Monday, November 24, 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


  1. Hi Gollum
    Great I understand why I don't get much accomplished! Maybe I just need to get some ear plugs to drown 'it' out! LOL

  2. thank you gollum. I needed this today... I am sure my hands are going to crack and bleed from all the cleaning...and I did so many loads of towels this literally...washed every towel in the house (they may have gotten dusty) lol shall I paint that bathroom...and what can I put on my blog...can you beleive my kids have one of the little red fuzzy things that you have as a monster? I may have to dig it out of the give away

  3. thank you gollum. I needed this today... I am sure my hands are going to crack and bleed from all the cleaning...and I did so many loads of towels this literally...washed every towel in the house (they may have gotten dusty) lol shall I paint that bathroom...and what can I put on my blog...can you beleive my kids have one of the little red fuzzy things that you have as a monster? I may have to dig it out of the give away

  4. any tips for banishing the mental and emotional blockages that stress brings on? I could use a few of those..

  5. Just a little push can be the best . I hope we have some more writing games .Kathy

  6. Well Gollum, once you mentioned MY BUDDY ST. JUDE, I knew just where to turn when my IC gets in the way. I wear a St. Jude medal every day, I'll have to share my little story about him sometime.
    I felt as if you were sitting here in the room, talking to me, as I read this post.
    I want to sit here and continue my story, I found myself awake at 4am with thoughts of how to continue going thru my head. But I am so far behind with Thanksgiving preperations, that I HAVE TO put it all aside for a few days. But I'm sure, as I'm making pies and doing my Martha Stewart 'stuff', I won't be able to stop the flow and thinking of the words you posted today.


  7. Excellent points made here...I like giving my IC a face & a name...never would have thought of that. Happy Thanksgiving! ;-) Bo

  8. What a wise woman you are! Now I have a question...the message you left on my post is that your name? and are you a nurse? Or am I just confused.....?? I I know I am my own worstr critic..maybe it comes from being pushed so hard as a child..maybe it comes from having a father who wanted nothing to do with me...whatever it is it drives my family crazy BUT at the same time it;s what they admire about me a never ending tenacity! French;)

  9. Wow...this was inspiring. Loved what you said about risk-taking. And I'm thinking that burying our IC in a box could be used in other facets of our lives too~~"If only I could lose 10 pounds I'd feel okay about myself" or "Why can't I ever get my pecan pralines to set?" :-)
    Goal today: Look for an ugly IC and find a box that will hold him and all my doubtful thoughts.
    Thanks Gollum...truly!!

  10. Absolutely profound!! Why do some people seem to have more of an inner critic? I consider it a complete burden on my soul.

  11. Great post Gollum... You know many of us fall into this category... I know I do... Loved this and will try to do your suggestions... Thanks have a great day...


  12. This is so "ironic" you post this today.. Dh has said for almost 30 years I'm my own worst critic..I think I'll try some of the things you suggested to see if I can't banish that and just move on my instincts and hit "send"..
    Thanks Gollum ~lynne~

  13. Whew, you have an innner critique too!?! Ok, well that does make me feel a little better. Sometimes I am way to hard on myself and I'm going to use your helpful tips on banishing that ugly ol' IC...I call him "Ick"! :)


  14. Gollum, my IC has been in rare form for two days now. I think I will but her little furry butt in the dryer for a couple of hours tonight so that I can finish my story! :)


    Donna Marie

  15. I am almost speachless after reading your kind comment on my blog. I do not know how you found that I had written a story, since I made a decision to not come tell you. My internal critic does not tell me what I should be doing (he needs to tell me to get up and do my Thanksgiving cooking right now). He tells me what I shouldn't be doing (like sharing a story I wrote with other people, or sharing pictures of my home with other people). I believe the comment you left me will go a long way toward helping me to box up my inner critic. I really cannot tell you how much it meant to me for you to leave that wonderful note. I am so flattered and honored. Thank you so much. laurie

  16. Well put Gollum! Thank you for all your encouragement. Jan

  17. Thanks Gollum....You are so right! I think as women we are more inclined to hear the Internal Critic tell us to do the practical things...the ones that show we love our families. I like your idea of naming it and putting it in a box so that we can allow ourselves some creative time. I'm going to dig through my grandson's Happy Meal toys this morning! Have a great day...Debbie

  18. I realized after I left my last comment that what I should have said is that my internal critic made a decision to not come tell you I had written a story. Obviously, I am not completely rid of him! Do you think there is some significant psychological reason I call my ic a "him"? LOL! laurie

  19. Awesome story today Gollum...and I have just the pefect box to bury it in..My late Dh use to say I was an army of one always fighting with myself..trying to make every thing perfect..thanks I needed that on to baking breds and making candy..Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family...hugs and smiles Gloria

  20. Oh, Dearest Wise One! Yes, you are! Great information for us today! I think I get in my own way too much. My little IC is always whispering in my ear and I listen to the little voice too much! I think I'll knock the little stinker off my shoulder and go get one of Chloe Dawn's little toys and give a name to the little booger!
    You're the greatet!!
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  21. That was extremely interesting...a lot of great helpful ideas. I think I accidently buried my muse instead of my inner critic lol

  22. Gollum, Thanks for describing something that is often below our level of consciousness....and for the photos illustrating the wily forms the IC takes to trick us. No one knows us better than our own inner self, so why do we let the IC ruin our self-esteem and beauty of soul? You bring music to my heart! Fieldstone/Pam

  23. I thought I had left that darn IC back in England, but nope it's followed me all the way here, I am going to do what you do Gollum, name it and put it in a box. Have a magical time with your family, hugs, Kathy.

  24. Gollum,

    I had three glasses of wine and I finally posted! (LOL) I hope what I wrote makes a little sense! (LOL) Tipsy or not, I had fun with this exercise!

    Donna Marie

  25. Hi Gollum :)

    What about the inner critic that makes you feel guilty about doing housework, Christmas decorating, vacation time and not getting around to see good blogging friends?

    I really do feel awful and no idea that you had posted this much since my last visit. These days it seems that I can't keep up with any of it, especially visiting blogs I enjoy like yours.

    Off to read what else I've missed....