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How to Get Ahead: Learn to Deal With the Critical Voice Inside Your Head

critical voice inside your head

Ed. note: Awhile back, I wrote some career advice posts for Accountingfly. We’ll be republishing them here from time to time for your enjoyment and discussion. Send comments, queries and complaints to

Do you think about thinking? Like, are you ever blown away by the monologue that occurs inside your brain and how it seems to have multiple personalities? I think most people have about a handful, at least two or three, different voices in their heads. There’s usually the egomaniac, a cheerleader/biggest fan, the mischievous devil, the worrywart, the parental figure, an asshole and maybe even a few others that I’m forgetting.

This will surprise no one, but I tend towards the cynical. When I have something important coming up, I can’t help but think about all the things that can go wrong. It’s my most common defense mechanism that usually results in over-preparation and, more often than not, a successful outcome. For me, this kind of negative thinking is a positive. I’m sure there are some of you out there in Internetland that do this, too.

Sometimes, though, my defensive worrier goes full-blown jerkstore. This is more likely to happen when things, in general, don’t seem to be going right. And when things seem bad, it’s easy to fall into a spiral and it’s even harder to pull out of it.

The problem is, work doesn’t care which personality your brain brought to work today. There are plenty of days where all you can do is tell yourself what a phony or a loser you are, but you need to get things done anyway. So, how do you manage it?

My favorite tactic is to give that jerk a name. I got the idea from this Harvard Business Review article that talks about managing the various voices you hear.

The truth is, we all have a Joey and a Vicky inside, and they can both be useful. Joey might seem unkind, but his high expectations and low tolerance for failure can be helpful in driving us to be our best. On the other hand, sometimes we need empathetic support. To some, Vicky may appear soft. But her comfort and reassurance can be useful, especially during times of stress.

Here’s the key: Be strategic and intentional about who you listen to – and when – even if the voices are inside your head. In fact, especially if the voices are inside your head. Those can be the sneakiest. It’s pretty easy to call Joey a jerk and ignore him; it’s much harder to dismiss the voice in your head because, well, it’s you.

In my case, my jerk’s name is CJ. And sometimes he is a jerk, but other times he just has high expectations and/or reminds me of all the things that can go wrong so that I’m ready for anything. He doesn’t care what I’ve accomplished in the past and rarely takes a day off. When he’s pushing me, I get motivated, but if he’s beating me up, I try to stick up for myself and tell him to shut up.

We can all recognize unnecessary negativity when it’s been lobbed our way. So when that bully who lives in your brain starts going hyper-critical, remember, sometimes he (or she) is just a loudmouth.