Self-Command - International Coaching Federation
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Posted by Carmen Acton, MBA, PCC | August 31, 2020 | Comments (10)

Spoiler alert: Your inner judge is not your friend. Your sage is.

Have you ever doubted your ability to do something? Ever second-guessed if you were good enough? I experienced trepidation when I contemplated writing an article for Coaching World.

Like me, you may have heard your noisy inner judge dissuading you.

My inner judge, aptly named “No Way, José,” was saying: “What are you thinking, you are not an author,” “There are people a lot smarter than you, leave it to them,” and “If readers think, ‘This is a bunch of hogwash,’ you’ll be so embarrassed.”

How do you tackle your inner judge so you can hear your wise sage?  By building self-command muscles.

What Does the Science Say?

According to cognitive neuroscience, how tuned in we are to our own emotional signals—as well as our sensations, thoughts, and physiology—is important for building self-awareness and self-command ability.

Our mind can’t help but focus on the downside of things if we haven’t learned to take control and built stronger positive neural pathways. When our internal judge feels threatened or triggered, we may experience an amygdala hijack. That’s when we go into fight, flight or freeze mode.

Too often, we have an oversized judge and undersized sage arguing over what to do. To modify our behaviors, we need to build the mental muscles to modulate our thoughts/assumptions, emotions and reactions. The good news is we can change the dial and build stronger positive neural pathways: our self-command mental muscles. This takes dedicated, frequent practice over time, similar to anything we aspire to do well. The payoff is fewer hijacks and faster recovery.

To Tackle Your Inner Judge, BUILD Self-Command Mental Muscles

  1. Bring focused awareness to the stimulus that triggers negative thoughts. An example might be seeing an email from someone peevish (stimulus) and thinking, “What’s wrong now?”
  2. Uncover the most common sensations, thoughts or feelings you experience when triggered. Body sensations often provide our first clue. For example: Your breathing becomes shallow and your heart rate increases; you sense an oncoming stress headache or your body tenses. What’s the associated inner chatter? What is your judge saying? What is the emotion(s)?
  3. Interrupt the negative spiral by bringing awareness to and naming the emotion. Is it impatience, anger, fear, dread or sadness? Naming it engages the prefrontal cortex and helps soothe the amygdala, giving you access to your sage and higher levels of reasoning.
  4. Learn to tell yourself, “I’m going to remain calm and check in with my wise self” and do it. Think of this as hitting the metaphorical “pause button.”
  5. Develop a consistent mindful sensory practice. Examples include taking several deep, slow breaths, or doing a body scan. Do the practice for two to five minutes three times a day. This intentional, focused attention activates your prefrontal cortex, giving the mind a powerful self-command lever that you can access in the moment.

A practice to exert self-command will enable you to access your inner sage more easily when you observe your attention wandering, detect negative self-talk or feel triggered.

Tune in to Your Inner Sage

My inner judge has been “protecting” me from feeling judged or not good enough for years. It has had such a strong say in what I do that it was actually preventing me from doing things with greater ease. If this is the case for you, too, try the following.

When your inner judge is loud, dial up your sage by asking yourself:

  1. What am I afraid of and why?
  2. What is the best-case scenario?
  3. What is possible here?
  4. What do I risk if I don’t try? Will I regret not trying?
  5. Who is in control: the thought or the thinker? (adapted from Susan David, PhD)

Actively engage your attention and self-command muscles to overcome thoughts and emotions that hold you back or make things more difficult than they need to be.

Use BUILD, and you’ll soon hear the wisdom of your inner sage more often than the noise of your judge.



©Masterful Collaboration 2020


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Carmen Acton, MBA, PCC

Carmen Acton, MBA, PCC, is a Leadership Elevation and Development Coach and Process Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. She is committed to sparking insights and actions that matter. She works with motivated, high potential mid- to senior-level leaders to elevate leadership and business performance in a complex world. Carmen is a certified DISC and EIQ-2 practitioner.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Additionally, for the purpose of full disclosure and as a disclaimer of liability, this content was possibly generated using the assistance of an AI program. Its contents, either in whole or in part, have been reviewed and revised by a human. Nevertheless, the reader/user is responsible for verifying the information presented and should not rely upon this article or post as providing any specific professional advice or counsel. Its contents are provided “as is,” and ICF makes no representations or warranties as to its accuracy or completeness and to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law specifically disclaims any and all liability for any damages or injuries resulting from use of or reliance thereupon.

Comments (10)

  1. nice summary Carmen! My inner judge didn’t even want me to leave a comment. Meaty subject, and much better with sage! 😉

  2. says:

    Thanks Victor…our inner judge can be pretty sneaky telling us its being protective etc. Thanks for taking to time to leave your reflection, Sage Victor!

  3. Rosalind says:

    Nice reminder of how damaging those little voices can be and that we can retain more control!

  4. says:

    I love the contrast between “inner judge” and “inner sage”. Thanks for a lovely exploration!

  5. says:

    Thanks Jrameyrenk. I find it a rewarding way to bring awareness to and get in touch with our true inner wisdom or essence. Carmen

  6. says:

    so true Rosalind. Thanks for weighing in.

  7. says:

    Great article. I’m a fellow Positive Intelligence pioneer, I also love and use Shirzad Chamine’s work and language of Saboteurs and Sage. Which cohort were you?

  8. Carmen Acton says:

    So glad you liked the article Sandra. I pulled from a combination of my experience/awareness with EI, The Four Greatest Coach Conversations, Resilience, Positive Intelligence, and work with clients to help people think about this. I think there is such a huge need to expand and serve in this area. I’m in cohort 1. What about yourself?

  9. Delois Nicolais says:

    Hello, you used to write wonderful, but the last few posts have been kinda boring… I miss your super writings. Past few posts are just a bit out of track! come on!

    • Tiffany Hafendorfer says:

      Thanks for your feedback. I will pass that along to our editorial team.

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