Four Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic

This post is part of the Break Through Your Creative Blocks series.

Break Through Your Creative Blocks!

If you have a creative block you’d like some help with, tell us about it – details in the first article in the series.

NOTE FROM MARK: I was about to start writing about the Inner Critic last week, when Marelisa Fábrega sent in this excellent piece, which is a perfect fit for this series. So I’ve decided to leave you in her capable hands…

Your inner critic is that little voice inside your head that’s usually trying to stop you from creating. It uses phrases such as the following: “Who are you to think you can create anything?”; “Why would anyone want to read anything you write?”; and “This poem doesn’t even rhyme. Just give up already”. The inner critic is always lurking in the shadows of your mind, ready to make an unwelcome appearance whenever you get the urge to create.

It knows just how to push your buttons, too. Of course, it has an unfair advantage, since it’s privy to your innermost thoughts. You can almost see it leaning back on an overstuffed blue and white striped chaise longue, taking copious notes on its Moleskine of what you consider to be your major faults and shortcomings, tucking the knowledge away for a future date when it might come in handy. Is that a smirk on its face? Miserable critic. (And where on earth did it get a chaise longue and a Moleskine?)

The Inner Critic is such a commonly encountered obstacle that it was no surprise that several Lateral Action readers told us about it when we invited you to tell us about your creative blocks.

“Self-doubt. I have an idea, then I start analyzing and criticizing it… ‘Can I really do this? Do I really want to do this? Will people really want this? Isn’t there is too much competition? Why waste my time on something that’s going to fail?’ … then in my despair I move onto something else without taking action.”

(Philip Riggs)

“Self doubt – ‘Will my ideas fly and am I good enough?’ ”

(Nicole Sims, Coley Sims)

“Okay…I got several ideas to try out…but most of the times I feel, ‘Hey, there are lot of people like me in the world, and lot of super intelligent guyz – wouldn’t they have thought of the same thing and implemented it? Will I fail if I implement my own idea?’

“I’ve been trying to overcome, but it’s really a toughie.”

(Pk, Taskbender)

“I think my biggest creative block is getting to a stopping point, seeing that everything looks great, and then being afraid to continue, for fear of ruining it… I suspect it has to do with my inner critic and perfectionism, and I have some techniques I use to trick myself, but would surely love to hear more ideas!”

(Paula Swenson)

“Getting stuck at the theory stage – this takes many forms, but I often get stuck in the mindset of ‘This idea I’ve had is going to look rubbish, so I’m not going to attempt it. I’ll wait until a better idea comes along.’”

(Michael Radcliffe, Artbizness)

Fortunately, there are ways to get around your inner critic; in fact, you might even be able to persuade it to help you. Below you’ll find four ways to silence your inner critic so that you can get to work and start creating.

Method 1 – Treat The Inner Critic as a Partner

The image created above of the inner critic is that of ‘inner critic as evil troll or gremlin’. However, Chris Cade from the blog Inscribe Your Life suggests that we give the inner critic a different role: that of an overly protective mother-type character that’s just trying to help, albeit in a very misguided way. He explains that your inner critic acts out of love: it’s trying to protect you and keep you from getting hurt.

Therefore, the answer is not to reject your critic, but rather to ask it to allow creativity to flow freely for now, without judging or critiquing the process. The critic can then participate at a later stage of the project, by pointing out grammatical and spelling errors, noticing where the writing doesn’t flow well, or letting you know if something doesn’t make sense and needs to be explained in a different way. Chris adds that we should embrace our inner critic and take it on as a partner.

Method 2 – Trick Your Inner Critic

Mark Forster is the author of the fabulous book on productivity Do It Tomorrow. He explains that, often, what our rational mind decides to do and what we actually end up doing are two entirely different things. For example, we may decide to sit down and get to work on our novel, but we end up filing papers, organizing our desk, and balancing our checkbook instead. What Foster calls “the reactive brain” — which is responsible for sidelining our best-laid plans to create — is very similar to our inner critic.

One way for the rational mind to take control of the situation is to trick the inner critic. For example, if you want to write a novel, your inner critic might perceive this as a threat: it’s probably going to be difficult; it’ll take you out of your comfort zone; it’s going to be a lot of work; it worries that you won’t find a publisher; it reminds you that you might get a one-star review on Amazon and then your life would basically be over; and so on.

So you trick your inner critic into thinking that you’re not really going to write a novel, you’re just going to gather the necessary materials and set them down on your desk. A few minutes later you tell your inner critic that you’re just going to work on creating the profile for your main character. That’s all, just create a character profile. Then you can continue to work on the project in timed bursts, creating a scene, coming up with names for secondary characters, deciding on a setting, and so on.

Getting your inner critic to go along with working on small chunks is a lot easier than getting it to “write a novel” with no limits set to make the task appear easier and more manageable. In this way you can write an entire novel without letting your inner critic know what you’re up to.

