Tame the Inner Critic
Three ways to help you tame the critic and find your voice.
Have you ever had this conversation with yourself?
This idea is amazing, I could do this.
You? Who do you think you are? No way can you do this.
You have no experience. It’s impossible. Who do you think you are?
What is the Inner Critic?
You shut down this moment of inspiration, reject your creative impulse, and stop exploring your dreams. You’re listening to your Inner Critic, the strict, critical voice that normalises feelings of inadequacy. When listened to, it is a form of self-constraint. For me, it pops up a lot. And I am pretty sure we all know this voice. Lodged in your ear, it’s a song stuck on repeat, singing “you can’t do this”.
It is hard not to listen to the critic. You may even believe it is the voice of reason. Ironically, it is there to protect you. We have a threat defense system that involves a part of our brain called the amygdala. When we sense danger, our response is typically, fight, flight, freeze or submit. In the case of our Inner Critic, when it speaks up, our sympathetic nervous system activates and we can be overcome with adrenaline and cortisol.
I had a dream of being an artist in some shape or form. Instead, I trained as a teacher. I told myself that an artistic career is one of fancy, a career in teaching is good and solid. (which is true if you want to work as a teacher)
Throughout my teaching career, I felt the fight, flight, freeze or submit response daily.
I fought against what my heart told me – “You can do something else, No I can’t”.
I took flight – every holiday I had, I travelled, convincing myself that these holidays would fill the massive void I felt with my career choice.
I froze. I stayed in the career – listening to others tell me it was a great choice, and I was lucky. This feeling of luck never arrived.
I trained more, hoping the next course in literacy, numeracy, special education would fill a void. In doing this, I submitted to my Inner Critic.
The critic brought along its pal, self-critique to keep me company. There was the comparative self-criticism. I based my self-esteem on how others seemed to have a better life than mine due to their “better” choices. And the internalised self-criticism. I felt I could not live up to my personal ideals and standards. The critic seeped into many parts of my life.
The Inner Voice
Along with our Inner Critic, there is also the Inner Voice. This comforting sense, a deep feeling of knowing that this choice is the right one. You can call it your intuition or your gut reaction. We ignore the Inner Voice when we follow the instructions of the Inner Critic.
Your Inner Voice is kinder and wiser. The Inner Critic holds you back.
Listening to the Inner Voice taps into your heart and quietens the rational thought-driven critic.
Three ways to tame the Inner Critic?
1: Move your body
When the critic pipes up, do something to get out of your head and feel into your body. Dance, walk or jog.
Take a cold shower, jump on a trampoline, take five intentional long breaths and sigh when you breathe out.
Do anything that connects you to your body, takes you out of your head and grounds you.
2: Thoughts are not facts
Thoughts, sensations, and feelings are all passing through. The Inner Critic wants you to believe that their perspective is rooted in absolute truth. It’s not. And this can be a radical concept for people to absorb. When the voice speaks up, investigate the thought with kindness.
Hey Inner Critic, here you are again, I’m just going to ask ME a few questions.
This could be fun, will I at least give it a go?
What’s the worst that could happen?
Tell me a little more about that…
The Inner Critic is there to protect you in the best way it knows how. Nourish it, tell it that you will be ok and then take that first step. Befriending a part of you is easier than fighting a part of you. The critic is not going anywhere but it can be tamed with compassion, curiosity and understanding.
Repeat saying this Loving Kindness meditation:
May I be happy, May I be safe, May I be at ease.
Right now, there are ideas floating around you. Their size and potential varies. Some ideas help the world, others just help you. Both have equal value.
Self-doubt and nerves can help you push through your boundaries or stay behind them.
We have a responsibility to reach into the part of ourselves where we think I can’t do this and at least try. Trying lets you reach out to the brightest version of your potential. A place where you can breathe life into ideas.
The Inner Critic will come along with you, it never misses a party. When it points out your inability, it is wrong on every level.
Let yourself create art.
Let the expression of your dream be individual to you.
When we create art, we are in the mindset that I might be able to do this.
We allow ourselves to stumble onto a stage in front of an audience. Stage fright is there, along with the sweaty palms and burning neck.
And isn’t it better to be on that stage in the first round of auditions instead of looking up from the audience and wishing you had the courage to at least try?
I’d love to hear from you.
Have you ever struggled to stay true to what you want? What tools and practices helped you listen to your inner voice? You can send me a message in the box below