Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Dealing With Your Internal Critic
Sometimes it is easy to recognize an Internal Critic. It is the snide, little voice that speaks up just as you are sliding a cake into the oven. "Hope it doesn't fall!" says the voice.
...and sometimes it's not so easy to understand what's going on. The Inner Critic can be deceptively cute. It may seem helpful--incapable of inflicting psychological harm...
For example, does this IC look dangerous?
This type of innocent-looking IC will will appear to go along with your creative project; then it will say, "Wouldn't you write/paint/cook/sew/decorate a LOT better if you washed the towels? Just get that out of the way, and you'll concentrate a lot better."
You'd forgotten about those towels. But now, the cute, blue IC has mentioned this oversight. How thoughtful! Because you really need to do the laundry. While the washing machine is churning, you open the refrigerator. As you reach for a Diet Coke, the IC says, "Gee, it wouldn't take a minute to wipe this shelf."
The next thing you know, the morning is gone. But it hasn't been a wash out, has it? You've got a neat pile of towels to show for your effort. And your refrigerator is sparkling clean. You can just write/bake/sew/paint/decorate tomorrow.
Tomorrow, your IC is stronger, and even more devious. It knows how to push your buttons. It knows YOU.
But there is peace on the other side. The Internal Critic can be banished--not forever, but for a while.
It's impossible to know the enemy unless you've got a few clues. The easiest way is to give your critic a shape. A face. You can find one in your child's toy box (plastic action figure):
You can draw one--or create your own--a Mr. Potato Head Internal Critic. Or maybe it is the plastic snake (or gnome) from your garden.
This may sound strange, but it can be helpful to give your IC a name--because the more you know about it, the better.
Sometimes yelling will work. Tell it to hit the road, Jack. Tell it you'll send a text message. Just don't get too worked up, because the IC feeds on your energy. It loves for you to blame yourself and others. It needs you to focus on anything but your project. The IC scores big time when you waste time--and words--on It.
Now that you've personalized the little monster, find a box. It should fit your Internal Critic.
A drawer or closet will work, too.
When you get ready to write a blog entry, cook a meal, sew curtains, arrange objects on your mantle, or set the table--your Internal Critic will soon materialize. "Hi!" it will say in a sugar-won't-melt-in-its-mouth, I'm your friend sort of voice. "Hey," it'll say, "before we get started, shouldn't we make those brownies?"
"No," you tell the Internal Critic (or IC). "I'm writing/sewing/painting."
"That's great," IC says, "but you did promise your (husband/child/PTO) that you would make those brownies. I'm just trying to HELP is all. But go ahead and write/sew/paint. I'm sure the world won't end if you fail to make brownies."
(But only a truly bad person would promise something and then not deliver," the IC whispers. "I'm just saying.")
You look at the clock. It's only nine am. Maybe you should make those brownies. Then you'll have the rest of the day to work.
Even the strongest mind can fall prey to criticism--especially if that criticism has been disguised to look like LOGIC. And the most scathing kind of criticism comes from ourselves. Just like in the movie Poltergeist, "It knows what scares you."
I keep a box next to my laptop. Some days I just drop my IC into the box. Other times I make a big production out of it.
Sometimes no matter what you do, this critic just won't shut up. You can give it a face and a name. You can put it in a box, and still, it won't shut up. This type of "resistant critic" needs a firmer hand. I recommend writing it a letter. You can write a one liner: "Get lost!" or you can write pages.
At this point, just talking to your IC won't work. You need to get it in writing. Don't forget to tell it that you'll need it later--after the blog entry has been written. This is the only time the IC is needed. Because sometimes the Internal Critic can segue into Intuition--and we all need that.
We just need it on our own terms.
You may have to do something symbolic--and drastic. You may have to dig a hole in the backyard and bury your IC. Of course, it will return. Eventually. But you'll know what to do; you will need to find another toy or fluff ball and stick it in your box.
Now. Before you start your project, visualize something calming. Find a soothing picture and pin it to your bulletin board (I like to pin mine to the draperies).
Another effective IC-banishing tool is music. Since I don't have an office, and I write in a room that doesn't have doors, I use an IPod as a sort of "door." That said, some people can't stand noise when they are creating. It's highly personal.
I know writers who can't stand the sound of the refrigerator. Me, a bomb could go off in the next room, and I wouldn't notice. In fact, one time a tree fell on my house, and I didn't even know it till my husband came home. :-)
Also, I like to keep totems nearby. I made a little table out of a concrete garden stool and a round, black tole tray. On this tray I have my box (with the internal critic trapped inside), along with my IPod, statue of St. Jude, a Limoges bread and butter dish filled with rocks and shells, an egg cup, and a very old rabbit planter (I keep pens in this planter).
When your creativity starts flowing, time will slow. Or speed up. You will "fall through the page," as Steve King says. With professional athletes, it's called being "in the zone." Basketball players say that when they are in the zone, the rim just looks bigger--and it's easier to make a basket.
That's your goal. You want to slip into a zone. If you are writing a blog entry, do not stop to spell check. Don't reach for the Thesaurus. Just let the words flow. Give yourself permission to write gibberish. The same goes with decorating--you must give yourself the "OK" sign to take risks. Go ahead and try something new and different on the mantle. Break out of the mold and take a risk.
Maybe you think you aren't creative because your IC is keeping YOU in the box. :-) The way to climb out of the box is to take a risk, try something new, something that pushes you out of your comfort zone--and into a creative zone.
Because sometimes, just sometimes, true gems are discovered when we think we've made a mistake. We wouldn't have penicillin if Alexander Fleming hadn't made a "mistake."
And that's the IC's power over us--it is so worried that we will make a mistake. That we will take a pretty room and make it ugly. And if we make mistakes, then we are bad and unloveable. But if we remove this fear, then we remove its power over us.
It's a work in progress, but a worthy one.
"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes." Mahatma Gandhi