Here's the single biggest obstacle to your success and happiness

If you can't decide what you'd really like to do with your life, or you've haven't managed the level of success you know you're capable of, or there's something you want to do and you're holding back from doing it, there's one culprit behind it all.

It's the number one enemy of your success, creativity, and your happiness. And the enemy is inside of you. It's a subpersonality referred to in Gestalt Psychology as the Top Dog.

The Top Dog is the part of you that says the most damning things:

  • "What makes you think you can call yourself an expert?"
  • "If you get up and give that talk, you're going to make a right fool of yourself"
  • "You're mad to change career in a recession"
  • "If you try to start your own business, you'll lose your house and end up on the street"

And if it doesn't come out as words, you might see images in your mind or feel sensations in the body which represent the same message.

When you believe and obey these messages, you limit your creativity, your happiness and your life.

Others call Top Dog the internal critic but I find it more helpful to name it as a separate subpersonality. And "Critic" suggests it might give some constructive criticism. The Top Dog's messages are not constructive.

The Top Dog grew inside you as a child with repeated messages from your parents and other significant authority figures.

You see, the same people who taught you important things like "don't run into the road" and "keep away from the fire" also taught you less useful ideas like "all artists are broke", "you have to sacrifice your happiness to be successful", and "no one enjoys their job". The most charged of these created your Top Dog.

Now these messages are a deeply ingrained habit within your own mind. And they define the shape of your life.

“The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your internal dialogue” Pete Cohen

Taming your Top Dog

The first step to conquer your Top Dog is to recognise it.

What messages does your Top Dog give you about your work and your success? Leave a comment and I'll come back to this topic to help you get a leash on the beast.

(Mine says some of the messages above and often chips in the more subtle "Is that wise?" on taking any risk at all)

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  • Alex Banfield

    I think mine goes much like this.

    "Other people won't like it. They'll think you are stupid and judge you"

    "It will be too much effort to get it just the way I want it. It also is too much effort when you put yourself out there exposed, but who is to say it is good? What if it isn't and you're just deluded like those people you see on TV talent show auditions" - Seems like a fear of allowing myself positive self recognition.

    "Someone else somewhere will be able to do it better. It's inevitable. Some people are better than others, that's the way life is. They are just born that way"

    Upon writing this I'm discomforted to find how damning and powerfully inhibitive they are, yet I almost knew this already.

  • Andrea

    My Top Dog says:
    'Even though you have the idea, researched it over and over again, and pretty much know what you need to do to achieve it, it would be stupid to give up a stable 9-5 job, when you have all those financial responsibilities. All that is in the future, when you will have less outgoings, etc.'

  • Hi Andrea. Tell your Top Dog "I can experiment and grow my idea in my spare time without spending a lot and without quitting my job".
    See my book for examples of how people do this!

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