Posted by: Take Flight | July 26, 2018

Calm Your Inner-Critic to Create

Hello My Name is Perfectionist

Does “letting go” of your work or personal projects challenge you? Do you find yourself holding on for dear life until something is “perfect” often finishing it much later than planned? Worse yet, maybe it never gets done. Notice your heart beating rapidly and/or your belly feeling queasy−that familiar sense of dread as it creeps up on you?

Perfectionists feel driven at any cost, usually the currency is one’s own self-esteem. According to Psychology Today, (Belkin, 2014) perfectionism has become rampant in our society. It’s almost the new normal. We’re more obsessed with our appearance (our clothing and our behavior – how we come across); achievement; and our acquisition of “things” or “education.”

Years ago in the training field I recall the program evaluations and how carefully I examined them. 95% of them may have had “very good” and “excellent” scores yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of that one evaluation with the lower score. Then I would beat myself up over it (or rather allow my inner-critic too)! Many times I threw out a perfectly good program to develop a brand new one because my inner-critic convinced me what I had wasn’t good enough. Being a perfectionist can drain one’s energy because we often over deliver convinced we need to give 150-200%. Giving only 100% might mean we’re slacking. Can you relate?

Perfectionists have fierce inner-critics. Our inner-critics reprimand us and have us believe we aren’t doing and/or being enough. It’s like we’re being chased by some primal tiger that doesn’t rest. So how do we realize it’s only a paper tiger? This entire chase is our minds on over drive. We do have the power to stop it.

As a recovering perfectionist who has spent years learning to calm the voice of my inner-critic, and now assist others to do the same, I offer the following:

  • You need to spot your inner-critic and call her/him out. If the voice in your head is like a broken record (e.g. Who do you think you are? Repeat), it’s your inner-critic. If it sounds negative and would not be the way you would speak to a cherished love one, be suspect. It’s like fake news. It never tells the truth yet we may still believe it.
  • Richard Carson from Taming Your Gremlin suggests to simply notice the voice of the inner-critic. Do your best not to judge it. Just observe it. Then instead of beating yourself up over it, you could say, “Oh it’s you again. I hear you. I know you mean well. But I am done writing this article. I’m clicking send right now.”(Fill in the blank for your own situation).
  • When you notice your inner-critic nagging you, try sending it off on a walk, a hike, or to the airport to take off on a long flight. Give yourself a break whenever you need one and know you’re fully at choice to do so. Accept that having an inner-critic is part of being human–we all share this. The bad news is when we send it away it will eventually find its way back. The good news is we can calm it down anytime.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear recommends imagining that your inner-critic is driving your car. Know you have the power to have him/her pull the car over. Your inner-critic gets to sit in the back. You take over the driving. Give yourself full permission to drive your own car. Your inner-critic is not allowed to be a backseat driver either or to touch anything in charge of navigation.
  • Externalizing your inner-critic helps it to have less power. You can do this by drawing, coloring, or even painting it. Give yourself a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted for at least 30-40 minutes. First close your eyes and imagine what your inner-critic looks like. <Note: You can send it on a hike while you do your art work. You don’t want him/her to interfere with your creative process! It’s not about being an artist–it’s the process which is revealing and healing.> The main idea is to get this inner-critic out of your head and onto the paper. Then give him/her a name. You may also want to write down some of the typical things he/she says to you. It’s then easier to spot and manage it so you have more space to create. You can keep this drawing nearby as a reminder. Your life can become easier and you can play a more active role when your inner-critic isn’t running it.

Through this awareness you realize that your inner-critic is only a paper tiger so it’s much easier to tame. With practice you can release the need to be perfect and get back in touch with your natural creativity. In time you can envelop the truth that as humans we are all perfectly imperfect. We, and that includes you, are good enough right here and right now. There is nothing more you should do or be. You can choose to listen to your deeper wise voice over the grinding chatter of the inner-critic.


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