Telling your inner critic to shush.

Lets start with the obvious: This is a hard time.

I’ve given myself a lot of facials and watched a lot of Hulu. What is it I would rather be doing with all this free time you ask? 

Well, I’d love to be writing music, singing, and mastering my guitar skills! I’d love to be drawing, painting and making art! It would be awesome if I could grab my camera and go on long walks through my neighborhood, capturing the light and shapes I see along the way! Oh my, there are so many things I’d love to be doing each day. Instead, I find myself in my room coming up with reason after reason why I should not pursue what I enjoy most. Telling myself how it’s a waste of time and I’m better off staring at the wall, feeling stuck. Why? Because of my damn inner critic! She is so freaking judgmental… To put it bluntly, she’s a BULLY.  So, when did she get so loud and why does she always win? I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways we convince ourselves not to pursue what gives us meaning and purpose.

Another thing I like to do is write. So, I’m going to start there – Today, I write. 

Danielle Krysa shared an interesting insight during her CreativeLive class, ‘Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk’: “If you were to write down your worst inner critic’s statement about yourself and say it aloud to someone else, how would it sound? Would you feel it was appropriate, or would it sound ridiculous, maybe even cruel?” When we take our judgment’s externally and hear them aloud, they sound similar to what some might call emotional abuse. So why do we think it’s ok to talk to ourselves this way? In her talk, Krysa asks “Who’s voice is your inner critic? Is it a family member, a teacher, a bully from school?” If you were to think back on your life, can you pinpoint where the voice originated?

As I explore what role my inner critic has played in my life, the most disturbing question I have asked myself is, “How did my critic become so loud and convincing, and what has it kept me from doing?!” This thought scares the living daylights out of me. It’s as though my critic has disguised itself as the truth and I’ve been trusting it and letting it run my life for years. So today I attempt to let go of regret and anger around this issue. Instead I choose curiosity and exploration. Join me.

First, ask yourself what your critic’s favorite insults are? What is he/she trying to convince you to ignore and how does he/she do this? You’ll begin to notice, as Krysa points out, that the inner critic is not very creative or original with the insults it hurls at you. They’re actually quite childish and simplistic. So when you look over at your guitar or your camera or the blank page on your laptop, what thoughts pop into your head? Does your critic tell you that ‘you’re not good enough’. That ‘there are more talented people than you’. That it’s a ‘waste of time’. What is your critic’s favorite way to destroy your motivation and confidence? Explore how much power you’ve given to your inner critic, and how much power you want it to have moving forward.

Now that you’ve learned it’s language, it’s time to start talking back. One of my favorite tools Krysa gave in her talk was to rewrite statements. One great example being, when your critic says “you’re going to fail, don’t waste time trying” re-write it as “Oh I’m going to fail…like a genius!” Why, because all creatives fail, it’s part of learning and growing. It’s part of being human! You have to fall down and get back up in order to become great at anything! Tony Robbins has a fantastic quote that has helped me get back into action when I cower under my critic’s judgments, “No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow your progress. You’re still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.” Basically, as long as you keep going everything else is irrelevant. So remove the belief that if you want to practice music, you have to win a grammy. If you want to draw in your sketch book, you better open a gallery. If you want to write, you better become an author. This-Is-Wrong. You pursue these activities because they energize you. Because they bring you joy and purpose. Because they make your life worthwhile. What better reason do you need? 

Now that you’ve learned your critics most beloved insults, pinpointed where in your life it may have begun, and started to talk back, what’s next? Well, this is where you begin to reclaim your life. For me, my inner critic is loudest with my music. I love to make music. My inner critic likes to SCREAM, “You have nothing to add to music, as a whole. There are people far more talented then you out there. It’s time to set that hobby down”. Nice, isn’t she? So, whats my move – I pick my up my guitar and play. Is it easy? Hell no! It’s a process. As Mel Robbins says, I count 5-4-3-2-1 and I start. This voice doesn’t go away over night, it’s been trained and perfected over years. But no matter where you are in your process, if you’re fighting back, you’re on the right track.

So, what is it that energizes you? Is it writing, music, painting, drawing, photography, cooking, acting? Whatever it is, take it back! You deserve to do what brings you joy, we all do. 

