The gratitude that we celebrate during this season offers an important lesson for leadership.
The holiday season brings its own unique set of stressors. Unfortunately, your critical inner voice may take that as an invitation to crash the party. The inner critic within each of us drives perfectionism, judgement, and a scarcity mindset, all of which create unnecessary stress that can really put a damper on the festivities for ourselves and others. The effects of a critical inner voice don’t stop when the seasons change, however, and leaders can take an important lesson from this phenomenon.
Learning to Take My Inner Critic off the Guest List
Every year, I invite my entire family to gather in my home for a Thanksgiving meal. On top of the normal stress of planning a large family gathering like this, my inner critic used to add a lot of anxiety to the preparation.
Let me tell you about the year that I finally decided to uninvite my inner critic from all of my holiday parties.
Several years ago, I had planned the “perfect” Thanksgiving. I spent days making sure the house was spotless, My amazing husband and I spent hours in the kitchen making an incredible feast, and I had every minute of the day planned out so that everything would go smoothly once my guests arrived. I wanted everyone to have a wonderful time, and I made sure that none of my guests felt any pressure to lift a finger to help with the feast. Unfortunately, my awesome husband was also the recipient of my inner critic and was frustrated and fatigued before the festivities even began.
When the day finally arrived, it was all going according to plan– even the weather outside was perfect. It was so nice, in fact, that my brother-in-law decided to go out hunting for a few hours… right in the middle of my carefully-planned day.
My inner critic went into overdrive with thoughts like “The food will be cold if we wait for him!”, “This is a disaster!”, and “The whole day is ruined!” and I had to step away from my guests and take a few minutes to calm the panic in my head. In that moment, I learned a powerful lesson.
“perfect” is unrealistic
I realized that “perfect” is unrealistic, and that a perfectionist mindset (spurred on by my inner critic) was ruining my holiday. I realized that I had a house full of people I loved, and if my brother-in-law wanted to enjoy his day a bit differently that was completely okay! His plate would be there waiting when he was ready, and my day would be much more enjoyable if I chose to focus on what was going well instead of worrying about what could go wrong.
I took my inner critic off the guest list permanently that day, and my holidays have been much more enjoyable ever since. Now when she tries to crash the party — which is quite often. I quickly lean in to gratitude and show her out the back door.
Gratitude is the key to overcoming your inner critic.
When your inner critic starts to take over, you’ll find yourself focusing on all the little things that go wrong, even if there are a million more things that are going well. This is just as true in the office as it is around the Thanksgiving table.
The inner critic creates a scarcity mindset: there’s not enough time, this is not good enough, failure is not an option, etc. This scarcity mindset rearranges our priorities so that we focus on “more pressing matters” and ignore larger goals. Over the holidays, this can look like obsessing over the mashed potatoes when we could be spending quality time with our loved ones. In the office, it can look like focusing on the numbers and neglecting to celebrate the little victories the team has made together.
On the other hand, an abundance mindset focuses on the good things that we have and reminds us that there is enough time, enough resources, and enough opportunity for growth despite the circumstances. This mindset lets go of perfectionism and planning out the minute details, and it welcomes contributions from others. For example, allowing family members to bring their best Thanksgiving dish rather than feeling the need to do everything yourself creates an abundance and a shared sense of satisfaction with the resulting feast.
Leaders of powerful teams understand that every individual has something great to contribute, and giving up the need to control everything and chase “perfection” allows each individual to flourish in their unique skill set. When you trust that your team has everything they need to be successful, you can let go of the stress of perfectionism and focus on the little wins along the way.
Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the good things and focus on the abundance in your life, both at the office and in your home. This year, I hope that you will leave your inner critic off the guest list and choose to listen to your inner champion instead. If you would like to learn more, check out this blog about how to overcome the inner critic.