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