I had a story that followed me around for years. You know the kind. Persistent and annoying like those pop-ups on a website asking you to subscribe to something, but you don’t know if you want it because you just started reading. The kind that just smacks you in the face when you least expect it. That kind.

This story started when I was managing a big box retail store, with about 40 people on staff. We were a new management team, trying to find our ground and create the best environment possible.

A few days before a big staff meeting a supervisor came to me and asked about doing an exercise she’d done with a previous employer, called The Top 10 Wish List. Each team member would write down 10 things they would really like to see us put into place in the store for them, to create a better workplace.

I shot it down.

The team was pretty young overall and I imagined that we would end up with lists that had slurpee machines, massages and extra long paid breaks on it. It would probably be a waste of time.

At home that night, the idea kept coming up in my mind, until I finally reached the point where I realized that even if they put those things on the list, I would know what motivated them and I could use some of it as rewards for doing a great job. That would make it a valuable use of time.

I went back in the next day and told the supervisor I’d thought more about it and I would be happy for her to do it and lead it.

The results were eye opening. There was barely anything frivolous on the lists. They asked for things that would help them to be better at their jobs like extra mops, so that more than one person could clean the floor at one time.

The Top 10 Wish List was a big success, but the story that followed me was that I was a bad manager because I immediately shot the supervisor down, instead of seeing the value in what she offered right away.

It came up over and over again, mostly when I was feeling tired or down. That nagging little voice that said, “See, you’re not all that after all, are you?”

I finally decided enough was enough, I had to work through it.

Pinpointing the Emotion

The first thing I had to do was figure out what I was actually feeling. Sometimes just naming the emotion helps to ease it.

[I have an awesome emotion wheel that helps you pinpoint the emotions you’re feeling, if you’re having a difficult time figuring it out. It’s not always easy to do. If you want it, just drop me a line here and I’d be pleased to send it to you.]

I realized I was feeling guilty, ashamed and remorseful about it. These emotions all work their way back to the base emotion of feeling sad. Sometimes, you just know that you’re feeling the base emotion but not the specific feeling. It’s far more effective if you can pinpoint the exact emotion because it’s easier then to trace back to the root of the issue. That’s why I love the emotion wheel I mentioned above.

How it Relates To Your Values

Once you pinpoint the emotion, you can start digging into the real cause and meaning behind it. This is where your knowing your personal values system is really important. Your values motivate you and they are the thing that gets triggered when you’re feeling highly emotional, in both positive and negative ways.

So for me, I could trace those feelings back to one of my top three values – inspiration.

I know my personal purpose is to inspire people, help them grow and to help them see that they can do what they really want to do in life. Knowing that, you can probably understand why I was telling myself that I was a bad manager and why the story kept popping up for me over and over again.

I felt guilty because I didn’t support my supervisor in the way I believed I should have, to meet my purpose and live out that value. I felt ashamed that I didn’t make her feel immediately inspired and supported. And I was remorseful about the way I’d acted, even though I did come back after and say we should do it. That part didn’t matter because, in my head, I made her feel bad initially when she brought the idea forward.

Uncovering Your Belief System

This gives some real insight into my belief system. We all subconsciously have a set of rules that govern our behavior and most of the time we don’t even know this is what driving our emotions, the stories we tell ourselves and the subsequent actions we take.

The emotion of guilt, for example, comes up when we’ve internally broken one of our rules, whereas anger happens when someone else breaks one of our rules.

I had a rule that said I needed to unquestioningly support people, so they can shine and feel inspired. That’s why it kicked my guilt into high gear every time I pulled the story out and played it again. She didn’t get my immediate support, and worse, I shot her down without even taking the time to think about it.

Because inspiration is one of my top three values, this incident had a bigger impact on the way I felt, which is why feeling ashamed had such power over me, which in turn made me feel highly remorseful about the whole situation.

Challenge the Beliefs

Now that I knew what was going on and why, I could start to break it down into actual truths:

  1. I did support her and let her present the list.
  2. She was able to feel inspired by her idea.
  3. She did well at the meeting and it boosted her confidence as a supervisor.
  4. The staff really loved what she did.
  5. The store become stronger because of her idea.
  6. The staff at the store felt they had a bigger voice and were heard.
  7. They also got what they needed to feel more effective.

When I took a real look at it, I could see that I actually did live out my purpose, so I could call BS on this story and start to let it go.

We tend to generalize a lot when it comes to our negative beliefs. They’re blanket statements, like I was a bad manager, that aren’t actually true in every aspect of the situation. When you’re dealing with a blanketed limiting belief like that, you will need to challenge it by looking for counter examples.

I was actually a pretty good manager on the overall. I regularly coached with the team, asked for their input, met with them to find out what goals they wanted to achieve while working with the company, and I tried very hard to make sure we had fun in a variety of ways.

Was there room for improvement? Of course. We all have that. But I could honestly say I wasn’t a bad manager when I looked at the bigger picture.

Check Your Past

Sometimes it’s necessary to dig a little deeper to understand why your inner critic is bringing the story up over and over again. The inner critic can have many voices – a parent or other adult role model, one of your peers, or even a comment from a stranger can create a voice for your inner critic because it hit an emotional cord.

When I took the time to explore this, I realized there was an incident from my past that was driving this story. My father, who was an RCMP officer, had a complaint filed against him that eventually went to court and ended his career. I was actually completely unaware of the situation, until I walked into my homeroom class and heard one of the girls say, “I bet she’s not so proud now, is she.”

There was such venom in it, even though we’d been friends.

That one sentence stuck. That one sentence became the thing that checked me when I might be doing well, so I didn’t become too proud.

That one sentence, from there forward, was used by my inner critic to hold me back and keep me from getting too far outside my comfort zone.

That one sentence kept me playing a small game. But now I had it!

I leaned into the voice and asked it questions.

What’s wrong with being proud? “People don’t like people who are too proud.”

What would happen if I do get too proud? “People will cut you down and put you back in your rightful place.”

And if that happens? “No one will want to help you. You will just be lying there broken and helpless.”

When I got the answer to that last question, I could actually see a vision of me lying broken on a sidewalk, alone.

That’s what was driving these stories. My inner critic was trying to stop me from becoming broken, helpless and alone by giving me examples of my mistakes and magnifying them, so it could keep my pride in check and keep me safe.

It’s important to know that your inner critic is always trying to keep you safe. That’s it’s job. It’s just that sometimes it does it in a nasty way because it’s very effective.

Now that I had that valuable information, I knew what I had to do to get past this story, and others like it, that this particular voice regularly brought up. I had to get clear on the difference between growing and celebrating my wins and being prideful in a “holier than thou” kind of way. There is a big difference.

The Final Piece of the Puzzle

Usually, when you have those things in place you have the information you need to work through the emotion, get your inner critic balanced and start moving toward what you really want. For me, there was one thing that I still had to deal with, the remorse.

I got the opportunity when I ran into that supervisor 10 years later and I apologised for not being a great manager and not supporting her off the bat when she came to me with the idea.

Guess what? She didn’t even remember it. And to boot, she thought I’d been a great and highly supportive manager.

It goes to show that most of the time the things holding us back are just stories that we tell ourselves, triggering emotions that are guaranteed to keep us playing a small game.

If you want to have the life of your dreams, lean into your emotions and work with them. That’s the key to stopping them from stopping you.


Get the emotion wheel now. Get in touch with me here and I will send it to you right away! It’s so helpful!

 Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash