silencing the criticMany small business owners have an enemy. A critic who seems bent on making you fail. This person is unfailingly harsh, judgmental, and often just plain rude. In fact, far too often it seems like this person’s sole purpose in life is to humiliate you into giving up.

Where do you usually find this person? Looking across from you in the mirror.

I recently attended a clinical conference with a session on compassionate self-talk, featuring some extremely powerful live demonstrations of how your destructive inner voice can sap you of ideas and motivation.

Using a structured three-step process first developed by self-compassion expert Dr. Kristin Neff, the three presenters (Shala Nicely LAPC, Jon Hershfield LMFT, and Amy Jenks PsyD) laid out a very practical, real-world approach for silencing your inner critic and tapping into your true potential:

Be mindfully aware, not critical.

Hershfield suggests putting the phrase, “Hey, look at that!” in front of whatever you are thinking or feeling: “Hey, look at that, I’m wondering about my marketing strategy!” “Hey, look at that, I’m not happy with my cash flow!” The simple act of taking a step back and observing your thoughts helps you productively engage them instead of simply beating yourself up.

Be aware of your common humanity.

If we really knew each other, we would find that we share a lot of the same hopes, fears, struggles, and doubts. For a small business owner, this means stop judging yourself against success stories in glossy business magazines, and connect with the real experiences of other entrepreneurs like yourself.

Practice self-kindness.

Shala Nicely describes this as treating yourself the way you would treat your best friend. I think of it as compassionately making wise choices – choices that may be as simple as taking better care of yourself, or as bold as making a brave leap of faith and being OK with the consequences.

Or both.

Did I ever tell you the greatest success secret of my own management career? Lunch. Early in my software career, living in Los Angeles, I made it a point to have a real blowout lunch once a week, to reward myself for a job well done. In a very real sense I could directly credit my success to hard work, a positive attitude – and eating out at fine hotels and restaurants more often than I probably should have.

Nowadays, as a psychotherapist, I often tell clients they are lucky people who are learning life skills and success traits that most people never get taught. At this presentation, I watched a few hundred people learning about recovery from mental illness take away a nugget of gold that also can help you succeed at your business.

Try it yourself, and watch what happens in your professional life.