Saturday, August 10, 2013

Is Your Inner Critic Holding You Back?

In my last post I wrote about being happy.    No doubt about it, finding true happiness often eludes many of us and the ones who do find it may not be fully aware of what combination of things they did to get to that special state of mind.    I think some of the things I discussed last post most definitely figure into the whole process. 

To recap:   Making sure you don't put a lot of stress and difficult images into your mind is a place to start.   Keeping abreast of the news is important but determining how much is enough should be a priority.    Taking time to relax and appreciate the beauty around you is another way to ease your way into a more blissful state of mind.  And no matter what strategy you use takes effort on your part.   Getting to a better place mentally won't come looking for you.    You probably are going to have to initiate that task.  If you figure that out, you'll be ahead of the game!  

But truthfully, those are just a few of the strategies you must employ to figure out what works for you.    I guess what may ride over the whole process is a thing called your inner critic.    Those of you who write or paint or have attempted to do something out of your comfort zone know exactly what I am talking about.   It's that nagging little voice way in the back of your head that whispers all the reasons why you can't do something.    It's the thing that convinces you that you're wasting your time and that you should give up.    Often it does an effective job of shutting you down BEFORE you even begin!

Inner critics sometimes start in our childhood.  I suspect that many of us can point to a specific person who influenced us or discouraged us in ways that may have been subtle but effective ways of shutting down the creative or inventive process.    Perhaps it was a demand for perfection so that nothing you did was ever good enough.    Or even a suggestion that the idea was not really yours or original.     Little cuts here and there that may have eroded your confidence in your own ability may have happened at home or in school.    I have examples in  my own life where an elementary school teacher was directly connected to my math phobia that dogged me all the way through graduate school.  And conversely, I had another elementary teacher who instilled in me pride in being such a fast reader.     So there was a mixed bag from early in my life of feeling really insecure about myself and my proficiency with math,  as well as the boost I got from another teacher regarding my ability to read.   

Some of us have parents who were the source of our insecurities and fears about putting our work on display for judgment by others.    And while most parents had no intention of doing us harm, they may have said or done things unwittingly that ended up making us feel less worthy of praise.    Ironically many times that behavior stems from a real desire to see us succeed and just goes awry in the execution.   

So while we sometimes can easily see where that inner critic came from, it's harder to deal with and figure out how to coexist with that little inner voice that fills in for that parent or teacher who brought you together in the first place.     What can be done when you're sitting at the keyboard or the easel feeling the urge to be "creative"?   What can you do when you're asked to be a speaker at your club or church and your knees immediately begin to shake and go to Jell-O under you?   How about when you're offered a promotion or position of leadership?    How can you stop the negative thoughts from filling you with self doubt?  

First you have to have mechanisms in place to help you when the self doubt creeps in and dominates the thought processes.    My older sister, Charlotte, was a woman of many talents.   She was smart, she could sing, a natural born leader.    There was not much she attempted in her life that she didn't do and do very well.    But she struggled with insecurity and negative self talk about many things.     One of her many talents was her ability to sew.    I don't mean simple projects that you learn in Home Ec.    She took on things like lined suits, prom dresses for her daughter and new drapes for her living room.     Many people looked at her work in complete awe of what she made with her own two hands!  

The problem for Charlotte was that her insecurity made her focus on the glaring flaws that she was sure were  there for all to see.     No matter how many people told her that what she had made was lovely or a great execution of the project, her eyes would zoom to the one spot that she perceived was not quite right.    Eventually, she developed a technique for dealing with this that worked like a charm.    Once she completed a dress or a pair of slacks, she immediately would put the project on a hanger and put it in the closet for a few days.   And she left it there until she was ready to take the new creation out for inspection when she knew she would have a less critical eye.    The time spent letting it hang in the closet served as a buffer for her so that when she looked at it again,  she saw the whole outfit and not just the places she thought weren't right.  

So a strategy for those who struggle with their creations, whether it's a painting or a poem is to put it aside for a few days after it is completed.     Don't think about it, don't evaluate it during that time.    Then after sufficient time has passed, bring it out and look at it with new eyes.    I have done this with things I have written and been surprised to find that I actually like what I find, even if I put it away thinking it was worthless.   

 Another way to deal with inner critics telling you that you're not any good, you have no talent or you're wasting your time is to learn to recognize that it's the voice in your head telling you these things.  No one else.  Are you putting off doing a project?    Are you finding OTHER things to do that take you away from what you intended to do?    Are you putting other priorities to the head of the list of things you want to do so that your special project is still in the mix but just never seems to get done?  Maybe what's going on is that you are hearing that voice but are not recognizing its impact on what you are doing.  The inner critic can and will steer you astray --- if you let it.

Start paying attention to the voice and have a conversation with yourself.    Is what the voice is telling you true?    And even if it is true, does it really matter if what you want to do is important to you?    There comes a time in all of our lives when we have to stand up to inner critics that tell us we're not good enough, not talented enough or that what we want isn't important.     You may have to come to a point where you're willing to banish the inner critic and do what you want anyhow.   

If you are serious about tackling the inner critic in your head, there are many books, websites and self help materials to give you even more strategies to try.    In addition to those resources, you will find that there are professionals who specialize in helping people reach their full potential.   A quick Google search will probably bring you more things than you can read in a month.    The trick is to recognize what's going on in your head and figure how where you need to go from there.   Identifying the problem is a start and how you solve it has many solutions.

As I said in the beginning, a search for happiness is not easy and can be a complex matter.   If you want to succeed in getting to a happier place in your life, it may involve pushing yourself to do or think in new ways.   If you have an inner critic that is holding you back or making things harder for you, it may be time to think about what YOU want and how to get around the obstacles.      Find the courage to face up to them and think about what's waiting for you if you get the nerve to just go for it.    You may be surprised at what you find and what you can do.   

Happy Trails,


  1. Another great entry! I really enjoyed hearing about my mother's (Charlotte) strategy about putting away her sewing creations. I didn't remember that!

  2. I really enjoy this blog. I remember that beautiful embroidered (?) flower vase that Charlotte did that was hanging in the living room when I lived there. She was incredibly talented. Keep writing!!!! Cindy


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