on how I could improve. They wouldn’t admonish me for doing something “wrong,” rather they would suggest adjustments, which if I listened and followed their suggestions, allowed me to attain my goals. They were also encouraging and celebrated my achievements.
I also had one coach who was a good martial artist, but not the best teacher. He was impatient and at times irritable. He would notice everything I did wrong, or at least that is how it felt at the time. If I succeeded in performing a difficult move, he would often be silent, or worse, take the credit for having hung in there to teach me the technique. I began to dislike my dojo, and martial arts.
My point is the first two coaches I described inspired me and made me a better martial artist and athlete. They would point out what I needed to change or correct, but they also helped me improve. I loved training at the dojo and being part of the community they created. I was a worse martial artist and athlete with the other coach, and at the end of the day I left his dojo.
How does this relate to you and your inner critic? I’d like you to image what it would be like for you to explore the beneficial, guiding, caring aspects of an inner coach without the collateral damage of the critic, whose harshness, meanness, shame, and punishing aspects, lower performance and engagement. If you were to accept this invitation, I expect two things would happen:
1. Your performance and engagement would improve through inner guidance, compassion, encouragement, and support. You would also feel happier and more satisfied.
2. The more you think about your inner coach this way, the sooner you will create new neuropathways, and you will hardwire your thinking from negativity to guidance and inspiration.
Maybe you too had a coach, a mentor, a teacher, or a friend who was your champion, and you can relate to my example. Maybe you need to create your own inner champion. Either way, as with all change, start small. Catch yourself when you hear your negative inner critic and ask yourself what a supportive coach would say instead. And as with all new changes, keep practicing.