I am quite humbled by the fact that I am 43 and I continue to learn things about myself on a daily–sometimes hourly–basis. The funny thing is (and I do mean in the strictest of ha-ha ways) that the things I am learning have been common knowledge, I am sure of it, among my closest of friends for many, many years.
Yesterday, I learned that my inner critic (aka the judge, the censor, the watcher-at-the-gates…we all have one) feasts off of my emotions and seizes each and every opportunity to lash out against me when it senses the slightest instability in my emotions or in my wellness. I actually heard my critic launching its barrage of insults yesterday afternoon when I felt a little stuffed from a magnificent lunch.
The critic started in about my weight, how nobody could respect somebody so out of shape. It quickly followed with an onslaught of “who do you think you are” attacks, and within a minute or two, I started doubting my abilities as a writer, as a father, as a human being.
I stopped that critic in mid-attack, slammed on the mental breaks, and started laughing at the realization of how much control I’ve given to the inner critic. For years–maybe even my whole life, I have allowed that critic to persuade me that I am incapable of doing some of the things that I set out to do.
What’s most crazy about this is that I teach my writing students about the inner critic and how it can stop you from being a better writer. But what I realized yesterday is that the inner critic does not limit itself to attacking my writing (this I have known for years); my inner critic is, well, unbiased when it comes to matters worth judging. Apparently, every aspect of who I am is fair game.
Or should I say….was fair game.
After that brief but powerful epiphany yesterday, I feel more empowered than ever to reach my goals. Traditionally, I would have had a relapse (such a loaded word, but I think appropriate here) and would have had to rebalance myself in other ways (diet, writing, exercise). But just recognizing the inner critic and sending it away (realizing its existence was more than enough to send it off, scowling) was enough to resume my focus for my writing, my teaching, my living.
I often cite this quote (it’s one of my favorites) from Henry David Thoreau. But when I do, I apply it to others and the ways in which they let the smallest things in life slow them down:
“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.”
I imagine my critic sitting in a tree above me, tossing little nutshells and mosquito wings in my path, watching me be bothered and derailed so easily. It’s nice to know that, now in my life as much as in my writing, I’ve got my critic under my control, and I won’t be so quick to let it invade my focus or my emotions.
Give It A Try…
Take a moment and think about who the critic is within you. How often does it make an appearance and try to derail you and take you away from success? Where are the cracks in your armor that it seeks out? Write about those weaknesses and then, with the utmost authority, draft a letter to your critic, informing it that you are now in control, and it will be summoned when you need it, and not a minute more.