7 Ways to Deal with the Inner Critic

We all know our inner critic very well - Maria presents some helpful insight on how deal with and learn from it!

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. Several sources 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.

Author: Maria Busqué/ edited by Nina @ HELLO STAGE
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