Harsh inner critics and runaway brains

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Self-judgement can quickly show up when you start making art. The small whispers of “you’re no good,” “don’t waste your time” or “you can’t improve.” Self-judgment, or the inner critic, can paralyse progress if you believe the stories it spins. It wants to minimise ‘danger’ because the mind feels threatened attempting anything new or unfamiliar and so seek safety in the known and predicatable (in this case not making any art). Shaun McNiff in Imagination in Action argues “The inhibition to act in unfamiliar or apparently strange ways combined with the harsh inner critic is the most essential one-two punch of repression, and for the most part it resides completely within the person, manifesting itself with great power even in situations unconditionally supporting creative expression.” But it’s not just beginner art-makers who suffer from the harsh inner critic’s feedback. “Even the most accomplished artists are stricken when approaching creative expression.”

So how do we overcome this? “Suspend judgement” McNiff suggests. “We all need egos to help in the making of decisions, and arguably artists require ego strength to persist in the face of obstacles, but during the process of insisting the formative forces of expression, ego (and its tendencies towards control) restricts the free and unplanned circulation of possibilities.”

Our brains really do have a mind of their own and that’s why you can’t believe every judgmental thought they tell you. Adyashanti on Oprah’s Supersoul podcast talks about a dream world where we live “primarily in our brains.” He asks us to question “What am I, before my thoughts, before my memories, before my ideas about myself, good and bad and indifferent?” After discovering a quiet space, “our minds do not know what do do with that. So they tend to run away, they go back to the mind.”

The mind is programmed to think a certain way and can run away from you so how do we quiet the mind to access our creative potential? Question judgemental thoughts. See them as a concerned but overdramatic and repressive voice that doesn’t know what’s best when it comes to your creativity. It’s not easy to do, but with practice comes confidence and freedom.

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