How to Live With Your Inner Critic

I admit it. There are voices in my head.

Well, just one voice really, but that’s plenty.

Here’s what the voice said this morning when I sat down to write:

  • Well, how nice of you to finally show up.
  • I don’t know why you think anyone’s interested in what you have to say anyway.
  • Were you planning to write something or just stare at the screen all morning?
  • Maybe you should get some more coffee. While you’re at, why not brew some extra for those readers who’ll be nodding off over that post?
  • This isn’t coming together at all. Let’s scrap this drivel and start over.
  • Say, why don’t you just slip on over to facebook awhile since you’re not getting anything done here?
  • Oh for the love of God. It’s just a blog post. Get a move on!
  • How about a danish? Chocolate donut maybe?
  • You can’t be serious. You’re going to publish THAT?
  • Maybe you’re just not cut out for this blogging thing . . .

Quite the pep talk, isn’t it?

As twisted as it sounds, I’m actually glad my inner critic dropped by this morning. And not just because I gave into that chocolate donut suggestion either. No, listening to the nagging voice of my critic got me thinking about how often we let these critics stomp the breath out of our dreams with their verbal attacks.

You’re not good enough.

Who do you think you are?

Loser.

Given its unseemly behavior, it’s no small wonder then that most people would rather avoid the inner critic than make friends with it. I understand that and admit to polishing my own evasive maneuvers to the point of near perfection.

Here are my two favorite evasion tactics:

  1. Start early. My inner critic isn’t a morning person. That makes two of us, but the earlier I start writing, the less likely it is I’ll be sharing office space with my critic.
  2. Focus. When I set an online timer for 20-25 minutes and focus like a laser beam on the piece I’m writing, my inner critic doesn’t show up. Or, maybe she does and I’m too into the flow of writing to notice.

Most of the time, those two things keep my critic out of my hair. Sometimes though, like this morning, she slips through a crack in the door when I’m not looking.  Now, before you start telling me I should just kick her out or maybe tie her in a chair and shout a few positive affirmations in her ear, let me assure you, I’ve tried those things without success.

No, once my critic is in residence, things go a whole lot better if I just act friendly and try to get along.

Here’s what works for me:

  • Let her talk. We all want to be heard, and my inner critic is no exception. I used to try to shut her up, lock her out, or argue when she talked, but this only ended up making her madder and meaner. These days, I just keep writing and let her yak until she runs out of steam.
  • Show compassion. Even though her manners make me want to flip her off, deep down I know my inner critic is just plain scared. She’s been hurt in the past and wants to protect me from icky stuff like rejection, ridicule, and financial ruin. Knowing her core motivation makes it far easier to be in her company.
  • Heed the message. Much as I hate to admit it, my inner critic is right sometimes. Maybe I really have been procrastinating on writing posts (I have!), or perhaps, as was the case this morning, I’d be better off scrapping one post and running with another idea entirely. While it’s true I have to sift through a stinky heap of garbage to find a rare nugget of truth, I’m truly grateful for the times she’s set me straight.

While I can’t go so far as to say I love my inner critic, I’m feeling okay about where things stand with us right now. She does her thing, I do mine, and I can live with that.

Your turn: When does your inner critic show up and how do you deal with it?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like How to Handle a Dream Snatcher.

Image by Hendrick’s Photo

51 Responses to How to Live With Your Inner Critic

  1. Mike Roosa May 21, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    I'd say the inner critic is right more than it's wrong. You really need to have a plan each day or else it's just so easy to drift, wouldn't you agree?

  2. Angela Artemis May 21, 2010 at 4:37 pm #

    Jean, I love love love this post! You've channeled my inner critic! And I thought I was the only A-1 Blogger who channeled – lol!

    No, but seriously, this is an excellent post. I don't think there's a writer out there that wouldn't be able to relate to it. In my previous life as journalist I've been nominated for awards – and I still hear my inner critic loud and clear. I believe she's taken up squatter's rights!

    I think that's the thing we're here to learn (I'm going to get philosophical on you here). We're here for the experience – to learn that even though our Spirit is encased in this earthly suit – inside we're all truly brilliant individualized lights of the Divine. We need to recognize that light in ourselves and others then help one another shine as brightly as possible.

    I'm retweeting your terrific article. Thank you for reminding me to honor my own brilliance – and yours too!

  3. Katie Tallo May 21, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

    I will forever see my inner critic as that pouty baby in your picture and recognize that she's just a bit of a suck and needs to be coddled a little and then sent down for a nap with her soosie. Thanks Jean, you make even our most harsh inner voices seem like they're just cooing. And, long live chocolate!

