“Always let your conscience be your guide,” says Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio. It’s great advice when you don’t know right from wrong. However, when running your own business, your internal voice can lead your astray.

When you work for yourself, you no longer receive standard reviews and other feedback mechanisms adopted by traditional employers. While some see this as a benefit to self-employment, it may also leave you more susceptible to your internal voice than you realize.

Your internal monologue impacts your behaviour in a number of ways. Learning to cope with your inner voice begins with recognizing its tendencies.

Here is a sample of seven common internal voices and what they say:

  • The Optimist – “This can be done and I’m the one who can do it!”
  • The Realist – “The worst case is I lose a few days of work which isn’t too bad.”
  • The Catastrophic – “The worst case is I lose this client and my business falls apart and I can’t pay my mortgage and I’m living in a van down by the river.”
  • The Victim – “I’m at the mercy of my clients – if they’re not happy I’m not happy.”
  • The Adventurist – “Regardless of the outcome, I’m going to learning a ton and make it fun.”
  • The Survivor – “If I just take a few more unprofitable clients I can get the necessary experience to start charging more.”
  • The Perfectionist – “I’m not going to submit a proposal for this project because I’m not sure I can deliver 100% of the outcomes.”

Most of us have one dominant internal voice. What’s important is to recognize it and understand the implications. Once we know whom the internal voice is, we can make a conscious, informed decision whether and when to listen or not.

There are pros and cons for each type of internal voice.

Coping With The Realist

Your dominant voice will be most present when you’re in an uncomfortable or challenging situation. For me, that voice is the Realist. When things aren’t going well it says, “Hey Matt, this isn’t a big deal. Realistically, if you lead this project and it fails, the worst case is you have to start over. Or, even if you messed up enough to get fired, there are lots of other jobs out there for the taking. It’s not like your career is on the line.”

With this internal voice, the benefit is that I naturally guard myself against over-reaction or placing too much pressure on my shoulders. On the flip side, it can lead me to deliver results that aren’t truly exceptional. For example, I may leave lots of stones unturned. By understanding my internal voice, I can lean on it during stressful times and challenge it at other stages.

Coping With Other Internal Voices

Is your internal voice preventing you from moving forward, or stifling your success? Here are some simple suggestions to consider for other internal voices:

  • The Optimist: Embrace your “can do” attitude but watch out for over-promising
  • The Catastrophic: Don’t let your imagination run away with negative possibilities. Instead, channel your imagination to solve problems creatively. For example, what are 10 different ways you might address your client’s needs?
  • The Victim: Modify your communication style to demonstrate and prove to yourself that you can influence the way your clients react to both good and bad news
  • The Adventurist: Live the “no regrets” mantra but make sure you are upfront with clients and colleagues; it will empower them to take the adventure as well
  • The Survivor: The goal should be thriving not surviving; many freelancers underestimate their worth. If you’re working for yourself and not sure what rate to charge for your time, check out this handy hourly rate benchmarking resource
  • The Perfectionist: The “80/20 rule” is a real thing. Generally, it means 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs. If you’re a perfectionist, your 80% is probably on par with most peoples’ 100%. So, if you are 80% confident, why not take on that new project and see how it goes?

You’ll find your internal voice is relatively predictable. It’s up to you to decide when you want to embrace it.