7 Ways to Deal with the Inner Critic
It’s that voice in our head that reminds us that
someone else did something much better than us.
But it is also our judgement to produce better work -
if the inner critic is too loud, it will create anxiety.
So what are the ways to deal with it?
Here is a personal cross section of the internet and my offline experience:
Acknowledge its evolutionary origin.
Seth Godin calls it
“the lizard brain”
– “the prehistoric lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive. [...] The lizard hates change and achievement and risk.” Godin states that in the creative process, the lizard brain jumps in just before shipping is due, to sabotage the project. He further argues that nevertheless, the lizard is here to stay and our job is to figure out how to quiet or ignore it.
In his article Quieting the lizard brain”
Godin never shares strategies to do so. But in his 99u conference talk "Quieting the lizard brain"
he shares some advice: for example, anticipating criticism at the beginning of a project so that you have no other choice than finishing it.
Get into dialogue with it.
point out that the inner critic is in fact an
internalization of the voice of our parents,
teachers and acquaintances. These people wanted us
to become full human beings, whatever this meant in their eyes.
For this purpose they would point out our faults or other people’s
faults, so that we could learn from them.
Hal and Sidra Stone, Ph.D., suggest going into dialogue with the inner critic
to view it and its criticisms more objectively and feel it as something separate from oneself. The aim is to embrace the inner critic and give it some space. This way the inner critic will feel heard, get calmer and won’t be so powerful anymore. I’m strongly summing up this therapy process here. There is an informal test related to this:
How strong is your inner critic?
Externalize it in a creative way.
Therapy is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Paul Ford used his ability to code to create a site
that would externalize his inner critic. He called it: Anxiety Box
It sent him random mean emails during the day.
When he read those emails, the criticism would come
from an outside source. He had outsourced the inner critic.
Ford reports this to have brought very positive effects on his
dealing with the anxiety. The site is not active at this moment
but you can hear Paul talk about it on the podcast ReplyAll.
Have it as your best friend.
One of the most refreshing articles on this topic
I found on 99u.
For author Mark McGuinness,
it’s thanks to honing one’s critical
faculty that one is able to produce high quality creative work.
He believes it’s not realistic to separate idea
generation, execution and evaluation. He suggests a few
experiments to get the inner critic on your side
and do the work together, as good friends.
One experiment is reflecting on the advantages of actually
having a critical faculty.
Another is to tell the critic “I’m not really going to start
just yet, I’ll just make a few sketches”.
He also suggests to promise the critic you’ll review the
work later. Read the full article here.
The Rag Doll.
I heard about someone returning
from an ashram with a little rag doll in their hands.
Apparently, that rag doll was used to represent
their darkest side. They were instructed to have
it with them all the time until they would be at peace with it.
Thinking big through big body movements.
This is an experiment:
imagine your violin is 10 metres long.
How would you play the Mozart concerto on it?
You are still your normal size. You would have to engage
with exaggerated big movements, even grupettos will take
you some effort because the positions are so far away and
your hand is tiny. Now, try do this with a piece you know well.
Not actually holding your instrument but imagining all this.
And see what happens. When you move in big ways,
the inner critic has less space.
The inner critic is fueled by being small in your body.
Being in sensory awareness.
When you are present in the moment, taking in whatever is happening
(in a performance situation: listening to your sound in the room), it’s almost impossible to think at the same time. It’s either on or off. The only useful thought at that moment could be: “[insert your name here], please return to sensory awareness”. What does the room sound like,
how are you taking up space on stage,
what does the room smell like, can I sense my
whole body and not only the singing muscles?
Take just one of them. See if it fits you. Experiment.
The inner critic is here to stay. What is your way to deal with it?
Maria Busqué is a coach for musical performance and a freelance harpsichord player based in Berlin.
You can follow her on twitter, @maria_busque
visit her HELLOSTAGE page
or find out more about her work at www.mariabusque.net.