In a recent post on my blog, I offered some thoughts on how shifting mindset from a place of fear to possibility can help during challenging moments. It certainly helps to approach change and uncertainty with an expansive, adventurous mindset, but doing so doesn't mean that we pretend we’re not scared.
In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, "I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life – and I do – then I will have to make space for fear too. Plenty of space… Since it appeared that they would always be together." When Gilbert writes about fear in this passage, she's describing the "inner critic." The little voice that pops up to remind you of all the ways you're about to fail.
Rather than banishing the inner critic, Gilbert invites it along for the ride. But under one condition: it’s not allowed to drive.
Your Inner Critic Was Born From Necessity
I have yet to meet a woman who doesn't have a perfectionist for an inner critic. No matter your culture of origin, you were probably raised with the notion that you're "not enough" in some way. Not sweet enough, pretty enough, thin enough, successful enough. The chances are good that you probably tried to do something that "wasn't allowed" when you were quite young, and someone reminded you of your limitations. Their comment stung, you internalized it as truth, and your inner critic was born.
The best advice that I've ever received from my coach is to remember that my inner critic is always loudest when I'm onto something big. Every time you're ready to make a substantial change, they show up and start screaming. "Remember the last time you tried to do something brave," they ask, right before reminding you that it didn't work out.
When you were five years old, you needed this reminder to stay emotionally safe. But as a grownup, you're capable of making your own decisions and learning from your experiences. Unfortunately, if you tell your inner critic to shut up, they get louder. Why? Because their intent is always to help.
Write Your Inner Critic’s Origin Story
The best approach to handle your inner critic without allowing them to call the shots is to invite them into a dialogue. I recognize the idea of talking to a voice in your head may sound a little out there. Elizabeth Gilbert has a speech she gives every time she's about to embark upon a new project. "If I can relax, fear relaxes too, " she writes. "In fact, I cordially invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go."
If the idea of talking to a voice in your head feels too uncomfortable at first, it can help to personify it. Give your inner critic a name, investigate their origin story. Are they a product of your family, friends, culture, or a combination of all three? The more you know about where they came from, the easier it will be to reason with them.
Sometimes, you might sense the critic in your body, rather than hearing a voice. When they show up as a sensation and not words, it can be helpful to express them visually through symbols, color, and pattern. I have an entire journal dedicated to my "army of German garden gnomes." When they get particularly loud, I tell them to go to sleep. I'll wake them when I need them again.
Play Nice with Your Inner Critic
Remember, your inner critic is not your enemy. Their intention has always been to protect you. You can't banish them forever, nor should you. They can still come in handy in certain circumstances. For example, when you live and work outside of your culture or country of origin. I know whenever I go back to Germany, I'm a little less strict with my gnomes! For more on this topic, read this post from last fall.
As an adult, you possess power, knowledge, and skills that you didn't as a child. You're capable of taking on whatever comes towards you - so thank your inner critic for keeping you safe all these years and then put them to bed!
Nicole is a creative leadership coach and speaker who empowers women to transform limiting beliefs and bring their lives and careers to new heights.
Learn other ways of recognizing and working with your critic in NVW's popular workshop, Thwarting the Inner Critic, happening August 11-13. 16 CCEUs.
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