My inner critic is strong. In the past, I would agonize over getting something perfect—a line in a story, a piece of copy for my website, the approach to a project. Often I procrastinated because my standards were so high, and the pressure to perform so overwhelming, that I just froze. What this meant, of course, was that everything moved slowly. Progress on my stories, the growth of my business—all of it was slow. Of course, I blamed and criticized myself harshly for this, which then made it even harder to work effectively (after all, how easy is it to get things done when two-thirds of your emotional energy is spent attacking yourself and simultaneously trying to defend yourself from that attack?).
What I’ve learned over the years is that when we demand perfection from ourselves, we make it incredibly hard to perform. And when we live with the belief that self-criticism is a virtue, we can paralyze ourselves. Of course, high standards are good. Crucial, in fact. But, when we pay more attention to self-criticism and self-doubt than to taking the next right action, we strangle ourselves with our standards. Not only that: we kill joy, fun, and pleasure.
This dynamic can take many forms. Here are some signs that your inner critic and inner “doubter” are getting in your way:
- You regularly put off taking action because you don’t yet feel ready to “do it right.”
- You tend to see everything that could go wrong with a project—rather than looking at the possibilities.
- You frequently change your mind—you worry a lot about whether you’re making the right choice.
- When you’re about to make a decision, you often doubt yourself and pull back.
- When you finish something, you don’t celebrate much. Instead, you’re looking at what went wrong, what could have been better, and what you’ll do next.
You might ask, “but what if I fail?” After all, failure is what we’re trying to avoid, right? Actually, no. When you’re trying new things in a business, it’s often more useful to “fail fast.” Rather than hanging back to avoid failure, act fast so you can find out quickly whether something works. (Of course, you want to test things on a smaller scale so that any mistakes are less time-consuming or expensive.) Then, based on what you learn, you can adjust your approach. “Failing fast” lets you move faster, learn faster, and succeed sooner.
Here’s what I want you to get: If you are someone whose inner critic or inner doubter are holding you back, it’s crucial that you transform this dynamic. Imperfect action truly does trump perfect inaction.
And if you’re stuck? Action is the way out. Any little action will get your momentum going—and then you can build up the energy to take on the bigger actions.