Write in the comments below what your inner critic says to you and how you’re telling it to shush. I think you’ll start to realize you’re not as alone as you think you’re in this struggle, and that when we fight back, we fight back together. 

To Feel or Not to Feel…

First off, we must remove any self judgment and honor all self preservation behaviors that have gotten us this far, with that said…

I have this theory that the voice within us — the one that says self-care is resting instead of moving our bodies, that staying up and watching tv all night is relaxing, while reading or writing is boring and unfulfilling — is a trickster. Although our practice of avoidance and distraction has allowed us to survive (and we must thank it for that), it has unfortunately kept us from thriving.

I believe we are NOT this voice. Instead, I feel it is a learned narrative that we have developed over a lifetime. It’s purpose: Avoiding the pain we feel from the trauma we have survived. Unfortunately, if we allow ourselves to believe this voice we become susceptible to depression and anxiety. This is because the more we suppress, ignore and distract from our feelings, the more we disconnect and lose touch with ourselves. When we push away pain and sadness, we simultaneously push away our ability to feel joy and peace. I know, it sucks.

So, choosing to avoid proper sleep and exercise is actually not a form of self-care, rather it is a form of self-protection. What we often define as self-care are actually behaviors that allow us to avoid the discomfort we must feel in order to heal from our past. When we fear and avoid leading a large, expansive life, we instead chose a small, controlled and predictable existence. While this is an understandable choice, it is not necessary.

My therapist once said to me that the first one to three hours of TV are decompression, but hour six and seven are avoidance. It made me think about all the ways in which we mask avoidance as self-care and how disconnected we’ve become from the behaviors that will actually heal us.

So, the questions is – How did we get this way as a society? Why are we so afraid of feeling what needs to be felt? Why do we seek numbness, disconnection, and avoidance over intimacy, vulnerability and authenticity? The answer: Because we’ve never been taught how to feel and heal our pain! This society does not value mental health, it does not teach it in our schools or train parents how to teach it to their children. Instead, we are taught to avoid crying, to be brave, and to be less sensitive. We are taught that life is tough, so we must be tough. In turn, most of us learn to survive trauma without ever processing the pain it has caused, and these traumas stack up. Not only the bullying and abuse, but the physical injuries, illnesses and loss of loved ones and relationships we endure. We do not stop to integrate these experiences, to feel them completely and cry until they cleanse themselves from our bodies. No, we move on and try to forget they ever happened. Unfortunately, the body and the mind do not forget. The pain stays with us throughout our lives, begging to come out. While we may fear that if we allow the tears to flow they will never stop, it’s actually the opposite. The day we bring the pain to the surface is the day it can finally process and leave, for good.

So, the next time you start to convince yourself that not moving your body or watching TV till 5 am is self-care (btw, you’re not alone we all do it constantly), take a pause and check-in with yourself – what’s really going on? What are you trying to distract yourself from? We now know that exercise get’s the blood and endorphins flowing and lifts our mood, it’s science. So why do we convince ourselves it won’t work? We now know that reading or writing instead of watching TV or looking at our phones will quite us down faster and help us sleep better. So why do we convince ourselves it’s not worth it? Because all these activities demand us to be present, to feel, to face our truth, and that can be scary.

So here’s my final question, if you choose to let go of avoidance and distraction, are you ready for what’s waiting for you on the other side? Are you ready to heal and let go of the suffering you’ve come to know and trust so well. Who will you be, then? 

If so, move your body! Start that therapy you’ve been wanting to start! Let someone hold your hand as you cry those tears you’ve needed to cry until they wash away all the pain and suffering you’ve been holding onto. Pick up that old hobby or passion, the one you wrote off as childish and unimportant, it’s part of who you are, own it and nurture it! Read that book you’ve always wanted to read, learn a new language, try meditation, take that trip you’ve been afraid to take! It’s time to let go of all those internal judgments screaming that you don’t deserve the life you desire. That voice that tries to convince you that you’re better off staying small. You deserve greatness, we all do. So go get it!

FYI, by no means am I saying this is easy. These behaviors are hard to break, but maybe it’s time to try. Trust that you’re capable of facing the uncertainty, the unknown, the uncharted. Baby steps, you got this.