How to Befriend your Inner Critic
So now let's talk about you and the itty bitty shitty committee, otherwise known as the inner critic, the inner gremlins. Does anyone have a name for their inner critic? Has anyone ever named it, like, Gladys or (laughs) No? Well, sometimes people do. Right on, okay. This is one of my favorite quotes from Ron Carlson and his book, Ron Carlson Writes a Story. All the valuable writing I have done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I wanted to leave the room. Do you know that feeling? Like, you sit down and it's coming and the ideas are coming and whatever you're writing, whatever genre's coming. And then suddenly, God! Did I clean the bathroom? Oh, I gotta make coffee, right? So what is it that happens in that moment that makes us want to leave the room or not even get to the room in the first place, right? 'Cause we're so intent on our procrastination and our Netflix. So what makes you all want to leave the room, and everybody at home, w...
hat makes you want to leave the room? And here are some possibilities in this part of the quiz that might point to something that's what's going on. So does anybody wanna share something that they wrote in response to any of these questions about what's going on for you that makes you want to leave the room or not get to the room in the first place?
Uh, for me it's definitely like, finding another form of storytelling, which generally is like, binge watching something. Or watching a movie and then I get captivated and I can't get back of it, so--
Oh, cool, really interesting. So you love storytelling, so your desire to be in that form kind of captivates you and then you don't want to go to the writing itself.
Yeah, it's a study of sorts that turns into me being lazy, I guess (laughs)
I've got something to refute that lazy question. One more person, what comes up for you about leaving the room? Yeah, perfect, thank you.
I typically like, tinker around the house and find things to fix and organize and get completely OCD in my brain.
Right, yeah. And that's just what I do.
Uh huh, instead of getting to the writing.
Yeah. And one more person of what happens when you want, when you actually get, in that first twenty minutes when you want to leave the room, when you find yourself gone. So there's something about that that you've discovered or can think about right now.
I would say when it gets hard.
When it gets hard!
Yeah, anybody agree with that? When it gets hard and you can't find the word, when the characters aren't talking to you, when you can't find the right headline for the blog post. Exactly, right. Well, let me tell you what's going on in that moment. So when you hit the hard moment, when you hit the confused moment, when you hit the I don't know moment in writing, it's actually a threat to your self concept, to how you see yourself. So you might be I'm not writing fast enough, the words aren't coming as smoothly as I wanted. This doesn't make me feel good about myself. That's no big deal. But for your reptilian brain, the oldest part of your brain actually thinks you're in physical danger because your self concept has been threatened. And so it says warning, warning, not safe! And it gets you out of the room or it keeps you from even getting to the writing in the first place. So there's a part of your brain that actually thinks you're in physical danger when your writing isn't going the way you think or when you haven't even gotten to the writing. Isn't that fascinating? It's so weird. So what do we do when that reptilian brain is nattering on? Well, we either fight, we get the itty bitty shitty committee going really loud, we beat ourselves up. We beat ourselves up for sitting in the movie or cleaning up the house, right? So we're doing, we're not even at the writing and we're beating ourselves up. Or we have flight, we flee. We become anxious or restless, and suddenly, we are cleaning up the house (laughs), you know? We're not in the office anymore. How did that happen? I didn't even remember getting up, right? Or we freeze. We sit there, and we keep playing over and over how it's not working, how we'll never do it. How we'll never get to it, how we'll never get it done in time, et cetera. Or we submit. We say, okay, yeah. That's right, I suck. I totally suck. I'm never going to be a writer, I'm never gonna get this done, and therefore, I give up. Now, if sometimes, that's fine. You give up for a day, big deal. But if it happens over and over again, you begin to believe the story that you can't do it. When really, what's going on is your brain, and you can intervene. And we're all wired with a predilection for one of these. I'm a total Freezer. Does anybody kind of relate to one of these more than the other? We don't know why people are wired for more, or you might go between a few of them, right? Kind of mix and match (laughs) So what do we do instead? Well, first we have to bring awareness to this moment. We have to say, oh, look! I am caught in the movie and I'm telling myself I'm lazy because I don't want to get up and write. Isn't that interesting? And I'm feeling worse and worse about myself. There's a part of my brain that thinks I'm in real danger. Or in that moment when it's hard, Kristy, and all those stories come flooding in and the itty bitty shitty committee, the critic, gets really loud. Instead of believing what you're hearing, you say to yourself, oh! There's a part of my brain that thinks I'm in real danger. Fascinating! And this immediately begins to give us a little distance and a little ability to witness what's going on and intervene in a more skillful way than beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up, right? So what we actually need to do is calm our nervous system down. We need to calm our brain when we're writing in the moment, it gets hard, and we realize we're not getting to the writing. But, and this is so important, you cannot listen to the itty bitty shitty committee's ideas about what you should do to calm your brain, 'cause the itty bitty shitty committee wants to keep you right here, right? Right where it's known, right we're it's safe. The itty bitty shitty committee wants you to keep watching that movie. The itty bitty shitty committee wants you to keep cleaning. The itty bitty shitty committee wants you to get out of that room. So they're telling you what to do, but it's not skillful. It's not gonna work. So this makes it very uncomfortable to do something different. And I gotta tell you this because it's really important. 