10 Ways to Listen to the Black Dog

Bob Sutton gave me permission to be self-critical. He didn’t intend to, but, I felt great about being hard on myself, after we hung up.

We were talking about his new book, “Scaling Up Excellence,” when he said, people who really excel are highly critical of themselves. It made me feel great, because I’m hyper-critical of myself.

the black dog quote

Maximizing your talent includes constant dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction is essential to growth, change, and excellence. Exceptional organizations are filled with people who are always dissatisfied.

Who versus what:

Separate dissatisfaction with performance, results, or achievement from who you are.  Improving performance expresses the belief that you are worth improving.

My black dog:

After presentations, I mercilessly examine everything that went down.

  1. You spoke too quickly there.
  2. You lowered your eyes during that point. Keep your head up.
  3. Give more details on the rusty Volkswagen story next time.
  4. You spoke mostly to the right side of the audience.
  5. And on it goes…

I suppose I should limit myself to saying, “Keep your eyes up,” rather than, “YOU lowered your eyes.” It feels less personal. But, there I go being self-critical about how I am self-critical.

Focus the black dog on behaviors, processes, and results.

  1. Give up on perfectionism.
  2. Make it better.
  3. Maintain a “next time,” orientation.
  4. Believe you have more in you.
  5. Find mentors who excel in ways you want to excel.
  6. Do what your best self longs to do.
  7. Let go of the past, as long as you’re striving to improve the future.
  8. Never make excuses. Accept your mistakes but don’t affirm them.
  9. Compare up. You can always find someone who is worse at something than you are. Don’t console yourself with mediocrity.
  10. Surround yourself with people who acknowledge your progress and challenge you to be better.

Bonus material:

Here’s part of my conversation with Bob Sutton. It focuses on listening to the black dog from an organizational point of view. Don’t miss his comments toward the end on the strength based movement (4:05)


How do you listen to the black dog?