Recently we took a vacation for Thanksgiving weekend. On the last day of the trip, I realized I had worked away much of our time together. My inner critic was telling me that my book launch wouldn’t be successful unless I kept at it, but the cost would be that I might have no lasting memories of our trip. Fighting against worries about my book launch, I asked my daughter Ellie if she wanted to lay down and watch Disney’s “The Jungle Book” with me. We laid out a pile of pillows, got under a blanket, and snuggled up together to enjoy the movie. Partway through she said “I love this!” She meant not only the movie but the special time cozied up together.
This is a treasured memory from my trip. Yet it took all of my willpower to counter the voice of my inner critic who kept reminding me of the importance of discipline to accomplish my goals. My critic’s impact is to keep me from finding balance between the various aspects of my life. Any subconscious fear that I have is food for the inner critic, because I’ll do just about anything to avoid what I’m afraid of.
Have you ever missed a special moment because you were compelled to finish some project? Think about that experience for a moment and look to see if the inner critic was part of that choice.
A world of pure “experience”
Looking back on many of my experiences, I can see that my inner critic was right there with me. It is a mindset which thinks things are not good enough. It may criticize others, or it may criticize me. When I give it airtime, it leads to complaints about the world and a critique of how life could be better.
Can I imagine my world without an inner critic? Yes.
In fact, I think my inner critic is a figment of my imagination. If I can drop the filter of inner commentary, a beautiful world of pure “experience” appears. I wonder if, by peeling back the critique, I can find not only freedom for myself to be who I want but also a world around me which appears less disappointing and more satisfying.
Outsourcing the enforcement of my values
I hear the statements of my inner critic as if they come from the outside. It holds me hostage to high standards: my own values and my own standards, not from somewhere else. Even values such as empathy, compassion, and patience can be enforced with an iron fist when I say to myself “You should keep working on your blog about ‘compassion’ rather than play with your daughter!”
But who says so?! When I do this, I give away my power to something outside myself. If I don’t measure up to my own values, what then? Is someone mad at me? Spending time examining this question has revealed that often it is my parents’ voices in my head: I am trying to avoid the feeling of them being mad at me from when I was a little kid. I was not born with that voice of criticism. It developed inside of me as a protection against the world.
Recognizing that I am simply playing out a program from my childhood is a real wake-up call. There’s nobody there! There’s no critic, just a bunch of wounded feelings from a 9-year old boy who wants to do the right thing! How, then, can I adjust my thinking to align with this?
The world needs our hands
The inner critic has an enormous impact on our society by influencing each of our choices every day. It can keep me from being of service where I am needed. When I was recently asked to substitute as emcee for a songwriting showcase, I declined. I don’t see myself as an emcee, and I was intimidated. Yet when the event organizer said she would have to cancel the show with no emcee, I changed my tune. It couldn’t possibly be worse to have me as emcee than to cancel the event entirely! I ended up finding great joy in being of service to the songwriters who benefitted from the event.
Completely independent of how flawed we may be, the world needs our hands to do the work. When we allow our flaws to get in the way of the work—by feeling bad about our choices, or feeling like people don’t like us, or worrying about whether or not we are good enough—then the world doesn’t get what it needs from us. The critic wins when we convince ourselves that our contributions are fatally flawed due to lack of character, charisma, authenticity or talent.
It took tremendous inner strength to ignore my critic for two hours in order to dedicate quality time to my daughter on vacation. Could this type of strength—the strength to withhold our inner critic so as to free our creative selves—transform our communities?