Firestarter Friday: Your Worst Critic Probably Lives with You

We don't just make cookies here. We make purple cookies with pink frosting, pink sprinkles and rainbow stars. Because they taste better that way.
We don’t just make cookies here. We make purple cookies with pink frosting, pink sprinkles and rainbow stars. Because they taste better that way.

No matter what medium you use to get creative, you have run into criticism at some point. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s not but no matter what, it is unavoidable. If you have formal art education, you understand constructive criticism is a cornerstone to really growing as a creative person. Even without a formal education, it’s easy to see how helpful getting a second opinion can be, even if it’s not one that perfectly meshes with your thought process. Hearing what someone else thinks, good or not, forces a change in perspective.

Even if you are good at processing critiques of your work, odds are there is one person screaming loud angry things about everything you are doing wrong, and you are absorbing all that negativity without realizing it. That person is you. More often than not, no one will be harder on you than yourself.

But why does it matter? Because so often, your perceptions of how you handle your own critiques of yourself are way off. It’s easy to think you just thought something and brushed it aside. But it came from within you, from the deepest parts of your brain, so it doesn’t always shake that easily. The problem arises when those negative thoughts pile up in your brain and start causing actual creative blocks. Maybe somewhere in the back of your head you’ve had one thought a million times. You’re not talented enough, no one likes your work, you waited too late to try…the list of possible put-downs is endless. But when you keep thinking it over and over, you may start to believe it. You have to stem the tide of nasty thoughts before they drag you down.

Getting over being your own worse critic is an ongoing battle. Luckily, there are endless amounts of tricks to getting yourself back into a positive and productive space. Try as may as you can. Some will work and others won’t. Keep track of what does help you out and keep returning to your own personal rotation of exercises. Just remember the main goal is to not give up. Start by searching key phrases like “creativity block” or “creative exercises for artists”. Both of these will render so many lists and ideas you will never be able to use them all. From the simplicity of going for a walk outside to a more repetitive journal-entry-a-day, there is something out there for everyone. When you actively work on being creative and flexible, you are silencing the worst parts of yourself. The more often you prove your internal critic wrong, the quieter that voice gets. You will shift your energy and power into good and creation. Here are a few exercises that work well for me.

Do something someone else is excited about. Since I hang out at home all day with two kiddos, I have a lot on my plate. Besides creative time and the endless list of chores that need to get done, I also have a four-year-old that is always asking to do stuff with me. I really do love it, even when it’s exhausting, mostly because I know it won’t last much longer. When she walks up to me and says “Can we bake PLLLLEEEEEAAAASSSSSEE?”, I try to say yes as often as possible. We don’t need more cookies in the house and I hate doing dishes. So why would I sign up for this. Because she loves it. She really, really enjoys scooping and leveling flour, cracking eggs, mixing and (most of all) adding food coloring. Baking with my kid has more to do with my art than you would think. Her love of and genuine interest in food get me excited. And when we get done baking, I feel lighter and ready to do the things I love to do. So why does it work? Enthusiasm is infectious and will spread across all parts of your life.

Do something mindless. I won’t say doing chores you hate fall into this category, but that’s on the right track. Do something that completely takes you out of yourself. An easy video game, a shower, a long walk outside, chores that you don’t dread or a project way below your skill level. The idea here is to do something your brain will set no expectation to. When there are no expectations, your brain doesn’t create those harsh messages of judgement. So why does it work? You get something done and feel great about it. Added bonus! When you don’t need to really concentrate on the task at hand, your brain will start to hammer out solutions for other things in the back of your head. You may be spaced out mowing the lawn, but somewhere inside, you are imagining a great painting.

Switch gears faster. This is simple. Sometimes when a certain project or idea grabs you, just dive. Don’t think, do it. So why does this work? Simple…no time to start doubting yourself.

Do something badly. That’s right, badly. Don’t think of it as intentionally botching something, but instead not shooting for perfect or even good. Sometimes it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the final product and what something “should” be. You want to play a new song on violin that is exactly like the symphony you just heard. Your cake needs to look just like the one in the magazine. Let it go. Instead of getting tied up in the end, immerse yourself in the process. Let random music notes float around, feel flour and butter smooshing between your fingers. Just love the process and remember it’s just as important as the end. So why does this work? After a long period of repeating the same creative process over and over, you can become obsessed with final products. Shifting your focus to the act of creation can refresh your sense of wonder at the things you love to do.

Purge your worst thoughts. This one is best for when you are your most frustrated and stuck. I am talking about a physical purge. Grab a piece of paper and free write every negative thought you are having right now. Write until your hands cramp and your brain is empty. Don’t read it, just start destroying in a way that seems most fitting. Cut the paper into a million tiny pieces. Draw over those words with markers and paint. Bury them. Burn them. Thrown them in the trash. So why does this work? It sounds hokey, but sometimes the act of physically trashing those mean things we say to ourselves lessens the power those words have. Plus, it’s really fun to run things through a paper shredder.

No matter what exercises you try, don’t give up. It’s easy to become your own worst critic, but you don’t have to stay that way.

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