Method 3 – Banish Your Inner Critic

When she was ten years old, SARK – Susan Kennedy – announced to her mother, “I’m supposed to be a beacon of hope to the world and write books.” Today she’s written over fourteen books which combine bright, scribbled pictures and handwritten pages, and which encourage everyone to be more creative. She says that she loves it when someone looks up shyly at her and tells her, “I’m a writer.”

SARK confesses that she’s struggled with her inner critic all her life — she calls her inner critic “The Pusher” — and offers the following suggestions for dealing with your inner critic:

  • To get past your inner critic you have to slide on your stomach under the gate with your identification papers in your mouth.
  • Make little signs that say “Yes!” and post them all over your house, even while your inner critic screams “No!”
  • Banish your inner critic to Madagascar on an expedition to search for rare lemurs.

SARK adds that your inner critic needs to criticize and work, because that’s what inner critics do. However, it doesn’t really matter what the work is. So come up with mundane tasks for your critic to do while you get on with the task of writing.

Method 4 – Use Affirmations to Deal With the Critic’s Negativity

Eric Maisel, Ph.D. is a San Francisco-based creativity coach and trainer of creativity coaches. He has worked with creative and performing artists for more than twenty years and has written many excellent books on creativity. In addition, he’s a family therapist.

In Write Mind: 299 Things Writers Should Never Say to Themselves (and what they should say instead), Dr. Maisel suggests that you use positive affirmation as a way to deal with the negativity of the inner critic. He explains that when you hear yourself saying things such as “There is far too much going on in my life right now to write”, you should immediately counter this negative statement with a “right mind statement”. Your right mind statement in this case could be “I will write first thing every morning”.

For many people, the inner critic has a powerful voice which can have a strong negative impact on their attitude and on their sense of self. Instead of just passively accepting what the inner critic says, you can choose to believe something else. Write down everything you hear your inner critic say and develop a positive affirmation to replace the criticism. Here’s another example offered by Dr. Maisel:

Wrong Mind: “Somebody has the answer, and if I read enough books on writing and attend enough workshops, I will learn to write well.”

Right Mind: “I learn to write well by writing.”

Conclusion

You can take a quiz to rate how strong your inner critic is — which was adapted from the book Embracing Your Inner Critic by Hal and Sidra Stone — by going here. Hal and Sidra explain in their book that our inner critic develops early in our lives, absorbing what we hear from others and what society expects from us. It’s not a voice that’s meant to go unchallenged, but rather a part of ourselves which we can choose to ignore or confront. In addition, we can choose to listen to our inner critic only at the appropriate stage of the creative process.

Encourage your inner critic to lie back on the chaise longue and take a long nap. Sing it a lullaby if that will help. Then, while it’s fast asleep, steal the Moleskine and run for your life.

You and Your Inner Critic

How strong is your inner critic?

How do you deal with its attempts to get you to do anything instead of creating?

About the Author: Marelisa Fábrega blogs about creativity, productivity, and simply getting the most out of life over at Abundance Blog at Marelisa Online. Marelisa is the author of the ebook “How to Be More Creative – A Handbook for Alchemists“.

Table of Contents for Break Through Your Creative Blocks

  1. Tell Us Your Creative Blocks – and We’ll Help You Smash Through Them!

Get past two of the biggest obstacles you will ever face

Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success

If you want to achieve something original and meaningful with your life, you must learn to deal with rejection and criticism.

Mark McGuinness shows you how to handle them in his new book Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.

Based on 16 years' experience of coaching creative people like you, Resilience gives you tried-and-tested ways to get past rejection and criticism and succeed on your own terms.

"Read this book and you will be bulletproof!" ~ Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of The War of Art and Turning Pro

Click to learn more about Resilience (and read the opening chapters for free). >>

Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. Hey Marelisa,

    I often try to reason with my inner critic – probably very similar to treating my inner critic as a partner.

    When that fails, I often use affirmations, including leaving little notes around the house and on my desktop to remind me of who I am, and what I’m trying to accomplish =)

  2. Hi Sid: When I’m writing something I’ll sometimes stop myself and think “I’m not sure I should say that” or “I don’t think that sounds right”. But I’ll force myself to leave it there until I’m done, then I take a break, and then I come back and let my inner critic tell me everything that’s wrong with the piece and I start making corrections.

  3. I consistently fight with my inner critic. Sometimes it serves me well and makes me try harder or go the extra mile, but some times it’s just damn frustrating.

    I think for me, getting stuck in is a great way of at lest distracting the inner critic, who tends to hang around when it’s quiet and I have too much time to think. If I can act before it can deter me then by the time its realised, I’ve already got something produced that can at least be tidied up into something I’m happy with.

    Action is a great antidote to doubt.

  4. I like to uncover the inner critic’s true identity. The negativity comes from someone, or several “someones,” that I internalized when I was too young to understand what was taking place.

    When I find the identity of the critic, I also find the source of the critic’s fear or anger. Which means the criticism isn’t about me. Then the criticism can be turned on its head, or safely put aside.

    I’m not pretending that process is easy. But it works for me.