  4. virginbloggernotes May 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

    I'm both a planner and a drifter, Mike. I really do like having a plan based on a bigger vision, so I can create larger things from my daily work. What works best for me is to get my work done right away in the morning so I can indulge in my love of drifting later in the day.

  5. virginbloggernotes May 21, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    Hey, I'm pretty excited about that channeling thing. That's almost better than wearing a red cape! Isn't it something how no matter what we've achieved on the physical plane our inner critic still pops in for a visit? I love your philosophical outlook, and the light that is within me recognizes the light that is within you! It also thanks you for the RT :)

  6. virginbloggernotes May 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Our inner critics really do need coddling, don't they? That baby pic struck a chord with me too. Here's to listening with compassion and taking a chocolate break now and again. Hope you have a fab weekend, Katie.

  7. leahmcclellan May 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    My inner critic throws fits about stuff other than my writing–well except when the writing truly does suck, which it does at times, of course, and then I don't really hear anything from her since I'm pretty good, myself, at saying “Man, that's really bad, throw it out.” It's other stuff I'm juggling, and I get really critical when I'm not managing my time well and I'm just dawdling, or I'd rather write all day than do the dishes or laundry or anything else, and then words come like What is wrong with you? Why can't you just get into a routine and just do it? What a slob” lol Then everything is shiny and spotless for a week until I decide to do stuff like blogging bootcamps lol Then it's like where did this MESS come from! What is wrong with you? Then I go out to mow the grass or something….lol

    Food for thought–thanks :)

  8. Kaizenvision May 21, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    Oh YAY for this article! YAY, YAY, super YAY!
    Although I battle my inner critic with swords, baseball bats, and the evil eye….I'm thinking about this more compassionate approach.

    My inner critic isn't a morning person either. So when I wake up late, he's greeting me with a tempting cup of coffee. He won this morning.

  9. virginbloggernotes May 21, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

    We all should have taken before/after pics of our houses to see how they suffered when we were in bootcamp. Mine is in a sorry state of affairs at the moment, and I could be doing something about it, but instead I'm on the blog. It's too wet to mow grass here today :)

  10. virginbloggernotes May 21, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    Being compassionate does seem to work a lot better than fighting the voice for me, which didn't really work at all. But, I never thought about giving my critic the evil eye. That sounds right up my alley. I'd drink that coffee before trying it out though :)

  11. mark May 22, 2010 at 1:46 am #

    Hey Jean,

    This is amazing. Your inner voice and mine….well, they might be the same. Err, except that mine has a rather deep voice.

    Starting early really helps me (well, at work anyway – I do blogging after work). I find that if I get into the office early (earlier than certain other people), I can get some things done before the onslaught of coworker socialization (usually between 9 & 10 and often accompanied by donuts).

    If I allow myself to get sucked into that, it is sometimes hard to get out.

    Also, can you post a video showing you flipping off your inner voice? I am just interested in the process.

    Have a great weekend!!

  12. Scott Barron May 22, 2010 at 3:49 am #

    We are our worst critics. There are times I have to stop myself from editing an article. I'm pretty obsessive and change my articles about 50 times before I publish. My editing program counts each time I do this and it's embarrassing. Then I have to check the article in Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Safari. (sometimes it looks different with different browsers)

    After all that, 1/2 of what I write never gets published. My inner critic wins the battle.

  13. Sally_Neill May 22, 2010 at 9:00 am #

    Hey Jean, I really liked this post, I thought it was just me who had an (ICP) inner critic problem, my own method was to just through the thoughts of failure and wasting time right out of my head, but maybe I should allow my inner voice to have it's say once in a while, like you said it might be right some of the time but not all of the time, take care, Sally :)

  14. virginbloggernotes May 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    We could probably start a choir with our inner voices :)

    Working from home is a bit like being at a traditional office in that if you work early you can get a lot done before people get active with emails, facebook, comments, etc. Except the online gang never brings donuts!

    I'll keep you posted on that video :) Hope you have a great weekend too, Mark!

  15. virginbloggernotes May 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    Okay, Scott, I officially resign my position as the most obsessive writer of all time and hand the title over to you. Haha.

    I still do a good share of revising and proofing, but I backed off a bit a couple years ago when I was doing a lot of online work. To make a living I needed to do an article an hour, not one a week :)

    I downloaded a browser-checking comparison program but haven't used it yet other than the initial look around. You just reminded me that I might want to try that. Or maybe not? I'd hate to have to take back that obsessive writer title :)

  16. virginbloggernotes May 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Hi Sally, I think we all struggle with our inner critics. I like reading books by successful authors and most of these well known folks still have an active inner critic despite their monetary success and public acclaim. So at least we don't have to feel strange that we have these voices in our heads :)

  17. Karen Ruby May 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Oh, Jean, can I ever relate. That's the voice that's been in my head this week. But, unlike you, I let her talk me out of hitting the publish post twice this week and now I'm kicking myself for listening to her. I think that the advice of getting things done before she gets a chance to have her claws in me is good (need to do it early enough) and using focus.

