Photo credit: Alexander Lam,

In or out? Perfect or a little wide? Great idea or outright lousy?

Sometimes an umpire or boss makes the call. But, sometimes it’s us. With no real reason beyond a limiting belief, we rule that a thought, concept, or action is out of bounds or beyond our limits. And just like that, it’s game over.

In pro tennis, a player who feels he got a bad call gets to challenge the linesman. The player signals to the umpire, and technology swoops in, revealing whether the ball was in or out. As the telling picture comes up on a giant scoreboard, the crowd claps in anticipation. Besides wanting to know who was right, many are probably challenging their own vision. A player gets unlimited challenges so long as he is correct.

None of them are right all the time. And the reason for stopping the action isn’t always about in or out. Sometimes a player uses a challenge to grab a few extra moments to catch his breath. Or let off steam. Or recalibrate to be better prepared for what’s coming next.

Imagine if we could run such technology over our thoughts and ideas. We would know in advance and without risk how the proposal would play, or how the application would be received, or whether the strategy would pay off.

Sorry, there’s no app for that.

Instead, we perform quick mental calculations that are influenced by our experiences, the lens through which we see the world, and of course, any inner critic who may be residing between our ears.

Sometimes this all happens fast; sometimes it takes a while. In the end, we make a call.

As long as you’re doing all that interior work, here’s one more suggestion: Make sure that you challenge the call.

Maybe you’ve decided to hold off because the last time you had an idea or went for a promotion, it didn’t work out. While past is sometimes prologue, lots of times it isn’t. If this is why you’re making the call, challenge it.

Maybe you’re reticent because you believe life is pretty good, so why shake things up? Where did that belief come from? When did you start believing it? Is it true? Isn’t it possible the ride might be more interesting if you rocked the boat a little? If this is why you’re making the call, challenge it.

Way out of my league?

Or maybe there’s a voice whispering for you to stand down. This is way out of your league. You’re going to make a fool of yourself. Tell the inner critic he can either shut up, leave altogether, or assume a new role, that of “inner advocate”. In his new role, the gremlin morphs into Chief Encourager, inspiring you to speak up, and to do so with confidence.

Of course the only way such an internal chat is possible is if you – that’s right — challenge the call.

You may ultimately decide against going forward. That’s fine. Just so long as the decision is based on a clear-eyed review of the facts, and not on blind obedience to baseless assumptions, limiting beliefs, or the gremlins (a.k.a. your inner critic) to whom we too often cede so much power.