'Cause if you think, well, if she gives me this idea and I didn't want to do it, then it must not really work. No, you're going against a very ancient part of your brain. Right on? Make sense? So you need relaxation and other anxiety abatement methods to calm the threat response when you are writing or not getting to your writing. And isn't that a different story than you're lazy? Isn't that a different story than you lack willpower? Isn't that a different story than you can't do this? Oh, I need a different way to intervene with my brain in these moments when it's hard or I'm feeling overwhelmed or I don't want to get to the work. It takes the shame out of it, right? It makes it a neurobiological fact. So I'd like to give you a couple of relaxation methods or anxiety abatement ideas. And the first one is very funny. It came out of my mouth once when I was teaching, and it's thousands of people have used it. They love it, they teach it to their kids, and you pause in this moment. You go, oh, man, I'm really beating myself up. Oh my gosh, what's going on? Oh, that woman said something about threat defense system. Huh, yeah I'm remembering that. Okay, what did, oh, I'm going to look around the environment and I'm just gonna check it out with my senses. Is there anything here that can eat me? You know, and it's funny and you laugh and you kind of smile and that begins to calm that part of your brain. And it begins to give you a little more distance from that sense of the end is near. Then, what you can do is you can say, huh. I'm having a thought. What thought am I having? I'm having a thought that I suck. I'm having a thought that I'll never get this done. Isn't that interesting? Is it useful? Is this thought useful? It is gonna help me get my writing done? And sometimes, what I'll ask myself, what thought just kicked me out of my work? I love this. Usually for me, I have some learning disabilities and I'm mildly dyslexic. So usually for me it's when I can't spell. I'm a terrible speller, and you'd be like, oh, Jen, everybody tells you just leave it on the page. Let it be messy. Sure, but I do that enough and that reptilian part of my brain is like, you suck. You're terrible, someone's gonna see this, and you're really gonna be in trouble, right? Like it's the old school voice or something. And that's the thought that kicks me out of my work, right? So you get to know, you get to study. And sometimes when the thoughts are really loud, I'll grab my journal and I'll just write down what I'm saying to myself real quick and just get some distance. Remind yourself this is a brain function that's trying to keep you safe, alright? Then the absolute best tool in your writer's tool box is to practice self-compassion. But in the moment of struggling, in the moment of not getting to the writing, like, wouldn't it be different if you weren't getting into your work, and instead of beating yourself up about not getting there you practice self-compassion? What would that look like? From a brain standpoint, it would look like you're gaining access to the parts of your brain you actually need to write. To the creative centers of your brain, the higher functions of your brain. You would actually see things changing in an fMRI. It certainly feels better and there is an entire body of research that proves that it's much more effective for motivating you than beating yourself up, being cruel to yourself, cracking the whip at yourself ever will. So here's a couple ways to practice self-compassion. Three-step process from Kristen Neff, wonderful self-compassion researcher. First, you say to yourself, wow, this hurts. Or ouch, or oh my gosh, wow, I just feel awful right now. I feel so awful. I had such a hard day Friday writing, y'all. I'm writing a memoir as I mentioned and I'm writing a scene that took place on my Honeymoon in Bali and we went to a cremation. And I have been working on this for two weeks and it's just all over the place, and it just keeps not gelling. And I don't know how to move all the characters through space and there's so many details, and I was just, Friday I was just like (sobs) And I stopped, and I right there, I put my hand on my heart and I went, oh, this hurts. This is really hard. We're scared to feel those feelings that we're afraid they're going to overwhelm us or take too much time, but the research shows about 90 seconds and that is gonna move. My meditation teacher says what is met can move. So I notice that I touch myself. Self-touch is very calming while we're doing this. It's very calming for the mammalian brain and releases oxytocin, not OxyContin (laughs) (audience laughs) Which I always have to check myself when I say. And then after we do this hurts, we oh, wow, ouch, wow, this is intense, then we think about other writers that are writing right then somewhere, a friend in the world. I often think of writers that have been imprisoned