6 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic
I have an inner critic. Her name is Joan, and she’s a real bitch. (also, sorry if you’re reading this and your name is Joan. I’m sure you’re lovely).
Joan says things like:
"This looks like a two year old drew it"
"You're not good enough"
"Do you actually think that looks good?"
"Just give up"
As I've plugged along every day on my 100 Day Project, "Joan" has pretty much made snarky comments to me every day. She tries to make me feel small. To give up. To give in (to ANYTHING but doing the work). To stop trying and to stay comfortable.
I know that I'm not the only one with a "Joan" in my head. If your inner critic gives you a hard time, know this: firstly, you're not alone. Secondly, that inner voice IS. NOT. YOU. It's your fear...and it can be silenced.
Here are five ways to silence your inner critic (at least for now):
The NUMBER ONE thing that has helped my creative practice in the last two years is leaning into a meditation practice. I do it first thing in the morning for about 15 minutes and it not only sets my day up for success, but it has allowed me to get some space from my inner critic.
Pre-meditation, my “self” and my inner critic sounded like the same voice. I would get frustrated when she showed up (I tend to feel it in my throat and as a tingly sensation that creeps up my entire body) and more often than not, quit before I had a chance to see things through because I didn’t like how she made me feel.
Meditation has shown me how to recognize each voice for what it is. Do I sometimes feel like a crazy person as I have arguments with my inner critic in my head? You betcha. Just the other day my critic was trying to tell me that my work was lousy and childish and worthless. I was using a new medium and working through ideas in my sketchbook. Of course it wasn’t going to be “perfect”. That wasn’t the point of the exercise. The critic showed up, but I was able to silence her within a few minutes. I could recognize her voice as destructive and unhelpful because I knew she wasn’t ME.
2. Remember the creative “U”
When I’m making art, it usually starts off in Okay Island, progresses down Rubbish Road into “The Place Where Dreams Go To Die”, then comes back up into “I-Can-Live-With-That Land or, at best, Finishedville. Turns out, this is super common and known as the “Painting Curve” (or swap “painting” for whatever medium you work in).
On the painting curve, everything starts out looking okay, than as you progress, things get messy and ugly and you may want to scrap it all and give up. This is when you need to push through and do the down-and-dirty work to get back to the to top the curve.
I find this image super helpful whenever my inner critic starts piping up (and it’s usually near the bottom of the curve). I try and remind myself where I am on the curve and that it’s okay that things are messy. I also try not to get too detailed or nitpicky at this point. Stepping back and/or making bigger moves seems to get the work out of the bottom of the curve more quickly than getting too detailed does.
Your inner critic will not like being reminded of where you are on the curve. She (or he) will try and give you a critique before you are finished…but that’s like having someone taste your soup when all you have are the aromatics in there and things haven’t had time to become “soupy”. Of course it’s not going to taste good. It needs time and more ingredients to become what it was meant to be. Remind the critic of the curve and tell him/her to come back when the work is done.
TRY: Drawing a giant “U” on a big piece of paper. Tape it up on your studio wall. Put a brightly-colored Post-it on the area of the “U” that your work currently resides in. Move the Post-It as you progress through the curve. It’s okay to be at the bottom for awhile.
3. DSD - Do Something Different
Have you stared at the same work for too long? Does it feel like you’re making no progress? Do you think you suck as a creative and want to give up?
First, remember this: the beauty and growth that comes with creativity is in the process NOT the finished product. You are ALREADY a success just by showing up. Now, we all experience blocks and feelings of failure and those moments are the ones when the critic shows up. So, here are a few things to try next:
Walk away. Seriously, stop looking at your work. Go outside. Take a walk. Read a book. Stop and smell the flowers (literally). Just because you’re not actively working doesn’t mean you’re not participating in the creative process (workaholics, looking at you here). A change of scenery can stop the critic in his tracks.
Practice gratitude. Make a list of ten things you are grateful for. It can be anything. (i.e. I am grateful for fingernails so that I can loosen balls of string with ease). Find ten things you appreciate and write them down with a real pen or pencil. Tape the list up in our studio. Do this any time your critic tries to take you down. Pretty soon you will have a wall of appreciation that you can reference any time you’re feeling stuck.
Try a brain dump or word map. Maybe you’re stuck for ideas. Maybe you’re too deep in your own head. Try getting all the things you’re thinking about out onto paper (yes, again, real paper). Look for patterns or clues that there is something leading you in a direction that you might not have seen before.
