gremlin1-e1459309526878-250x250I just heard a quote by actor, author, teacher, impresario, Michael Port:

“You can be a performer or a critic but you can’t be both.”

Love it! I’m definitely signing up for performer. In addition, Michael’s just given me a new tool, I’ll share at the end; I’m adding it to my lifetime-home-study-teach-what-you-need-to-learn program called: Taming your inner critic.  

We all know the demon inner-critic. 

Your critic’s the one who’s there before you even start a project, plan a speech, or prepare for a game, who’s ready to tell you that it’s not worth it, you’re an imposter, will probably fail, or maybe worse yet, will never be noticed.

Your critic knows your personal places of vulnerability (Want to be liked? Respected? Paid? Seen as useful?), and uses your fears to distract you from your dreams.

He’ll greet you at the stage door saying “pretty good, but…” and help you with the post-game analysis before you’ve left the court.

And he’s wicked-good at driving home demoralizing comparisons, e.g., “Look at how many ‘likes’/followers/jobs/money your colleagues/competitors/siblings have gotten, while you’re still struggling along.”

I’ve listed below some of my favorite tips for dealing with the critic, but there’s one thing you shouldn’t do: tell her to go away. Sorry, but she’s with you for life, your own personal dopplegänger kind of gal, ready to contribute her defeatist patter the moment you listen.

Facing the beast

The critic belongs to a large family of ghouls called gremlins. They show up in fairy tales and legends, where no hero ever defeated her gremlin-critic by saying “beat it buddy” and walking away. The hero “defeats” her gremlin by turning to face him.

Gargoyle Statue Emphasis on Face and Eyes with a Dark Border

Here are my top five suggestions for critic-taming:

1. Turn and meet her

To paraphrase the Outward Bound mantra, the best way out, when you’re in a bind, is in. Look inside yourself. Face the critic. If you run, you’ll never learn her moves.

Learn her favorite time to appear: When you’re tired? Anxious? Under the weather? Stressed? Feeling great? Check out the pattern. I have a demon-critic who thrives on disappointment, and loves to show up at the end of a party I’ve thrown just to make sure I noticed who DIDN’T come. Or gently drops the fact that a close friend didn’t see my performance, or …. She knows just what will hook me.

By learning to identify her many guises, the next time she crashes your event, you’ll recognize her immediately, and can greet her politely, then usher her quickly to the sidelines. She’s NOT the guest of honor.

2. Stop trusting outer authorities who diminish your inner authority

Your critic knows how to manipulate you by leveraging the words of outer authorities who claim to know how the world works.

She reads the Internet before you do. She’s gobbles up platitudes from experts preaching how you should market your business, build your plans, develop social media, find a job, find a husband, buy a pet rabbit – or just about anything.

Ever notice how the world (with easy access on-line) abounds in advice from people who don’t know your aspirations, values, style, background or pretty much anything about you? Their advice sounds so definitive and your critic collects it… along with all the latest punditry about what’s not possible in the world.

It’d be easier to let all this outside “advice” roll off your back, if your critic didn’t insist on constantly playing it back to you.

You need to create an advice-defense system by asking, “Is this information encouraging me to be more of who I am? Is it offering a positive sense of possibility about the future?” or “Does this information leave me feeling diminished or depressed?” If the latter’s the case, tell your critic that you can hear the experts and read the punditry on your own (if you still want to), and she should take a break.

3. Create a character

Is your critic a bully – full of bluster, certainty, twisting data, ignoring facts (remind you of anybody?), ignoring any attempts at reason?

Is he a bit effete, well educated, ready to dissect what you have done, and measure it against some standard of greatness not suited to where you are now?

Is she coy, whispering to you softly, like a BFF wannabe, while sticking a pin in any balloon of self-esteem you might be enjoying?

Does he throw a tantrum, offering every possible obstacle to that new project?

Ann Randolph, solo-performer extraordinaire, has learned the art of gremlin-management as part of her stage career. She suggests amplifying the qualities of your inner critic until she becomes an outrageous character. By turning a critic into a character, you discover the comedy behind the act. (If you’re an improviser, you may get great new material.)

Put her in a monologue, or a sketch, or walk around the house imitating her and see how absurd she is. Be the bully who staggers around, with belly stuck out, offering derogatory observations about everything and everybody. Pretty weird, huh!

What’s her accent? Her walk? Talk to her, “Really, you come to every performance – even the little ones – and nothing is good enough for you….don’t you ever sleep?” Have a party with your creative friends where everybody comes dressed as an inner-gremlin.

You’ll stop taking her so seriously.

Young caucasian woman standing in an art gallery in front of painting displayed on white wall

4. Paint her or invite a conversation

She might be a little vain – and need some attention – and painting invites you to solidly confront  – and learn from – what you have been avoiding. Those hours staring at a canvas – or a sketch – will teach you a lot. Does she remind you of someone from your past?  Is there something she needs in order to be able to tone it down? And, does she, possibly, have anything useful to contribute if she could learn to say it nicely?

If she’s game, you could set up a time to talk. Invite her to dialogue, after you set up the rules. Her feedback might be useful for you to address – if it can be presented objectively without the tug on your emotional emergency brake that she likes to pull.

5. Swap your judgment for appreciation

This is my take-away from Michael Port: you can counter that tendency we all have to judge by building up your appreciation-muscles. If you walk around in constant judgment of others, your inner critic will have a heyday judging you.

Ever notice how the people you know who are so critical of others, are almost always more critical of themselves?

Turn that around!

Performers are out there cheering on other performers – whether in presentations, new ventures, services, or ball games. They know the work that it has taken to get out on the court – and applaud that effort. Being able to appreciate and cheer someone else doesn’t mean you drop all discernment.  If you’re asked for feedback, you can still offer a few positive steps for improvement, but your focus and starting point is on what you can appreciate.

Dropping the judgments might be your strongest tactic for taming your critic.

She ain’t going away – but she doesn’t get a starring role in your show. You’re teaching her, in rehearsal, that on your set the focus is on appreciation, a sense of possibility, and a commitment to seeing what is positive…. If she wants to play, she has to know when to shut up, and wait her turn before offering advice.

She’s still part of you, and with that non-judgmental attitude you’re practicing, you can even love her.

Maybe, if she heard the words, “I appreciate how much you care for me – and want to protect me by sharing your concerns,” she’d soften a bit, curl up in a little ball of self-esteem, and settle for being part of your ensemble on stage, and not your leading lady.