6 Tips to Silence the Critical Inner Voice

The critical inner voice needs to be challenged.

The critical inner voice is an annoyance. If it annoys you, then you have a right to annoy it right back.

The list that follows comprises six extremely potent ways of challenging the critical inner voice. I hope it provides you with some ammunition to engage this annoying little rat with confidence, and eventually turn it into an ally.

1. Write what it says 

Julia Cameron's excellent book The Artist's Way has dozens of exercises to begin bypassing this terrible nag of a voice. One of the most consistent ways of bypassing it has to do with writing three pages of whatever comes to the mind, a complete purging of your thoughts, every morning. Ms. Cameron calls them the morning pages, and yes, they work. I've done them for 20 years. 

There's no way I'd write so much on this blog if I didn't write what my critic says every morning. It's a habit. My own personal little pocket-pen-protector-wearing-shark-nerd critical inner voice gets plenty of airtime in my journal. The more I write what it says, the easier it is to let go and get down to business, which in my case is music. 

2. Yell at it

Sometimes, there is nothing more satisfying than a good primal scream. The critical inner voice is deafening with it's judgements, so why not try to just yell at it and drown it out? Let it know who's boss? It might seem strange to attempt this if you live in an apartment, but it's easy to do if you scream into a pillow. That will muffle the power of your voice as it challenges the enemy. Sometimes, just yelling in your car on a deserted road for ten seconds can work. 

If this seems completely crazy to you, I understand. At least consider that you might benefit from challenging the critical inner voice in the most loud, clear, and direct manner possible. The point is to engage it with a bit of vocal violence, to let yourself get angry at it. Let it know who's boss.

3. Draw it, sketch it out, or make a collage of it

If you are fond of drawing, what does the critic look like? Is it a scribble? Is it a permanent marker on a blacked out page? Is it a ton of paint on a canvas that is all one specific color? What does the critic look like? Take a stab at it. The voice's power will diminish once it is identified. Why not sketch it until it reveals itself?

If you're still stuck on this idea but want to do it, why not buy some trashy magazines, cut out everything that looks like your critic, and paste them on a huge piece of paper? Dislike sharks? Snakes? Spiders? Is there an actor or actress that does an excellent job representing your critic? Cut them all out, and start collaging. If it helps, put a huge red X through all of them.

Once the critic has a face to go with the name, it will have far less power over you.

4. Ask an artistic friend how he/she confronts it

Artists, aka those who just create and don't allow themselves to think about it, often have the most surprising insights into the critical inner voice. 

Creating art of any kind forces an artist to reach within him or herself to express something that is ready to be expressed. These artists would easily be described as ones who want to see and illuminate that critical inner voice if it is nagging them and needs a little airtime. And, believe it or not, there are some seriously lucky artists who don't have a critical inner voice at all.

Chances are that you know someone who you'd describe as creative. Ask this person how he or she confronts the school yard bully that seeks to sabotage their artistic efforts. You might be surprised and delighted by their answer, and feel inspired to challenge that bully of yours, too.

5. Dance and sing that SOB out

I am fairly certain that just about none you will actually do, but it's my hope that at least all of you will consider dancing and singling the critical inner voice out of your system. Why? The voice hates being mimicked. It hates expression because it fears it.

From personal experience, I feel as though this voice can be so ugly and so scary sometimes that I can't quite face it. At these times, I feel compelled to shine a light on it by dancing and mimicking it. The voice hates being brought out into the open. It will protest like you wouldn't believe. Take it from someone who has a lot of experience in challenging the voice in this way: It works.

Dancing or singing the voice out is not for the faint of heart. It's your choice, but I've defeated many of my critical thoughts simply by dancing and singing. I plan on challenging more of them in the future with this technique, too. Please, just consider it.

6. Make it your best friend

The last tip I offer for silencing the critic inside is also the hardest to accomplish: Make it your best friend. How on earth can this be done?

The voice is not an enemy to some creative people. Ranier Maria Rilke, the poet, often made use of his critic to find the best verses for his poems. Inventors depend upon the inner voice to figure out if a pursuit is worth the investment of time and energy. Investment managers regularly count on that critic to sort the best stocks from the worst. There are plenty of artists who regularly use the voice to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to ideas they want to pour their lives into. 

If there is one thing that the voice is excellent at, it is sorting. It will happily judge something as worthy of your time or not. The trouble comes when the voice tells you that you aren't allowed to experiment or find a new avenue for exploration. The voice's natural strength for sorting and judging can crimp our human need to explore and to enjoy the adventures we wish to undertake. So how do you make that voice your best friend?

Simple: if it's too loud and critical, challenge it. Dance it out. Collage it. Express it. You have to learn to get past it, first. Then, the voice can become the sorting tool that can help you make sense of all the options in front of you. It'll be happy to help.