Think of your inner critic as a person entirely separate from yourself.
Like a burglar, who arrives in your brain uninvited, and leaves the place in disarray.
I’ll explain why this helps in a moment.
I first learned to recognise the harmful effect of the inner critic when I was training as a theatrical improviser with the legendary Keith Johnstone.
Keith, on the right, teaching the Balloon Game (don’t ask). I’m on the left.
In impro, as in any other creative activity, the critical voice in your head is the cause of all kinds of blocks. You start worrying about whether you look mad, bad or wrong – your creativity shuts down…
You block your own ideas, and you destroy other people’s.
Johnstone, the legendary improviser who trained me, would sometimes ask somebody to stand on stage with a hand in the air.
Then he’d ask them what they’re supposed to be doing.
Often there’d be a tiny pause, as the trainee improviser thinks of one idea and quickly rejects it in favour of something more “safe”.
The first idea is usually something brilliant. “I’m milking a giraffe.”
But people hate to look mad, bad or wrong, so instead they say, “I’m standing on the train.”
Safe, but boring.
Keith taught us to say the first thought out loud every time. To be spontaneous. Stop editing ourselves. Get out of our own way.
It looks magnificent, saves time, and (as I’ll demonstrate in a later lesson) you can’t do anything about people thinking you are mad bad or wrong anyway.
When I coach people, I use the idea of an “inner critic” to describe how we fall under the sway of that miserable, destructive voice inside us.
It happens to us all at times – including people I’ve coached who are well known figures in the media, or entrepreneurs and executives who run considerable businesses.
I can see at once when they fall under the sway of their inner critic. It visibly changes them. Makes them seem smaller.
Whether they’re criticising themselves or others.
It turns good people, briefly, into “victims”.
I can see it whether I’m coaching face to face, in London, or online, with clients as far afield as the US, India, and continental Europe. It’s not culturally specific.
When I see it, I explain the importance of separating yourself from the critical voice.
To do that, I sometimes draw a picture of my own inner critic. I try to make him look DIFFERENT from me.
I give him a shaved head and bulging eyes.
How he first appeared, from the tip of my pencil.
He generally looks worried, and avoids eye contact – but sometimes I draw him staring boldly, his face contorted into a disbelieving sneer.
Having determined his appearance, I gave him a name:
Uriah, because like Charles Dickens’s character, my inner critic is “ever so ‘umble”. And he’s determined to keep me that way, too.
(See how I’m talking about him in the third person? That’s deliberate. Because it’s nothing to do with me. I don’t ASK him to do this.)
Whenever I’m preparing to do something challenging and new, Uriah pops up. Never fails.
In the privacy of my head he says things like this:
1. You’re not ready
2. Nobody wants that
3. You’re too old
4. It’s not going to make any difference 5. Nobody is listening to you
6. You will never be successful
7. You don’t work hard enough
Until I looked into this, I assumed – like most people, apparently – that when this kind of negative thought popped into my head it was just an accurate reflection of the way things really are.
But it isn’t. Really not.
Because your inner critic deals ONLY with OPINION.
Re-read that last bit. It’s incredibly important. When you come to understand it fully, not just theoretically but in your bones, you will be transformed.
You’ll be free to stop getting in your own way…
…AND to stop judging others, which only creates distance and isolation.
Of course it does!
When you realise that your critical thoughts deals only in opinion, you don’t have to believe what s/he says about YOU.
And you don’t have to believe what it says about OTHERS.
You’re free. And so are they.
No price is too high for this kind of freedom.
Mind you, this may seem hard to believe until you have done some work. It’s a process. It takes a bit of time.
(But not very long.)
I hope you can see the value in starting right away.
1. Draw a picture of your own inner critic. Doesn’t have to be a “good” picture.
2. Give him or her a name.
3. Write speech bubbles containing the kinds of things s/he says about you, things that make you stay small, and timid, and stop you doing what you’d like to do.
When you’re ready, THROW IT AWAY and click here to start the next lesson: