9 Ways to Deal with the Inner Critic

So you want to make art, express yourself, play with paint and make MASTER PIECES! :) Yay!

And you sit down, get all your paints & papers out and miracle of miracles: you begin! (Don’t underestimate this step it’s one of the most powerful steps!) You’ve overcome that fear, you’re happily starting, you’re trying out that face or figure or shape and your spirits are up and running and you’re happily splashing paint around and then … all of a sudden BAM there she is … the bane of your existence, the wrecking ball of your dreams, the crusher of your hopes:

your inner critic

She puts on her glasses, icily looks down at your work and with one arch of her eyebrow ruthlessly extinguishes your blissful creative joy. With one cold tut & a smirk she makes you feel utterly defeated and like a child again.

You hear her voice resounding inside your mind:

“who are you to think you can create anything beautiful?”

“who are you to think this is a good use of your time?”

“that face you just drew? it doesn’t look like a face, please stop this”

“the colours are mud, nothing goes together, this is awful”

“if you can’t paint any pretty pictures, you’re clearly an unworthy human being”

“you’re so useless, you can’t do anything”

“who are you kidding with this crap, just stop already, just stop”

and on and on and on and on she goes.

And you look at your art and you quietly agree with her and put your supplies away and vow to never to paint or draw again.

Or do you?

Believe me dear friend, I have wrestled (and still do occasionally) with my inner critic for years. I know the pain of listening to her bitching and letting her convince you that ‘this creating thing’ you do is a bad idea. I know how painful it is to make paintings you and your inner critic hate! I know how depressing it can be to have an idea in your head that is beautiful and for your painting to not even come close to that idea. For your painting to disappoint you so deeply that you really never want to EVER go through that emotional torment again. True story: I nearly completely gave up painting in my early 20ties as I could not deal with the weeks of depression I felt when a painting I made disappointed me. Dramatic, I know but I had a powerfully destructive inner critic.

So how do we deal with the inner judgement and the feelings of hopelessness, depression and disappointment that follow?

Here are some ideas.

1. Examine the inner critic’s motives for being so hard on you, get to know her drives and motivation. Granted, you might need a couple of therapists helping you with this one, but I can tell you that usually the heavy judgements are an attempt at stopping you from getting hurt further. Inner Critic Lady looks a bit domineering and threatening but is actually a little kitten in disguise worried about you getting hurt more. She’s just adopted pretty harsh & painful methods to try and get you to hurt less. Odd isn’t it? Your inner critic operates from a place of fear, not from abundance and joy which is what you want to try and operate from. It requires quite a bit of bravery and courage though. Through understanding how and why the inner critic operates you might be able to empathise with that part of yourself more and let go of her judgements and move beyond them.

2. Allow, accept & celebrate mistakes and messes! As with learning to walk, drive, playing the piano, learning a new language, doing maths equations, becoming a brain surgeon: you first have to learn the ropes and the basics. As part of this learning process, you have to make mistakes to understand what works and what doesn’t work (preferably if you’re going for ‘brain surgeon’ not on a live brain ;)). Let me explain again; you have to make mistakes to learn about what works and doesn’t work. Note: I’m not saying: accept mistakes or be okay with mistakes, nope I am saying: you HAVE to make them. If you don’t make the mistakes, if you never do anything ‘wrong’ you’ll actually learn a lot less. So give yourself the freedom to make glorious amazing beautiful mistakes and messes, and celebrate them! They are awesome teaching experiences and will help you become a better artist. PS. You can take this further to not even seeing mistakes as mistakes but just as ‘learning experiences’ and fantastic opportunities for growth (there are no mistakes). :) (Edison, inventor of the ‘light bulb’ used to say:

 

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

 

It’s all about mindset  & re-framing this one dear friend. You have this. You can do this.

3. Time. Explain to your inner critic the concept of ‘time’ and how everyone needs it to develop a skill. Ask her kindly to give you some space and time to develop your skills. It takes a baby a whole year (or longer) to learn to walk, you wouldn’t tell it after a week of being alive to ‘walk perfectly already’, you would give the baby the gift of time. Very few people in this world were able to make a masterpiece the first time they picked up a paintbrush. Most people that can paint pictures you like the look of worked hard, slogged hard, faced their fears, allowed mistakes to happen and kept going. If you notice that you really really want to hurry up already being able to make masterpieces NOW YESTERDAY, you want to take some time examining where the urgency is coming from for you and sit with that, allow the feelings and needs to arise and get to know for yourself why it’s so important you want to hurry the process.

