Try this: name your inner critic

This is an exercise we did for this week’s Creative Workout Group, and I thought I’d share it for anyone else who would like to identify the motley assortment of critical voices in their heads.

Statler & Waldorf

Here goes:

1) Get some critical phrases down on paper — use any/all of these to jog your memory:

  • Write down all the critical things that were running through your own head just now as you were reading.
  • If you can’t think of any, just make some up. (And if that makes a small part of you outraged, write down what that small part of you is saying).
  • Think back over the last week until you hit on something that didn’t go well, that made you feel shame or embarrassment. Write down all the phrases going through your mind as you think about it.
  • Think about something someone else did this week that pissed you off. What should / shouldn’t they have done? What did they do wrong?

2) Put faces/names/descriptions to the phrases — go down the list and for each phrase, jot down any associations that arise (if you blank out, move to the next one). Try these prompts:

  • Can you hear someone saying it? Is it a voice you know? Does it remind you of someone?
  • Do adjectives come to mind about the voice?
  • Do you imagine anything about the kind of person who would say it? What are they like?
  • Does it remind you of a fictional character, maybe in a book or film?
  • What does this voice look like?
  • Who does this voice make you think of?

3) Write the associations down on a new sheet of paper and take a look at them.

  • Do you notice themes emerging? Are they all one critic or are there distinct ones? Maybe all your associations are a variation on one theme, or maybe you have 5-6 that arise depending on the circumstances.
  • Group or separate things as needed — and don’t worry about “getting it right” (and if you are worrying, add that critic to the list!) — this will be an ever-evolving list, so you can always change it as needed.

4) Give each group a name, like:

  • A descriptive alias (this is especially good if you want to separate out any associations based on real people — so for instance, you could use ‘Old Helmet Hair’ instead of ‘my beloved but cold-hearted Great-Aunt Lorraine’)
  • A random name you have a strong feeling about (for me, a name that came up was Mel — random, but it evokes a quality of weariness and cynicism and mopiness, no offense to anyone named Mel)
  • An authority figure or job title (Drill Sergeant, Kindergarten Teacher, Dr. Leave It To The Experts…)
  • Sometimes the name is right there in your list of associations — don’t fight it (this was the case with Old Helmet Hair)

5) Now give that critic a catchphrase, which is probably obvious — it’s whatever critical phrase is their favorite. Some examples:

  • “That’s not how the world works!” (this one is a favorite of Old Helmet Hair)
  • “You aren’t doing this right!”
  • “There you go again…”

6) Now take however many names & catchphrases you have and write them in crayon or magic marker on a big piece of paper. Write a description of them at the top, like “The Committee” or “Team Suck” or (this is what our group came up with yesterday) “The Academy”. Decorate the paper however you desire, preferably in a way that pisses off your inner critics, and hang it up on the wall.

Good for you! You’ve got your critics up on the wall and you’re aware of the things they tend to say… so now what?

For now, when you notice a critic speaking to you in your mind, you might want to stop and ask them some questions, like: what do you want for me? What are you scared is going to happen? What are you trying to protect me from? What would you like me to do?

Listening to them doesn’t mean you’re going to take their advice — you’re just going to hear them out.

And there are many more things you can do to engage, question and negotiate with your critics, and we will talk about them soon!

Hey there! Did this exercise work for you, but you’d like to delve deeper? I’d love to work with you one on one! Contact me and we’ll set up a session — the first one is free!


TRY THIS: project braindoodling

During this week’s creative workout group, I did an exercise where everyone wrote the name of a project on the top of a piece of paper, then closed their eyes and drew spirals and wrote any random words or phrases that came into their brains. Then they wrote a description of the project with that in mind.

