Have you ever stopped to think about why most people don’t achieve what they want? The main thing that holds us back is something on the inside- our inner Judge, our staggeringly brutal inner critic.
According to Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence, this Judge is the little devil that sits on your shoulder staying busy finding fault in: (1) yourself, (2) others, and (3) your circumstances. No one else can drop you to your knees as quickly and efficiently as the Judge.
Everybody has this voice. Even very successful people have nagging doubts about themselves. So don’t be fooled by someone’s external success. It’s just not something we share openly at cocktail parties or around the water cooler.
The question is not whether someone has a Judge or not. The question is how much trouble does it cause in their lives.
I’m sure you’ve had moments when that nagging voice tells you that you’re not good enough to do something. It tells you that you’ll probably fail anyways, so why even start. Even when things are going well, it tells you that all hell can break loose at anytime, so you can’t relax.
This voice can also tell you that you’ve never done enough. So you keep working way beyond the point of exhaustion and efficiency.
Your Judge is very sly. It wants you to believe that criticizing yourself is the way to improve yourself. It’s like the stern nun that smashes your knuckles with a ruler when you step out of line. It demands that you work your butt off or else you’re a worthless slacker. If you are stressed out, it’s harder to protect yourself from your Judge’s vicious onslaughts.
Now, you may be wondering how we develop our Judge.
Turns out, there’s a biological basis for our Judge. Your brain is programmed through eons of evolution to notice anything that’s going wrong and pretty much ignore the good stuff. Eons ago, you had to notice any leaves rustling or shadows cast near your path or you would quickly become lunch. Ancestors who weren’t good at noticing and responding quickly didn’t get to pass their genes on to the next generation.
Over time, our brains have evolved to have a built-in “negativity bias”. Even though we no longer have to watch out for saber tooth tigers, this “survival brain” still skulls in the background, ready to be triggered, especially during times of stress or perceived threat.
Think of how quickly you forget compliments and how you sometimes obsess over a negative comment somebody has said.
If you’ve ever spoken in public, or made a presentation in front of strangers you probably felt this negativity bias. There you are in front of a bunch of people. Happily, your words are flowing. As you scan the room, you notice interested looks and a few nods and smiles. They’re with you!
But all of a sudden, your eyes zero in on the one person in the room with a sour expression on their face. Now, you don’t know whether that look on their face is because they can’t stand you or because they had a big Mexican meal for lunch and now they’re full of gas.
That look on their face can trigger your “survival brain” , which then wakes up your Judge.
If your Judge is rampaging, you’ll either start criticizing and tearing them down for having the nerve to show that ugly face at your presentation. I mean really! Who do they think they are?
Or you’ll start beating yourself up in your own head, which of course, will make you stumble and falter.
This negative programming gets reinforced by experiences you have had as a child. No matter how much you felt loved as a little kid by people around you, “poop” still happened to you. People got angry. Kids made fun of you. There were kids that were smarter, prettier, more handsome, cooler than you. You failed at some things. Teachers and parents criticized you. Some people didn’t like you.
It was inevitable that you would learn to judge yourself, others and your circumstances.
In your illogical, little-kid brain, you needed your Judge to keep you safe and make your life seem more controllable and predictable. After all, if you judged and criticized yourself first, maybe you could keep yourself in line and others would leave you alone.
Now, here you are, all grown-up. But that voice still echoes in your head and maybe poisons your interactions with others. The negative muck your critics spew can leave you feeling joyless and drained.
The problem is that you never stop and question the voice of the judge. You never stop and ask it: “What have you done for me lately?”
In some cases, you’ve come to believe this voice as the gospel truth about yourself and what you’re capable of achieving.
The real truth is that you don’t have to listen to your Judge!
Staying focused on problems and what’s wrong means you keep finding problems everywhere you turn. It also saps your joy, drains your energy, and downshifts the parts of your brain that lead to creative solutions.
Your Judge stays in power until you realize that listening to it doesn’t really help you succeed. In fact, it hurts you more than it helps. It’s so important that you quiet the voice of your Judge and learn to replace it with a more positive voice.
The first step is just to become more aware of this voice. You could even give it a name. I call mine “Jack, the Destroyer”.
Observing and naming your judge helps you get distance from its demands. There is a huge difference in saying, “I’m going to fail.” and “Jack, the Destroyer” says I’m going to fail”.
You will be amazed at how your success and happiness soars when you stop letting your Judge’s cruel voice take up any more space in your head.