A Guide for Creatives
We, artists and creators, have that little voice in our head that we swear is trying to destroy us. The good ol’ inner art critic. It chips away at our confidence with little digs like:
“I’m not as good as the other artists.”
“I’m going to fail.”
“I really suck at this.”
Even the most successful artists have an inner critic. None of us are immune to negative thoughts. In my opinion, these negative thoughts are actually beneficial in some ways, but if you aren’t careful and don’t control your inner critic, that little a**hole can prevent you from pursuing any of your dreams.
Since I have battled with my inner critic for years, I wanted to share with you how I finally tamed it. Now you can too.
1. Realize that you have control over your thoughts.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could somehow make our brains only think happy thoughts? Over the years, I met really optimistic people and wondered how they could be so positive. I assumed their brains were just wired to exclude negativity. As I’ve gotten older, I realized positive thoughts are a choice, and believing in yourself is a choice. It’s not that I needed a different brain. I needed to train and control the one I have.
Your thoughts are actions. Thinking positive or negative thoughts can be the same as taking a walk or eating an apple. Your thoughts are mental actions and your brain is a muscle that can be strengthened. Thinking positive thoughts is a behavior and you have a choice to work at it or not. I’m not saying it’s easy. It takes discipline. Taming your internal critic means taming your own thoughts.
2. Understand that success doesn’t make your inner critic disappear.
You have to stop waiting for success to feel good about yourself.
In the past, I thought if I could just prove to myself that I could succeed that I would develop confidence and finally be rid of my inner critic. If I can prove I’m good at what I do, then I’d have permission to believe I can succeed. This seems logical, but it’s a recipe for misery and it gives our inner critic more fuel.
We torture ourselves when we wait for proof and permission to believe we can succeed. You have to believe you can succeed right now and you don’t need proof. Your inner critic will be there through success and failure.
3. Acknowledge that your inner critic is a crappy best friend that can be trained.
Imagine you were training for a 5k with your best friend. You got up every morning, put on running shoes, and jumped on side-by-side treadmills. Now, imagine that best friend was muttering this to you the whole time:
“We’re never going to be able to run a 5k. You’ve never done it before. What makes you think it’s possible now? Look at you. You can’t even run a mile. Obviously, you’re not going to last. You haven’t proven you can do it. We’re out of shape. Those people over there run way better than us.”
Would you tolerate a friend doing this to you? You’d probably be thinking that your friend is too negative and maybe you should train with someone else. But, we let our inner critics do this to us ALL THE TIME and we can’t get away from them. So, I started to see my inner critic as a friend that I needed to teach better manners. Don’t just ignore it or tell it to shut up.
Figure out why your inner critic was saying such negative things and have a conversation with it. “Hey, dude. Why you gotta be so negative all the time?”
4. Realize your inner critic is just trying to keep you safe.
And the answer to that last question: Our inner critic is trying to keep us from harm. Your negative best friend actually has good intentions. Whether it’s mental harm or physical harm, that little voice is meant to slow you down a little so you can assess the possible risks in whatever action you are about to take.
When you feel your inner critic start to speak when you are in a creative space, acknowledge the things it is trying to protect you from like failure, humiliation, not fitting in, not being good enough, etc., then tell it that there really is no danger. If you fail, then you try again. If your art sucks, then you practice some more. Or, if you get made fun of, you brush it off.
When it comes to art and creativity, your inner critic is speaking out of turn. When it comes to dreaming that you can fly by jumping out of an airplane naked, your inner critic has a really good point when it speaks up and says “Hey, I don’t think this is going to work.” This is what I was talking about before when I said negative thoughts can be beneficial.
Be nice to your inner critic. It’s afraid and it’s just trying to keep you from taking a risk that may cause both of you harm.
5. Know that your inner critic doesn’t have the answers.
Your inner critic is afraid of all of the possible ways you can get hurt, but do not under any circumstances assume that your inner critic knows the truth or the future. It doesn’t have the answers. It only has doubts, fears, and questions.
Simple as that.
6. You are not your inner critic. You have many voices.
Your brain is made up of many voices and skill sets. You have an inner critic, and you have an inner optimist. You also have an inner artist, dreamer, creator, logician, and more. All of these different voices and layers make you who you are. You get to choose which voice has the microphone depending on the situation you are in.
When your inner critic gets loud, turn to the optimist and the dreamer. Ask it what good will come from this situation. Ask it what the worst-case scenarios are. See your art and your creative process through the optimist’s perspective.
Both your inner critic and your optimist have valid points, but once you have evaluated your inner critic doesn’t need to protect you from anything, then you shouldn’t give its opinions more power. Listen to it, acknowledge its worries, and then let the other parts of you speak up.
7. Remember there are no mistakes or failures when it comes to art.
Your inner critic means well, but it will only hold you back if you give it too much power while you are creating. You may try new things and get a different outcome than you expected, but “mistake” or failure aren’t the right words when creating. Allow failure to be a temporary state and not a terminal one. As long as you keep creating, failure isn’t a concern. Remind your inner critic of this.
I’m going to channel Bob Ross here: “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
Make peace with your inner critic.
My inner critic is still in my mind. She lets me know what I’m afraid of and always lets me know when I am approaching the edge of my comfort zone. But, I don’t hold resentment toward her. She is a part of me and it’s my job to tell her that we cannot let fear hold us back.
Training your mind takes a lot of patience and hard work. If you have a strong and vocal inner critic right now, it will take some time to soothe it and allow the other parts of you to speak up. But it’s completely possible to live in harmony with your inner critic.
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