“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ~William Shakespeare
I love to paint. I’m not a professional artist. I have no technique, and I am not trained. But I love how the brush feels as it dips into color and moves across a white page.
Painting allows me to be free, to have fun and play. It also does something else: It shows me how I judge myself and how I can get in my own way. It reveals what I believe about myself that stops me from creating whatever I want.
Even as I take joy in the process of painting I still hear the inner-critic in my head:
“This flower is not pretty enough. It should be purple, not red.”
“Make this face look good so others can recognize what a good painter you are.”
“You can’t paint just for the sheer joy of it—you need to be doing more productive things with your time.”
“It’s ugly, and when people see it, they’re going to think you’re weird.”
The judge inside me likes to tell me how bad I am. He mocks me, teases me, and pushes me around. He’s mean, insensitive, and determined to hold me back.
When we engage in a project, whether it is the beginning, the middle, or the end, the judge loves to get involved. Although the judge is very unoriginal and speaks to each of us very much the same, his judgments take on hundreds of forms.
The judge is most definitely a thief, robbing us of our innate goodness, worth, talent, values, and ability. He makes us believe in illusions, wreaks havoc on our spirit, and causes chaos in our mind.
He likes to break our ego and tell us we are not enough and bad. He likes to tell us we are not loved and not cared about—that we don’t matter.
He even likes to stroke our ego and puff us up, telling us how good we are, how special and how unique. “Look how beautiful that purple flower is. Look how very talented you are. When people see this, they’re going to find you very special.”
He loves to break us and stroke us. He loves to seduce us and tempt us. He loves to make us doubt ourselves.
So how do we silence this inner critic and put him in his place?
The first and most important step is to identify the judge. Much of the time we have become so accustomed to his woven web in our mind, we aren’t even aware when he’s speaking.
If you’re working on something and all of a sudden you start questioning yourself, if you feel your energy decreasing, if you’re getting stuck, bored, or tired, recognize the judge is speaking to you.
Listen, but don’t take his words to heart. See him so that he doesn’t hang out in a distant corner manipulating you from above.
Identify him with presence rather than pushing him way. Because what we resist will persist!
Once you see him, here are 5 immediate and easy ways to respond to your inner critic. It’s so simple that it may seem unrealistic, but it works. Memorize it and keep it close like a mantra.
When your inner critic acts out, say:
1. So what?
So what if you think that? That doesn’t mean it’s true.
2. Who cares?
You think your judgments means something to me? They don’t!
3. Big deal!
Oh seriously, big deal! Really, big f’n deal!
4. Why not?
Why shouldn’t I do this? You’re telling me I can’t? I won’t? I’m not worthy of it? Why not? I’m going to continue doing this anyway, because I can! No matter what you say, I’m going to just keep diving in.
5. What if it doesn’t matter if I am __________________ or not?
Fill in the critic’s judgment here. For example, what if it doesn’t matter if it’s good enough or not? If it’s weird and people might find me strange?
What if it doesn’t matter if it shows my talent and I will be recognized by others for it or not?
And even, “What if it doesn’t matter if it’s beautiful or not, because I’m going to keep giving myself permission to keep on painting anyway no matter what you say!”
Feel how these questions empower you, and whatever you are doing, keep doing it anyway. Keep meeting the dream, the project, your creative expression.
Keep going, forging ahead, building one block at a time.
The inner judge rarely goes away. As long as we have minds, he will continue to find ways to torture us. But we can identify him and say: “I see you, judge!”
When we identify the inner critic like this, we take away his power and regain our own.