Managing Imposter Syndrome, Part 3: Seven Ways to (Temporarily) Silence Your Inner Critic

Imposter Syndrome is real and pervasive. The bad news? Despite what many self-help gurus claim, I don’t think you can rid your mind of that debilitating voice for good. Because that voice is you.

At the risk of sounding too much like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the 2010 film Inception, the source of that nagging self-doubt is simply the curse of being human. You can blame your parents, society, or the teacher who called you dumb in second grade all you want, but the call is coming from inside the house.

The good news? There are tons of strategies you can use to quiet that voice long enough to get some work done, to give it less power, and to learn from its whispers.

In the final part of my Managing Imposter Syndrome series, I’m sharing seven effective tactics that have helped my clients turn the volume down on their inner critics so they can finally finish writing their masterpieces. While these strategies come in handy when you’re on deadline or need a productivity boost, I encourage you to practice them regularly. Over time, they can help you develop a healthier relationship with your self-doubt and recognize when it’s holding you back from reaching your full potential.

So, without further ado, here are my top seven tips for politely telling that pesky ‘ole voice in your head to can it—at least until the work is done.

#1: Give That Voice a Name

Naming your inner critic can be a powerful way to separate yourself from it. By giving it a name, you’re acknowledging that it’s just one part of you and not your entire identity. It’s also easier to tell “Cheryl” to kick rocks than to argue with the nebulous concept of self-doubt.

I advise choosing a name that lightens the mood. Laughing at the absurdity of your inner critic makes it all that much easier to take back control.

To borrow a line from jazz legend, Billie Holiday: “Good morning, heartache. Sit down.”

#2: Question Everything it Says

In that same vein of personifying your inner critic, treat its words as if they’re coming from an unreliable source. Question the validity of everything it tells you.

For example, when “Cheryl” whispers in your ear that you’re not a good enough writer to finish this project, ask yourself:

  • What evidence do I have to support that claim?
  • Have I successfully completed similar projects in the past?
  • Am I truly incapable of improving my skills through practice and hard work?
  • Are you having a bad day, Cheryl?

By interrogating your self-doubt, you’ll start to see that its opinions don’t hold much weight.

#3: Dump it All Out on Paper

Acknowledging your negative thoughts is the fastest way to let go of them. If you’re knee-deep in a self-doubt spiral, take a few minutes in the morning to write down every thought that comes to mind without filtering or judgment. No editing or rewriting allowed.

This exercise—which is called stream-of-consciousness writing—helps you release negative thoughts and clear your mind for more productive thinking. Plus, you’ll increase your self-awareness by noticing patterns in your thoughts and behaviors.

#4: Keep a Visible Brag Bank

As humans, we tend to focus on our weaknesses and overlook our strengths. To combat this, create a brag bank—a visible place where you can collect compliments from clients, colleagues, mentors, friends, and family members. You can also include any evidence of success, like positive feedback on a project or an award you won.

The next time “Cheryl” starts talking smack about your abilities, flip through your brag bank to remind yourself of all the reasons why you are capable and talented.

#5: Take Regular Social Media Breaks

Social media can be a breeding ground for comparisonitis: the belief that everyone else is doing better than you are. To avoid that trap, take regular breaks from social media. Whether you go offline during the weekends or limit your exposure until after you’re done writing for the day, minimizing your time on social media will help you stay focused and prevent any unnecessary self-comparison.

While building in regular social media breaks keeps your self-doubt at bay, you should also be wary of using it when you’re starting a new project. If you’re already feeling anxious and uncertain, scrolling through Instagram will only add fuel to the fire. Need some help? Check this Harvard article for information and motivation.

#6: Start a Meditation Practice

The biggest threat to your inner critic? Being present. When you’re focused on the present moment, you don’t have time to worry about past mistakes or future failures. And one of the best ways to cultivate presence is through meditation.

Start with listening to guided meditations or just sitting with yourself for a few minutes each day. If you’re too antsy for traditional practice, try mindful activities like coloring, knitting, or forest bathing—anything that gets you out of your head and into the present moment.

Walking meditation is an alternative for those averse to stillness. Focus on your feet touching the ground, your breath, the horizon. The fresh air and sunshine with a potential boost to your Vitamin D levels will do you good.

My favorite books on mindfulness meditation include Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are and Sandra Salzberg’s Real Happiness. Apps I’ve tried and enjoyed include Calm, Headspace, and Buddify.

#7: Find an Accountability Buddy

Imposter syndrome will try to convince you that you’re the only one struggling with self-doubt. Don’t believe it. Simply saying your fears out loud to a friend, a colleague, or a book coach will immediately lessen their grip. You can ask your accountability buddy to check in with you on a regular basis or simply use them as a sounding board when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Another option is to join a community of writers where everyone shares their challenges and offers support. Surrounding yourself with others who are going through the same struggles can be incredibly validating and reassuring.

As we reach the end of this series, I hope you know that self-doubt is a normal part of the creative process. It’s what you do with those doubts that matters. Arm yourself with knowledge with this Psychology Today article.

By practicing learning your triggers, taking advantage of being a beginner, and leveraging the above tactics, you can learn to coexist with imposter syndrome instead of letting it hold you back. So go forth and write those masterpieces—Cheryl will just have to deal with it.

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Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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