Your creative self vs. your inner critic

inner criticLately I’ve been thinking of creativity as a journey that we are called to embark on. I’m on an adventure, trying to fight the demons and make my way home to my truest, best life, and so are you. Along the way, I think we encounter two characters, two sides of ourselves that have their own take on how to live this adventure. And they usually don’t get along.

You have a creative self, a version of you that has amazing ideas, endless energy and motivation, and that gets so lost in creativity she forgets to eat.

And you have an inner critic, a version of you that tells you that it’s pointless to try be creative because nothing you do will ever turn out right and no one cares and you should just shut up and go back to bed.

If you have trouble accessing your creative self, it might be because you’ve spent too much time listening to your inner critic. Even if that part of you is buried beneath years of criticism (from yourself or from others), I promise you it’s there.

Your creative self:

– knows the right answer to the question, “what should I do next.” (And knows there’s no such thing as a ‘wrong’ answer.)

– wants to try everything

– is curious about everything

– isn’t afraid of anything

She’s like a child with a spirit of adventure. She doesn’t understand the word ‘impossible’.

Your inner critic:

– is very afraid

– doesn’t think anything is good enough

– spends so much time worrying she has little energy for anything else

– wants to stay home and hide under the covers

Your inner critic can be a bully, but she’s not pure evil. A lot of the time she has good ideas, but she’s so used to shouting and stomping around that it’s hard to trust her. Her anger comes from fear, not from hate. She doesn’t want you to fail, she just wants you to be safe.

The truth is, like any villain in any story, you need your inner critic to teach you about who you are as a creative person, to make you stronger, and to help you work better.

You need both. You need to know that you’re limitless, and you need to prepare for the inevitable obstacles. You need to throw caution to the wind, but also take care of yourself. If one side gets out of balance you will either throw yourself off a creative cliff, or never leave your bed.

So even if your inner critic has been running the show and making you feel pretty terrible, you don’t want to annihilate her. You might want to punish her, put her in her place, teach her a lesson. But in the end, you need your inner critic to get along with your creative self. You might even want them to become friends.

Are you having trouble accessing your creative self? Are you having trouble believing that you even have a creative self? Are you wishing you could balance the two influences a little?

Try this exercise:

1. Download and print out this worksheet.

2. Think about that part of yourself that is bursting to the seams with creative energy and joy. What does she look like? Draw, paint, collage, scribble, or write her description.

3. Think about that part of yourself that tries to squash your ideas and dreams. The one that is constantly afraid and frequently belligerent. What does she look like? Draw, paint, collage scribble or write her description.

4. Look at these two versions of yourself. They’re both you. They’re two sides of the same coin. Even if they feel like they’re at war, they both have something to offer you. Think about this: what can you do to balance the two sides within yourself?

Can you build a bridge between them? Can they share a cozy blanket and a pot of tea? Maybe your creative self needs to whisper sweetly in your inner critic’s ear. Can they share a swingset? What would happen if they went dancing? Do they need a mediator to even be in the same room?

If they won’t stop fighting, think about who has the upper hand. Usually it’s your inner critic. Can you give your creative self a secret weapon to make her stronger? How else can you level the playing field a little? If you bring out a pizza party, will they at least call a truce?

If you do the exercise, take a photo and share it on social media. Tag me (@StephMedford on Twitter and Instagram) and use the hashtag #everydayartistry. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

If you want to try this exercise in person, come down to the Whyte Avenue Art Walk this weekend. I’ll be on the sidewalk in front of Mars and Venus (10328 Whyte Avenue) between 10am and 5pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I’ll have all the supplies you’ll need!

What do you think?

Which character plays the dominant role in your creative journey? What does she (or he) look like? How can you help the two characters to get along?

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