While they were dreaming and doodling, I did the exercise for myself! Here’s what I came up with:



And when I deciphered what I had scribbled and took it further, I had this:

 Developing my creative guide practice 


Search → Re-search

Go home / go deep / go wide and far 


Ask questions 

NO GOALS → all business is my business I BELIEVE IN ALL OF IT

Be brave
Find beasts
Get wilder

It looks better with crayons:


Try it yourself, see what comes to you! Maybe your braindream isn’t as wacked out as mine is, or maybe it’s waaaaaay further out there… only your brain can tell.

Creative Workout: in progress

We’ve had two sessions of the Creative Workout Group and I have to say, so far it’s been hilarious and brilliant and awkward in the best sense. What a brave and beautiful group of people.

  • We’ve felt our own heartbeats, and felt someone else’s heartbeat.
  • We’ve danced like we’re 9 years old and like we’re 90.
  • We’ve made fart noises while making intense eye contact, which never fails to make me laugh until I cry.
  • We’ve come up with alias names and power words.
  • We’ve shared what fascinates us and what frustrates us.
  • We’ve drawn spirals with our eyes closed to see what words and images come to mind when we think of a project.
  • We’ve described a project to someone else using only our eyes.
  • We’ve shared what we thought someone else’s project was (based on what their eyes told us).
  • We’ve come up with catchphrases / mantras / slogans (I don’t like any of these words, can we do a word association exercise to come up with a better one? And don’t suggest ‘branding’) to describe our projects.

There are some pretty incredible projects, and next week people will get to share them using words (not just their eyes). I can’t wait!

Who is this for?

I’m pretty excited about the new Creative Workout Group I’ll be leading starting next week (there are still spots if you want to sign up!). As I’ve been talking to people about it, I’ve been getting these questions:

Do you have to be an artist to be in the group?
Do you need to have a project you’re working on?
Who is this for?

So I thought I should spell out who this is for — “this” being the group, and the sessions I am doing with individual clients.

This is for you if you:

  • are going through a transition
  • are feeling lost or stuck or stranded
  • are in the grips of a life crisis (midlife, quarterlife or otherwise)
  • are starting a project (and by ‘project’ I mean anything from writing a book to starting a business to having a child to taking your show on the road – anything big that you want to do)
  • are lost in the middle of a project, or 90% done and roadblocked
  • are trying to decide between 10 potential projects
  • are an artist (current, future, former, struggling, recovering or otherwise)
  • want to be an artist but are scared to say that out loud
  • are a recovering perfectionist
  • have a brilliant idea but don’t know what to  do next
  • can’t get your shit together
  • don’t know how to stop being so hard on yourself
  • are a recovering people pleaser
  • are a student or a teacher
  • are a clown or a philosopher or a doer or a writer
  • are a lover or a fighter
  • are an idealist
  • are a cynic
  • are a realist who secretly loves astrology
  • are a dreamer who secretly hates yoga
  • are a mountain climber
  • are an elephant tamer
  • are a toddler wrangler
  • are a sky watcher
  • are a risk taker

Do you see yourself in that list? Do you feel a thrill when you read it? Then guess what: it’s for you.

If you feel fear in the pit of your stomach and think, I can’t do that, guess what: it’s for you. (And guess what: I feel it too. I’m pretty sure we all do.)

If you rolled your eyes and said OH JESUS CHRIST THIS IS BULLSHIT while reading that list, it’s probably not for you. (Unless that was your internal critic trying to talk you out of being thrilled about it. Then it’s still for you.)

It’s not for you if you genuinely hate the artistic process, by which I mean, anything messy and paradoxical and goofy and tricky that challenges the categories your brain has divided the world into.

And similarly, if you are an active perfectionist – not a recovering one, like most of us are – this might not be for you. If you don’t like messing with your own desire to achieve perfection, you might find this frustrating. Because I’m pretty sure you won’t emerge more perfect. (But with any luck you’ll emerge on better terms with yourself exactly as you are. So if that sounds good, awesome, this is for you.)

What you will find here is a caring, accepting environment where you can stretch and grow, with other people who are doing the same thing. Growing is hard work. But if that is what you want to do, then let’s get started.