4. Compare your work to your own previous works to determine progress but try not to compare your work to other people’s work. We’ve all heard the expression: ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ and I agree if you compare your work to other people’s works. Allow yourself your own journey on the creative path. I know there is a difficult, sometimes confusing line between letting other artists/ people inspire you and you comparing yourself/ your own work to theirs, but try as much as you can to look at the development of your own work by looking at your previous works. You can gain great satisfaction from seeing how you are learning new things and how your paintings have developed so much. And you can show the inner critic your progress. Remember: don’t compare your beginning to someone’s else’s middle, that is like comparing apples to pears, is misleading and discouraging.

5. Examine what you’re doing it all for. If you notice you are creating for the approval of others (which is understandable, we all love to be loved and liked), try with your hardest might to redirect your focus to creating for the sake of creating and what it brings you. If we are creating for the sake of ‘other-approval’ the inner critic is usually a LOT LOUDER in her criticism than if your intention is to simply create because it lights up your heart and soul.

6. Do not equate your self-worth to your abilities/ skills. You are perfectly whole. You are an awesome expression of the universe. You are worthy and good enough just as you are right now. Your worth does not increase if you make amazing paintings and your worth does not decrease if your paintings don’t impress anyone. There is no relationship between your worthiness and your abilities to create a nice painting. None. Zero. Zilch relationshippo there. Be VERY clear on pointing this out to your critic (and your parents and teachers before your inner critic ;)). If you think that your worth is dependent on your skills and abilities, your inner critic will be terrified of making a ‘bad painting’ because ‘bad painting’ means ‘bad you’. Total nonsense. But sit with that one for a bit, many of us have ‘abilities = worthiness’ confusion. Took me years (and still working through it now) to not equate my skills/ abilities to my worthiness. :) By realising that no matter what you produce art-wise you are still loveable/ worthy and good enough, you can create much more freely. (An added note: deepening your personal relationship with your version of ‘the divine’ can help with seeing your innate worth).

7. Lower your expectations. Avoid starting with the expectation that you will make a master piece. This expectation can be paralysing to begin with, but even if you managed to start with an expectation like that, your inner critic will be watching over your shoulder every step of the way commenting/ criticising every move you make. This is stifling to your creativity/ freedom/ courage to explore. By lowering your expectations you give yourself space to breathe, explore and be free, with a higher likelihood of producing a nice painting. Which brings us to the next point:

8. Focus on the creative journey not the end-result. Don’t get me wrong here, I LOVE it when I end up with a painting that I adore! Of course! It’s a real buzz. BUT, I find that if I start off with the hope and intention to make an amazing painting, I don’t enjoy the journey there. I often want to rush through it and I miss the entire point of the creative process: the journey there. The journey, it’s all about the journey, and if you allow yourself to enjoy the journey and be free on that journey, you are more likely to end up with a pleasing painting (though that wasn’t your focus). I find that if I focus too hard on ‘making a pretty painting’, it usually is ‘less pretty’ than the ones where I made the journey my focus. When you focus on the journey, the inner critic, too, can be less critical of what you are doing as it’s all about ‘playing and exploring’.

9. Learn to let go of perfectionism.
Inner Critic Lady is Queen of Perfectionism. She holds impossible standards, sets insane expectations that you’ll never reach so you might as well not even start. Learn to let go of the perfectionist streak many of us possess. Here is a little video on it:


Hope this helped somewhat dear friend, and if you need  daily reminder, I made this pretty print out for you which you can use for personal use! :) You can print it out and hang it up in your studio as a reminder. Each time you go into your studio to make some art, read some of these affirmations out loud to help keep your inner critic at bay. :)  Keep making art, no matter what your inner critic has to say! <3

(Right-click on the image and choose: ‘save target or link as’ to download the high res version of this image, copyright Willowing Arts Ltd, please only use for personal use thank you for understanding and being kind).

PS. I would love it if you would share this post with your friends on Facebook & Twitter so that they may also learn to deal with their inner critics!

PPS. If you would love more ideas on how to live a happy creative life and learn how to make beautiful art works, do be sure to join Life Book 2015 (almost 3600 people have already joined and they are having a BALL! :) Even though we started a while back, you can still join, all previous content remains available! It would make me so happy if you joined too! :) See you there! xoxo

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