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!

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