If you’ve ever done something creative, be that writing, painting, singing, playing an instrument, acting, miming, sculpting, directing a film or writing a script for it- then you have experienced this. It’s a voice that is always judging your every stroke of brush, every change in note, every stroke on the keyboard, every choice of words. That one voice that insists that every thing you produce has to be a masterpiece and ends up stopping you from making one- it’s none other than the Inner Critic; and it’s my worst enemy. I dread its existence like ‘Po’- the panda from Kung Fu Panda dreads stairs. Without the comic element.

And if you’re like me, you give up trying. You go find something safe to do, something where there’s a guideline and rules to help you. You only come back once the voice has stopped completely. Then you start again, and slowly your inner critic starts to creep up on you from the inner depths of your subconscious. Trust me, right now as I’m writing I’m feeling the urge to quit as questions are appearing like:

‘Is it going to be as good as the other posts?’
‘Am I sure this is a good choice for a post?’
‘What if my blog is an utter, disgusting failure?’
And the list goes on… But why am I not stopping?

I have lost a lot of opportunities in my life because of listening to this voice. A LOT. From romantic interests to attractive jobs to achieving self fulfillment- this guy, this inner voice has often talked me out of what I was doing to express myself. And like a daft idiot, I kept listening (which I am assured happens to writers many times in their lives). I got scared of producing something ‘low standard’ and quit. I didn’t even question who was setting these ‘standards’? So I went back to studying, and good grades kept me happy.

The problem with being a good student is, you get the illusion of progress every time you are attempting exams. You feel like you’re gaining success, but if you want to be an artist, academic success has nothing to do with performance. Even getting an A in an acting course does not guarantee that you will be an Oscar winning Hollywood star.

You can only find it out how good you are when you have created something that people can see and appreciate (or criticize).

So I decided to learn how I can kill this voice in my head and go on with my life. Then again, when I ignored the inner critic completely, my works seemed like they were missing a finish touch, like something was left to add and I could’ve done better. I learnt that the critic inside me is good for me, but only after I have completed the work and reading/watching it before publishing/posting it.

And after going through many trial and errors, here are my tested methods for dealing with the inner critic:

1. Whatever Inner Critic Says Is Just A Thought:

Just because you’re thinking something, doesn’t mean it has to be true. Pay attention to what you’re thinking about and tell yourself that, it doesn’t necessarily have to be true. Our thoughts often become exaggerated, biased, and disproportionate. Sometimes our own emotions distort logic and the inner critic is just using these flawed logic to stop you. So when you are performing, don’t listen to the thought that says ‘this is not good’ and leads you to ‘shut down mood’. Tell yourself that it’s ‘Just a thought’ and if it’s not good, then turn on ‘Let’s Try Harder’ mode. After you’ve completed your work, you can think of where adjustments need to be made. But at least now you have something to work on.

Prepare your mind so that when the inner critic comes up to say negative things during performance, this happens:

via GIPHY

The inner critic is evaporated into dust with a deadly explosion, and you’re back to creating your work of art.

2. See Failure as Data for Improvement & Mistakes as Lessons:

Our society (in Bangladesh) has enforced an unofficial taboo on failing & a ban on making mistakes. That is because, our society lives in a 3rd world developing economy and is not exactly made up of well educated, well informed individuals. It is made up of clerk mentality snobs who are still suffering from the colonial slave attitude that the British Empire installed in their ancestors. That is why, a civil servant has a secured future and an artist doesn’t know for how long he can survive on his art. (No offense to civil servants)

But, we can not be like them. Because the British Empire left us 69 years ago. And now we have access to knowledge and information from all over the world. There you will find it in every motivational book or speech, that failure and mistakes are just minor speed breakers along our path. If we continue the journey we will achieve success.  We lose hope only when we think of them as a road block, as the great wall of China. Then we change the course of our journey- and say to the next person who dreams, “I failed and so will you”.

failure and mistakes are just minor speed breakers along our path. If we continue the journey we will achieve success.

Isn’t it time we changed all that? Well, if you are planning be successful in a creative profession, you have to. So stop fearing failure and mistakes. They are natural and will keep occurring from time to time. The trick is not to repeat the mistakes you have made in the past. Keep track of them and avoid them in the future. Write them down in a journal. You will see how immensely this habit will help you.

3. Turn the Critical Thoughts into Measurable Statements

When we are overly pessimistic, we fail to think of more rational and realistic statement. We find ourselves thinking, “I never do anything right,” “I suck big times”, “I can’t do this”, “The quality of my films are shit”, etc. Instead, turn them into actual, measurable statements. Like, you can turn the above statements respectively into:

” I have not done it right every time I tried to write my story with a male lead character…. or every story I wrote after midnight has been dull”

“My YouTube video sucked because my voice and energy was low”

“I can’t do this in the evening because there is too much noise around”

“My film was shit because it lacked a good story and good character development”.

Can you see that already you are beginning to work on your problems? Now you know what you need to change to create better artwork. That’s the way to turn the inner critic into your friend and help you out.

4. Challenge the Inner Critic

Even though this method is a bit childish, but it can help. You just keep asking the critic questions instead of him asking you back. Now, don’t become a self-talking person in public, because people will think you’ve gone nuts. Just take some time and think the answers through by having some internal dialogues. You can even write these thoughts if self talk is not your thing.

1. So what, Mr. Inner Critic?

Just because you’re saying it doesn’t mean it’s true. Besides, even if I fail, I will try again. And that time I will be aware of the mistakes.

2. Who give a shit?

You may try to sound as if you’re the wisest soul, Mr. Inner Critic- but I don’t care about your opinions! I will listen to my passion and not you.

3. Tell me what happens if I fail this?

What exactly will I lose? People whom I don’t know will have opinions on me? Will it cost me a lot of money? Will it make people unhappy?

Once you’ve thought about the stakes, ask the critic to help you, not block you. Think of how you can do it better. And then go and do it.

4. Mr. Inner Critic, have you thought about what I will lose (or not gain) if I don’t do this?

Think of why you are doing this. Of course, you have a purpose for creating art, right? Even if it is because you love doing it, you have a purpose- to feel good about yourself. So if you don’t finish the task, how will you feel good?

Answers to these questions should give you more clarity about your inner state. Now ask yourself one last time. Do I want to this? Or not?

If yes, don’t worry, not even for a second. Just go and do it. Because you are about to create something special now, whether the inner critic likes it or not. And besides, your inner critic is there to protect you from embarrassment, so how will it feel to know that you never tried? Isn’t giving up halfway the most embarrassing thing?

If you want to know about how to be confident, click here. It’s written in Bengali though.

Do you have a routine in your life to become better at expressing yourself? Or to progress at a faster rate than others? You can compare with mine, or, you can get ideas about how to start by reading my post about my routine.

 

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