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All About You: Silencing your inner critic

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

You won’t have anything visible like a black eye, but it’s still painful when your inner critic beats you up. We all have one – that inner voice that tells us about our perceived flaws. (“You’re fat, you look out of place, you’re not saying the right things, you’re lazy, you were partly responsible for the severe injury that happened at work.”)

I have an inner critic. It helps me at times. But mostly my inner critic (and yours, too) only puts out bad feelings that don’t help.

Many times we’re tougher on ourselves than we are on other people. That’s because our inner critic is always available, whereas we’re with other people only for a time. We also tend to expect more of ourselves than we do of others. Here’s what I recommend when your inner critic gets too vocal.

Remember that nobody’s perfect

My favorite historical mentor is Leonardo da Vinci. I’ve quoted and mentioned him a few times in this column. What I haven’t touched on very frequently are his personal problems. Although he was a genius, he also suffered from paranoia.

Here’s how Discover magazine described da Vinci: “An ambidextrous, paranoid dyslexic, Leonardo could draw forward with one hand while writing backward with the other, producing a mirror-image script that others found difficult to read – which was exactly the point.”

Most of us don’t suffer from anything so extreme, but it’s a sure thing that we have some “flaws” – everybody does.

Most people also have doubts about themselves from time to time. There isn’t a talk I’ve given when I haven’t questioned my performance afterward. But I’ve come to realize that although I’m not perfect, I can do my best. And that’s what keeps me inspired.

Be proud of your accomplishments. If something didn’t go according to plan, don’t beat yourself up about it – learn from it. And tell your inner critic to back off when it focuses on the one or two things that were off-kilter.

You can’t do everything all the time

You may have a noble intention to do something – like getting out in the field every day – but you don’t get it done. Is it your fault? Maybe. Even so, what we want to do isn’t always what happens because we can’t control all of the events that affect our life. Did you do something helpful that wasn’t what you planned on? That counts.

I have a love-hate relationship with my to-do list. It feels good to check something off that I planned to do and discouraging when something on the list doesn’t get done.

You’ve probably experienced the same feelings. Quelling the discouraging emotion takes awareness. You’ve got to tell yourself that it’s not a win-lose game. It’s about contributing and progressing. Let’s say you conduct a safety meeting and you didn’t cover all the information you wanted to because the participants asked a lot of questions. Your inner critic will bug you about the missed information. However, in reality, you may have done a much better job of influencing your attendees’ behavior than if you’d spewed out the “required” material. Forget about what you didn’t cover and use what happened to help you prepare differently the next time.

Stay in the moment

Our inner critic wants us to think about the negative things we might do tomorrow or that we should have done yesterday. Do your best right now. Right now is what matters.

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Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit www.makesafetyfun.com.

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