The Coach vs. The Critic: Who's in control?

Jul 27, 2015

Picture this: It's 10 years from now and you are up for a promotion. You should be elated, but instead just feel exhausted by your 50+ hour work week. You glance in your reflection in the window. Even through the smudged glass, you see the deep line that has made a home between your eyebrows.

When did that happen? You ask yourself.

Then it sinks in: you’re unhappy. You haven’t been happy for a long time. This heavy realization begins to weigh on you as you consider the "what if's" of your past. You ask yourself, What if I had traveled more. What if I had taken the job I actually wanted. What if I had taken that year off to spend time with my family. What if...

What if you had made your life decisions based on the parts of yourself that you wanted to preserve. What if you had chosen the life course that would best reflect the strengths in yourself that you value, not your parents, friends, or professional community. The strengths in yourself that you value.

Throughout life, we are faced with decisions; ones that have the power to change the course of our lives, to lead us to different futures. More often than not, there are complicating factors in any decision that make it difficult to easily discern the best path.

When there's a decision to be made, I sometimes picture a tiny angel version of me popping up on my right shoulder, and a tiny devil version popping up on my left. My Internal Coach and Critic, respectively. This age-old illustration carries with it a visual of the inner voices that we hear every day, and especially when we're faced with tough decisions. it isn't always obvious which voice is giving us helpful advice, and which voice is harmful. It's easy to be swayed in the end by whichever voice is loudest.

Inner Critic

For most people, the Critic speaks louder. This is the voice that discourages us and keeps us from taking risks; you might recognize this as the voice that tells you:

  • You aren't talented enough
  • You aren't brave enough
  • You aren't skinny enough
  • You aren't smart enough

This is the voice that makes us lose sight of who we are and encourages us to take the ‘easier’, more comfortable, expected route. The Critic’s mission is to limit our potential, see ourselves in contrast to an ideal that we never chose for ourselves, and make us strive to be someone that we're not.

Inner Coach

Think of your Inner Coach as your mentor. The Coach can be a little bit harder to hear. While the Critic shouts for attention, the Coach waits to be asked before offering direction. Consider your Inner Coach to be a mentor. Your Inner Coach:

  • Sees failure as situational and temporary
  • Encourages you to put yourself out there
  • Helps you grab hold of what you want, boldly, and without hesitation.
  • Pushes you to be the best version of yourself.

While it’s great to have real mentors in life, my belief is that nobody knows us better than we know ourselves, and that there is no better Coach than the one that is inside of us. Only she can guide us toward becoming the most authentic version of ourselves.

How do you access your Inner Coach?

The story I shared at the beginning of this blog asks you to imagine for a second that you are 10 years older, looking back to the you of today. It's easy to look back in the past. It's easy to think back to the decisions that we made and wonder, "What if I had chosen differently? Would I be happier?" But what if we changed our perspective, and found a way to navigate our course one day at a time; doing things now to proactively give ourselves the future we truly want?

In Playing Big, by Tara Mohr, she talks about finding your inner mentor. Based on Mohr's exercise, here is a visualization exercise I created to help you access your Inner Coach.

 Inner coach visualization exercise

  1. Find a quiet, personal space. Your living room, your bedroom, your kitchen. Somewhere where you can close your eyes and proceed without distraction.
  2. Start by thinking of all the things you love and value about yourself. Get really lost thinking about your hobbies. Are you a cook? Are you a musician? What gives you joy?
  3. Now, picture yourself 20 years in the future. Picture your ideal self. Picture the woman who surrounded herself with things that gave her joy her whole life. Who is she? Keep your eyes shut and let your mind wander. Let it wander into a happy future.
  4. Once you have your image, start to take note of physical attributes. Paint a detailed idea of who this woman is.
  • What is she wearing?
  • How does she do her hair?
  • What does her home look like? (cluttered, clean, colorful?)
  • What story do the lines on her face tell?
  • How has she aged?
  • What does her home smell like?
  • Where is it located? (city, country)
  • Does she have any pets? (etc.)
  • When does she wake up?
  • What does she eat for breakfast?
  • How does she spend her morning? (etc.)

  5. Next, visualize a day in the life of this older woman.

  • When does she wake up?
  • What is her morning routine?

When you have a clear picture of who she is, you have met your Inner Coach. This ideal version of yourself in the future is the person that should be guiding the decisions you make today because she (and only she) truly knows who you want to be and what will make you most happy. She is the filter through which you should make all your decisions from now on.

When you have a clear picture of who she is, you have met your Inner Coach. This ideal version of yourself in the future is the person that should be guiding your decisions now because she and only she truly knows who you want to be and what will make you most happy. She is the filter through which you should make all your decisions from now on.

What if you don't like what you see?

I'll be honest, when I first took myself through this exercise, I didn't think about my ideal, but rather I thought about my life today and where it would lead me 20 years from now if I continued on my course. When I did, there were aspects of the image that were disheartening. There are lifestyle choices I engage in now that I realized would negatively affect me years down the road, leading me toward becoming someone I don't want to be. Ultimately, I needed to see this less-than-ideal future me before I could really understand the need to live intentionally toward becoming my best self.

By going through this exercise the way I illustrated above, focusing on the things that make me happiest, I was able to paint a picture of a different woman, one that I was proud of.

My Inner Coach

This woman is comfortable in her own skin, happy, and wise. She no longer struggles to keep her houseplants alive but has learned to cultivate a garden. Her home smells fresh, like basil and coffee. Her hair is free with the wild curls she no longer cares to tame. Her house looks different, it's minimalistic. Everything inside her home is handpicked to give her joy. The walls hang her own paintings mixed with portraits of her musical idols, and her guitar is propped up against the couch, with years of good use… This woman is older, wiser, and represents all the things I love about myself, all the things that make me beautiful. She is the person I want to be.

Time is precious, so get to know your Inner Coach now. Don’t wait until you wake up unhappy. Take charge of your life through the lens of your ideal self. Be proactive. If your Coach wakes up at 6:00 AM and goes for a morning jog, then start your day the same way right now. Every move you make now that imitates your Coach brings you closer to that reality. When you are in a conflict, go to her first for advice. Ask yourself, “What would she do in this situation?”


Imagine again that you are the woman up for a job promotion, waiting with bated breath and a beating heart, looking back on your life with regret. What's your move? How do you reclaim that version of yourself that you love? What would she do? What would I do?


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