Try number 4, below.
4. Make intentionally “bad” work
Pull out the supplies for whatever medium you work in with the sole purpose of making something completely fugly. Work at a scale that feels manageable and one that you won’t be sad chucking into the garbage at the end of this exercise (if you’re a painter: try an 8-1/2 x 11 paper; if you’re a writer: try a haiku; if you’re a photographer: try your iphone or an Instax).
Work quickly without too much thought. You’re not going for perfection here. As soon as you start, your critic will probably start to chime in. Let her/him. Keep making the thing anyway. Make it as ugly as you can make it.
When you feel like it can’t get any worse, stop. Look at the work in all of its horrid glory. Let your critic say whatever he/she wants to say about it. Tape the work up somewhere so you can see it.
Now start fresh. This time, go about your normal business. Because you just made something really bad, your critic may be satisfied with having torn you down for the time being and stay silent. If she pipes up, just look up at the bad thing that you intentionally made and tell her “Nothing can be worse than that. Just wait and let’s see where this goes.”
Please try this exercise. The act of starting with something bad makes EVERYTHING else easier afterwards. I promise.
You can see a time lapse of me doing this exercise here.
There is a statistic (that’s I’m probably going to butcher here, but go with me) that something like 90% of the top performing athletes/business people/creatives exercise at least six days a week. Six! Are you moving your body or have you been sitting in the same chair for so long that you can’t feel your legs (*raises hand* been there).
Go and move your body. Better yet, start your day with exercise. Studies show that exercise boosts both your creativity and your productivity…and who doesn’t want more of both of those things.
“But I don’t like to work out.”
Here’s some tough love: GET OVER YOURSELF.
I’m not saying that you should go run five miles if you hate running, but find something that you like to do and then PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR. Seriously. Schedule it in or you’ll never “find the time” to do it.
If there’s one thing I could tell you to try first when you’re feeling stuck, it’s this one. I ALWAYS feel refreshed, inspired, and full of new ideas after getting my blood pumping. Get moving!
6. Create before you consume.
Are you one of those people who checks their phone immediately after waking up? Stop that right now.
Unless you are expecting an urgent communication about your business/family/health/life, everything else can wait. NO ONE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SCREEN ACTUALLY NEEDS YOU RIGHT NOW. It’s true. Don’t open Facebook. DO NOT open Instagram. Don’t even read/watch the news. All these things, while entertaining, can suck the creative life right out of you before you even begin.
Instead, pour all the creative energy you just made while you were sleeping into YOUR OWN work before you’re influenced (consciously or not) by the outside world. It keeps the critic at bay by raising the “comparison bar”: you know the one. The one that shows up when you just looked at someone else’s work before you started making your own. The critic starts in with comments like “She is so much better than you” or “His work has meaning. yours is so childish”. That’s when the bar gets low and your critic can reach right up and pull your creativity down. Keep that “comparison bar” high up, out of the critic’s reach as long as you can.
A few other tricks:
Set up the “screentime” function on your iphone. I set my limit for two hours/day, between 9am and 11am and I also set my limit to 15 minutes at a time. This window works for me because I tend to post work to Instagram during this window. I can engage with people and maybe do a five-minute scroll, and then I can shut it off. The other thing it does is that after your time is “up” (again, for me, 15 minutes), it overlays your screen with a notification so that you have to actively choose to keep scrolling. I’m telling you, once that overlay pops up, I’m out.
Set your phone to grayscale mode. This makes social media SUPER boring. If you are an artist, looking at other artwork, perusing color work in black and white sucks. I never last more than a couple minutes before I get bored. Go make your own work instead.
Schedule your projects! Ever walk out to the studio to start to work and then find yourself stuck? Odds are you pull out your phone to get some “inspiration” to get you going. This habit is not helping you. Take the time to think through your work. Are you creating a collection? Take a day or two to figure out what you want to make ahead of time so that when the day(s), you know exactly what to work on when you roll into the studio. Another trick is to reverse engineer your projects. Figure out the end result, then, work backwards, planning out all the smaller steps you will need to take to get there. I just keep a simple Google calendar with all of my projects in it scheduled by day, but Basecamp and Asana are also both great. No scrolling. No excuses. No critic.
I hope that was helpful! Do you have any other tips for silence that critic? If so, leave them in the comments below so other people can find them.