There are days, when you feel worse than anyone? Or just a bad version of yourself? Or you wanted to try something new, but the voice inside was blocking you? I’ll tell you, what is the problem.
Oh, he moved. He heard that sentence, got up from his comfy sofa, in the corner of your conciousness, and now he’s ready to go. He’s a little irritated, that I’m talking about him openly, becuse he’s great at working long years without being noticed, and this is when he works best. Your Inner Critic. Say hello to him. It’s rude to ignore someone you are talking to every day.
I don’t have to introduce you, just think about all those moments, when you doubted in yourself, when you thought you weren’t good enough, you sucked, you looked bad, you were stupid and boring. Or, when someone told you a compliment and you proved him wrong – you know this one, don’t you? Your Inner Critic has 3 phases. I’ll describe them from the improviser’s point of view, but it works in any profession thay you do.
Imagine the moment before taking an action. Before going on stage. You don’t know, what’s gonna happen, but you take the first step. Let’s add some drama – it’s a very important show. Maybe at the festival. Or with important people in the audience. Mentors, students, family, friends. Stakes are high. And that very moment he sits on your shoulder, very close to your ear. And waits for the little moment when you lose your focus on being here and now.
And he goes:
WHAT WILL THEY THINK?
In this phase you worry about people, that you don’t know, and probably you never will. What will the audience think? Will I be cool? Will they like me? If I look in their faces, will they smile, or be bored? What about that cute girl I invited, will she ever call me? What if they write on the internet, that everyone were good, except me? What if they pick me as the first to leave the stage? And so on, festival of doubts and fears. In the end, nothing really happens.
WHAT WILL YOU THINK?
Here you worry about the people you know, and who can talk to you after the show, and share their opinions. What about my group? What will you think, while being with me on stage? What if I fail? Can’t hear something, and destroy the story? What if I do something embarassing, or pick a wrong suggestion and my group would be angry at me? What if I’m the worst and my group is wondering, why they’re working with me? What if you think, I’m bad, but you won’t tell me, because you know I would be sad? What if I become scared, and you’ll see that, and you’ll think I’m weak? In the end, nothing really happens.
WHAT WILL I THINK?
The worst one. You can be afraid of „Them” and „You”, but you can be sure, what „I” think. And as the audience and friends are usually gentle and supportive, You are not. You will always find, what you did wrong, you will always tell yourself that. And it’s impossible not to hear that. Even if the show was really good, but you think you were bad, in your head the vision of whole show can be worse than in other’s heads. Because, honestly, it’s talking to yourself. In your head. Not out loud. But still.
What I just described is a collage of fears. But sometimes it takes only one fear to poison the joy of even such wonderful thing as improv is. All of us have in mind a show, or just a scene, that we destroyed for ourselves in our heads. And not talking about it out lound won’t make it dissapear.
I’m talking with my students about the Inner Critic. They can point him, they try to domesticate him. They were surprised when I told them about mine. They got scared, because they were hoping, it goes away with time. That it’s just the beginner’s struggle. Oh, no. He doesn’t go away. He’s getting smarter with time. He’s developing with you. He’s a part of you, he has acces to your knowledge and feelings. So many times I saw very experienced improvisers, going off stage after the show, sad, angry and looking somewhere far away. They sometimes go straight to that leather sofa. Even when they learned, how to turn back the Critic’s sofa, they go there, and ask “How was it?”. Well. What can I say. Usually “Not good enough”.
Oh. And don’t mistake Critic with progress. He doesn’t cause the progress, he blocks it with fears and doubts.
Someone asked me, CAN YOU KILL THE INNER CRITIC?
First of all – no.
Second of all – why would you? Why would you wanna kill someone, who cares only about… your survival? Yes. Let’s take a look at the history of Inner Critic and humanity. He is as old as human kind. And he used to be really important part of us. He was telling us “Don’t go there.” “Leave it alone”. “Aren’t you to weak to deal with that danger?”, “Don’t go to those people, they may hurt you.” Today, after thousands of years of evolution, he has less work to do, because there are not a lot of things, that may eat you alive these days. And finding food may cause the danger of standing in a line. Now our Inner Critic is trying to lock us at home, where is safe, without dangers, challanges, being hurt… and sometimes it is just a motherfucker who punches you in the face. But, really, he doesn’t want to hurt you. (Toxic, ha?) He’s worried about you.
What you can do – is to mute the Critic. It’s not that dramatically hard. You need to chill out. You need to tell yourself, that you are not, what you do. I wrote an article about it before. You should realize, that when someone is criticizing your work, he’s criticizing… your work. Not you. What you do doesn’t determine your value as a person. Chill. Breathe. Easy. Fuck that. Let people not to like you. Don’t force them to like, what you like. Let yourself suck once in a while. And if someone says you suck, stink and you’re stupid… he’s not the person you would worry about, right?
Domesticate the Inner Critic. Let him be the same voice as anyone’s else, who has something to say about your work. Your show. Listen. Think, what is worth taking out of it. How can you grow, get better. Be wiser. And move on.
Just don’t let him talk too much.
And when you start to overthink again, make a little detox, according to some anonymus note that I wrote one day on the piece of paper: “Live and don’t think.”
And how do you deal with your Inner Critic?
/photo Janek Łuka, developed and edited in darkroom – me.