for writing, and we send them love. We send them compassion. We say gosh, I really want the best for you. And you know, maybe 15, 20 seconds, again, could be writers in general, could be people you've met here today, people in your writing group. And then the last thing you do is wish yourself well. May I be kind to myself, may I stay on my own side. That's the phrase I've been working with lately. May I stay on my own side as I write this scene, really set the intention. So this will take maybe a minute and a half, two minutes, and it just switches that channel out of that itty bitty shitty committee. But first you had to notice and remember it's the threat response, right? First, you have to notice you're having a thought. So these are the tools that can really make a real difference in dealing with this sense of being beaten up from the inside. And there's one more I want to share with you. And that is to talk to the parts of you that are afraid, aka the inner critic, the itty bitty shitty committee to actually turn this part of yourself into an ally, into a helper. And we do this at my writing retreats and people are always like, this is so weird. But it's often the most powerful thing that people say that they do. So how do you do it? Well, I'll give you some questions. Who are you? Well, you're like, I know who it is! It's the inner critic. Well, you've got a bunch of them, right? You might have your ex-husband who comes in sometimes or you might have your seventh grade art teacher. Or you just may have a small part of you that's very young or that's very afraid of being vulnerable. So ask, who are you? And then here's a great trick from Lucia Capacchione, an art therapist. She pioneered this in the seventies. Answer with your nondominant hand, the hand you don't usually write with. This helps you get to other parts of your brain, sort of more unconscious parts. You'll be surprised it also slows you down (laughs) So you often reach some different information than those first thoughts that you're so familiar with. What are you trying to protect me from? Again, that moment. It might be well, being embarrassed or, you know, looking stupid, or obviously, this is my inner critic speaking (laughs) Being exposed, writing about that stuff. What are you afraid will happen? Well, I'm afraid that, you know, people will come and get you and take you away and put you in prison because they'll think you're crazy. You know, it doesn't have to make sense. Don't edit, don't censor this voice. And then how would you like to help me? Such an important question. You are not at the mercy of the inner critic or the itty bitty shitty committee. You can have a relationship with these parts of you, and in fact, it's so important to have that attitude. Too often, I think, we have this sense that this is a part of us we can just get rid of. No! It's hardwired into you to be hard on yourself. We think it actually helped us stay part of the tribe and like, you know, stay by the fire because somehow it made us, like, well we were hard on ourselves and we're more aware to be like, well, what do you need and how can I get it for you? We are wired for self-compassion, but we have to learn it. So you're not gonna get rid of the critical voices, so don't set out to do it because if you do, you actually entrench them. You actually become more at war with yourself and instead think, how can I have a relationship with them? How can I listen to them? But they don't get to tell me what's gonna happen, just like I wouldn't let my, you know, my daughter when she was little just, you know, tell me what we're gonna do all day and what we're gonna have for dinner, right? So you get to have a relationship and you get the final word, but not to be at war with this part of yourself, okay? So here's your homework. I want you to draw a line down a piece of paper and on the left-hand side, I want you to write all the things you say to yourself that are cruel about your writing, about your ability, about your current project. It won't be hard. We actually don't seem to have any problem with this part (laughs) And then I want you to take a moment in between, actually a good minute, and practice self-compassion like we just learned it. And then on the right-hand side, for every cruel thing you wrote, I want you to write something kind that you would say to a friend if your friend had just said, God, I suck! I'm such a terrible writer. I'm never gonna be able to do this. What would you say to the friend? The somebody you love? And you're not gonna be rah-rah, you're not gonna be like, oh, affirmations, you can do whatever you want! You're gonna be a New York Times Best Seller tomorrow! No, you're gonna be kind and grounded and realistic, and then, if you really wanna make this powerful, tell a friend about this exercise, have them do it, and then switch and read them out loud to each other. Woo, it'll give you chills, and it may just change your relationship with this part of yourself. And the other homework is to write yourself a note to pause and become aware of the threat response network, right? You could write it in your document, you could write it on a Post-it note. It's wherever you work so tomorrow when you're writing, or next week when you're writing and you're like, the inner critic starts its nattering on just like it always does, and you've completely forgotten everything that we're talking about here, you have a little reminder to go, oh, what was that thing? Oh, right, I'm having a thought. I can practice self-compassion, okay? So give yourself a visual reminder. So two ways to bring this home and really begin to make it a practice, 'cause that's what it's gonna take. It's gonna take a practice.