“Not being hard on yourself is a full-time job.” I awoke in the middle of the night recently with this sentence top-of-mind, grabbed paper and pen, and wrote it down. I knew the truth of these words was something I didn’t want to lose.
When I examined the bedside scrawl in the morning, I thought about all the people I know who have been, or still are, completely debilitated by their own self-judgement. My role as a writing mentor allows me unique access to the inner workings of other people’s minds, and often, to their active inner critics. Together, we give their critic a name and create an action plan for every time that big bully shows up. Even still, the nasty voice often needles its way in.
“You’re a fraud. You have nothing important to say. Your writing is so boring. No one is going to read this piece of shit. Why are you wasting your time?”
The result? Long hours spent staring at the same paragraph, beautiful and brave words sullied, progress derailed, missed deadlines, discarded dreams.
The critic knows when there’s something at stake, and chooses its moment and its words carefully. The sabotage —and that’s what this is—occurs right when we’re on the cusp of progress and big change. I’ve seen it happen over and over. A writer who finally prioritizes their writing; a writer who has a breakthrough with their book; or a writer who scores a publishing contract and needs to finish the book they promised.
But the inner critic doesn’t just show up for writing. I had a day recently where I felt I couldn’t do anything right. Everything I attempted seemed tinged with failure. I finally realized that the problem was utterly and completely in my head. So, I gave myself a “get out of jail free” card. I decided to greet every single critical thought with this phrase: “Wow, I’m really being hard on myself today.” And it was exactly the shift that I needed.
By lumping all of its comments together under one label: “I am being hard on myself,” I slashed the power of the critic. Rather than viewing its tirade as the voice of the truth, I chose to see every single insult as a tape on an endless loop, one that I was actually in charge of.
I exerted control in a gentle act of kindness and it had a profound effect. Within an hour, I was feeling better, and by the end of the day, my equilibrium had returned. But here’s where the “full-time job” piece comes in. The vigilance of greeting every thought with the same kind phrase required dedicated focus. I couldn’t let myself believe anything the critic had to say about any topic. This was certainly going against the grain, and as such, it felt like work, but the relief was palpable.
The critic quiets when we confront it. The critic withers when we firmly and consistently deny its claims and instead choose to love ourselves, rather than beating ourselves senseless.
When does your critic show up? Are you able to recognize what’s really going on? And do you have a game plan that helps restore balance and kindness?
Our critics want to keep us from our edges, but when they do, they defy our growth. Being truly alive means taking risks, challenging ourselves, and facing down fears. It means leaping with no guarantee of a safety net.
Consider this: the next time you walk out onto your own personal precipice, which voice do you want with you? A voice without faith, that thinks you’re going to plummet to your death? Or a voice that believes in your innate ability to fly?