    But, I do think that you have a excellent point that sometimes she is right and is letting us know that we should be altering our course, just a little.

  18. virginbloggernotes May 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    I can't remember where I heard it, but a quote that helps me sometimes is, “Perfection is the enemy of done.” Nothing is ever really good enough for my inner critic, so I can totally relate to you not hitting “Publish.” Working early and using a timer if needed really do make a big difference for me. Plus, it just feels so good to write and have that done first thing. Otherwise, my critic nags at me all day long for falling behind. She's a pesky thing :)

  19. s0beurself May 22, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    I think of it similarly, my muse is me without twenty odd years of social grooming, & so listen when appropriate and ignore as necessary. Glad to see I'm not the only one. What shuts him up? The fact that if I don't write we both be broke.

  20. virginbloggernotes May 22, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    I laughed when I read how your voice shuts up because if you don't write you'd both be broke. Very true! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  21. Brandon Connell May 22, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    This made me wonder if there were any guy bloggers out there with girl voices in their head, and vice-versa. Funny stuff.

  22. virginbloggernotes May 22, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    Hmm, mine's always female but that's a good question. Like if a guy had a nagging mom maybe his inner critic's voice might sound like hers. I could see that happening.

  23. Scott Barron May 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    Check your email. I pulled the stats for you.

  24. virginbloggernotes May 22, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    Thanks for doing that, Scott. I've emailed you back :)

  25. Cathy May 22, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    When doesn't she show up? I listen and have learned to say thank-you. That turns her off, most of the time. I find some value, in the questions she provokes but most of the time I realize it's just her trying to protect me from the “harsh cruel” world. :) Thanks, little voice, but I think I want to see for myself.

  26. virginbloggernotes May 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm #

    Saying thanks to our inner critic – great idea, Cathy. The less attention we give to fighting, struggling, etc., the quicker these critics seem to settle down or move along.

  27. Mike Helton May 23, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    Inner critic?…so that's what that is.

    Hey Jean, this is an incredible post and so intuitive. I don't know about you or the others, but I have noticed that my inner critic only shows up when I want to do something. And it's not when I need to go to work, or take out the trash, or clean the garage. It's there when I make attempts to improve either me or my circumstances by stretching my comfort zone or thinking outside the box.

    This may be in line with what you were saying in your post, but in every aspect of growth and expansion in ones self or ones interests, a nagging companion is always there to give you a good reason not to do it…whatever it is you're going to do.

    It could be that that inner critic doesn't want me to get hurt again or it could be that the critic is OK with the situation or circumstances that he is in right now and really sees no reason why I should make any effort to change it, since I have no talent anyway.

    One other thing I find is that after careful analysis, I have discovered that I follow the advice of my inner critic more than I would have believed.

    Nice post and good writing.

    Mike

    In all of this I find that when I make a conscious decision to proceed, which means I did give it some thought, that inner critic takes a back seat.

  28. k0zm0zs0ul May 23, 2010 at 2:09 am #

    My inner critique likes to show up and give me wedgies. Fortunately I'm on to her and deflect by giving her one first.

    Really though, engaging in negative self talk is uber damaging. It mires you in inaction and fear. When that happens, I usually try to catch myself right away and then correct it with something positive that motivates me. Does it always work? Of course not. But it works enough that I actually get work done! 😉

  29. virginbloggernotes May 23, 2010 at 3:35 am #

    Thanks for sharing your insight on this, Mike. Those inner critics definitely do not like it when we start breaking from the pack and traveling in the direction of our dreams. It's interesting how much we can learn about ourselves when we slow down and really listen to the critic, evaluate what's being said, and examine our reactions to this.

  30. virginbloggernotes May 23, 2010 at 3:40 am #

    Inner critic wedgies. Woohoo! Now that's a creative strategy. Seriously though, it is all about being able to do what we need to do to get on with our work and enjoy it. Life is too short for anything less!

  31. Madeleine May 23, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    Jean, The Inner Critic can certainly be a negative force. One of my strategies to deal with it/her are to mind-map a post first, so I already know my main points and go at them as soon as I sit down at my computer. Another is to do the creative stuff first, going fast and furious. My Inner Critic has to wait for the critical phase where I edit, delete, revise, and generally improve my post.