  5. I can imagine how dividing a big task into small chunks would be helpful. Even with writing something short such as a blog post, I have found that telling myself that I’m just going to write an outline, or the first paragraph, really helps.

  6. Hi Stacey: You could also try EFT or The Sedona Method to just release the criticism and negativity without having to identify where it came from in the first place. However, the important thing is that you’ve identified a method that works for you and that allows you to create.

  7. Hi Amy: There’s a saying that goes: “Let your haters be your motivators.” So, in a way, the criticism you receive from your inner critic can be the motivation you need to create something great (and prove that nasty critic wrong). I do see how it can also get very frustrating at times.

  8. Hi Vered: I keep telling my inner critic, “OK, just five more minutes, give me just five more minutes of peace and quiet.” I can usually trick it for about an hour and a half with “just five more minutes” (it’s not very bright, you see). :-)

  9. That’s a great list. Personally I’m a big fan of #3. I listen to the critic when I need to but more often than not I find “critic” turns into “resistance.”

    Interestingly, my critic doesn’t have anything to do with other people’s perceptions (i.e. “Why would anyone want to read this”). The focus for me is entirely on “Can I really pull this off?”

    I find the more I do, and do well, the less that critic exists.

  10. I’ve learned to love my inner critic – a bit llike treating it like an over-protective parent. I think it exits to protect us, but it’s a bit primative – something is right or wrong, black or white, no shades of grey. So, as with an over-protective parent, I listen respectfully to my inner critic, I take its comments on board (in case it’s rght!), but I also accept that it’s coming from a position where it doesn’t always see the whole picture. Then I let it nap, while I run!

  11. Hi Justin: Thank you. I completely agree that by doing lots of creating you slowly silence your critic. In addition, the more things you do well, the more evidence you have to counter anything negative your critic tries to come up with.

  12. Hi Topi: I think we do create the negative beliefs that the inner critic shoots back at us in an effort to protect ourselves. You’re right to listen and take anything it says which might be helpful and just disregard everything else. Let’s build a bonfire and burn those Moleskines. :-)

  13. A while back I learned to do some of these same things to handle my inner critic. I would get writer’s block because of the little critter. So, I would tell him that this was just a first draft, it was MEANT to be bad and that it was okay. I told him I would call him after the draft so he could help clean it up. And that let me get to writing.

    And, I would honor my promise to myself and let him help before I considered something finished. And, quite often, he would tell me that what I wrote was “not half bad.” Which, as you know, is high praise from an inner critic.

    After a while, he didn’t need to be told to go away when I “first drafting” because he would recognize it and know that he would be called in later.

    That is still pretty much the case on writing. However, we have not gotten to that stage in painting, music, or public speaking. I am still training myself on those areas. But I know the process now (for me.)

  14. I think I’ll just have to keep the inner critic as another “point of view”. I’ll listen to it, take the good ones and ignore the rest, as Marelisa says.

  15. I am a musician, and my band found a way to deal with that critic that works for any kind of creative medium. It’s simple to do:

    Make quantity goals, not quality goals.

    What we did was to undertake a Song of the Day project, and we produced one song for every day for a year. 365 songs. What you find when you have a quantity goal is that when the critic says “This sucks” you tell it, “Yeah, well, I have a lot more to create to meet the goal, so I can’t throw this idea out, so let’s finish it and move on.”

    What happens when you do this is that even the smallest, dumbest ideas sometimes turn into creative gems. Especially if you can work with other people on it (as a band does!)

    When you have to explore every idea that you have, you end up with surprising ideas. I like to think of it this way:

    “There’s a reason for every creative thought that you have.”

  16. Thanks for a great article!

    I work in substance abuse treatment and facilitate a self-esteem enhancement group called “Putting Down the 2×4″. Group members are encouraged to identify harsh, destructive comments made by the Inner Critic, recognizing that although versions of these comments may have originally come from Mom/Dad/spouse/lover/employer/peer/etc., none of these people are currently in the room, so the Inner Critic’s voice is now their own. It is suggested that beating oneself up with such negativity is akin to scrawling these words on a 2×4 and using it to hit onself over the head.

    Group members are given permanent markers and small wooden slats approximating 2×4′s, then instructed to write one or more of the critical comments on one side and a positive affirmation (or several) on the other.

    Members are reminded that they have choices over which side they’ll focus on and that they have the ability, when stuck on the negative, to “turn it over.” Finally, members are encouraged to give the Inner Critic the hour/day/week/year off and “put down the 2×4.”

  17. Good Article! I will have to add that your inner critic doesn’t really matter does it? It’s just a Nuisance, nothing more or nothing less. Just tell it to shut up – don’t get angry, stay calm and collect! Ask yourself – can your inner critic do anything, write, read, create, cook, clean, drive, – don’t think so! So why take advice from something that can’t do anything? You are so much smarter than that thing. I like to laugh at mine!

  18. I love how you point out that the inner critic can be a partner. I think it has no business meddling in a first draft, but can be used later… after the ideas are fully fleshed out.