    I do need to remind myself, like you and the other commenters, that spending too much time on the critical phase risks letting perfection become the enemy of the good or the good enough.

    Well done!

  32. melaniekissell May 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

    Fantastic topic and post, Jean!

    I simply show my inner critic the door with a couple of movie passes in hand. I figure that will keep her out of my way for at least a half a day so I can get some blogging done! :-)

  33. virginbloggernotes May 23, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    Good tips on the free writing and the mind-mapping, Madeleine. Both are good tools to help get words on paper before the critic puts in an appearance.

  34. virginbloggernotes May 23, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    Gee, I wish I was your inner critic, Melanie. I like movies a lot and there are some really good ones coming up soon :)

  35. Greg Blencoe May 23, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    Hi Jean,

    I really like the idea of setting a timer for a certain period of time (e.g. 20-25 minutes, like you mentioned) and completely focusing on writing. It's a great way to get going with the writing process.

    I've found that once I've written the first sentence or two, I usually have all the momentum that I need. Therefore, I do my best to just start writing instead of wasting time thinking about writing.

    With all criticism, my attitude is to keep the good parts and throw away the bad. I do think it has a place. But it can get out of hand really quickly when it turns into just being negative without a productive purpose.

  36. Sarah Loewen May 24, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    Wow, the voice in your head, sounds like the voice in my head, and so I want to say thank-you, mahalo (hawaiian), gracias and merci, as my inner critic seems to be in fine form lately, particularly when it comes to writing posts for my blog. It just helps immensely to know I am not alone.

  37. virginbloggernotes May 24, 2010 at 12:43 am #

    It's funny how fast the time can fly when I set a timer. And focusing on getting the writing done is definitely a lot more productive and enjoyable than second guessing every other word! Thanks for stopping by, Greg!

  38. virginbloggernotes May 24, 2010 at 12:49 am #

    I think most all of us struggle with this to some extent, Sarah. Most bloggers I know do more writing than my “writing” friends who moan about writer's block, yet no one seems to talk much about “blogger's block.”. I sort of see blogging as being the writer, editor, and publisher of our own material, so it's no wonder we have voices in our heads :)

  39. farouk May 24, 2010 at 6:28 am #

    very useful advice Jean
    thanks for the post :)

  40. Shang Lee May 24, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    Hey Jean, love the new design! And you're right about the morning thing. As the day wears on, it takes more effort to show compassion to the inner critic. Good post.

  41. virginbloggernotes May 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    You're welcome, Farouk. Hope you have a great week and that your inner critic does not have much to say!

  42. virginbloggernotes May 24, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    Thanks Shang. I should invite Chloe the designer here and see if she can make me look as good as the blog :)

  43. Ms. Freeman May 24, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    I always say to myself “pull up your socks and get on wit it” and that seems to get me out of my funk and keep the inner critic at bay.

  44. virginbloggernotes May 25, 2010 at 4:09 am #

    Life would be a lot easier if we did that more often. I seem to need to allow an allotted time period for self-torture before moving forward :)

  45. clearlycomposed June 7, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    I liked this post a lot. I recently wrote about a voice I hear named Mr. Doubt. The inner critic at least is worth listening to at times…mean old Mr. Doubt rarely has anything good to offer! :)

  46. virginbloggernotes June 7, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    Well, that Mr. Doubt sounds like no fun at all. Sometimes I think it's a miracle we can even function with all these voices in our heads. Yikes!

  47. Aaron August 19, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    Wow! This is quite typical for the blogger or internet business owner. I can definitely relate, as I’m sure many others on this post can, too. Sometimes it’s good to listen to our inner critic, that way, we know what we may need to work on and how to improve on certain aspects of our writing or our business. Just don’t beat ourselves up though. I agree that starting early in the morning is beneficial. I just might take your advice about setting up a timer. Could really help me out. Again, great post!
    Aaron recently posted..Child Prince Costume

    • Jean Sarauer August 19, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

      Hi Aaron. My inner critic tells me some valuable things sometimes. She just goes about it in a rather obnoxious manner sometimes :) Do try out the timer if you feel so inclined. It really helps me a lot when I remember to use it!
      Jean Sarauer recently posted..How to Get More Bang for Your Membership Buck

      • Aaron August 21, 2010 at 12:47 am #

        Hello Jean. Yep the inner critic is a powerful thing, which is why I think it’s genius you speak about it. I’ve been implementing the timer method and I’m being much more productive. Great advice :)} Thank you!
        Aaron recently posted..Lady Musketeer Adult Costume

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