Stop Using Self-Criticism as a Creative Motivator

Photo by Lara604 on Flickr

Photo by Lara604 on Flickr

Self criticism. It can scream at the top of it’s lungs in your face, at which point you are unable to deny the presence of it’s steamy breath. Other times it’s such a faint whisper the negativity barely registers at a conscious level, doing all the dirty work on the down low.


No matter how it shows up, I notice how often it’s misused as a creative motivator by those who feel guilty about neglecting their creative callings, or who don’t really feel their ideas are worth acknowledgement outside of their imagination.


The trickiest part is the idea that this approach is actually helpful and in some way a good motivator to get your creative ass in gear. What really happens when you pull out the self criticism is that the walls around the “right conditions” to feel good about creating get smaller and smaller, and soon there is barely any wiggle room to even consider a creative thought without the critical thinking blowing it to pieces on the runway.

Know the Way You Work and Embrace It


As a life-long procrastinator, I used to get on myself about putting things off and get myself wound up like a complete loon. I also noticed that when I left myself plenty of time to finish something, I still poked around and distracted myself until the timing felt better and the creative rush was imminent.


When we truly understand ourselves and how we work best, the tendency to need a creative motivator becomes different. Instead of talking down to ourselves or giving up entirely, we honor the time that is sacred to that creative process and find ways to nourish and support it as part of our lifestyle.


For example, my best writing time of the day is in the afternoons, after 2 pm until about 7 pm. Other types of work such as organization, strategy, meetings, editing — any time of day was fine for these tasks. However, when I had a full time job I was expected to sit in a chair and be productive at a time of day that really was NOT a good time for me to be awake and around other human beings, let alone trying to be creative. As a result, I often disliked working in a desk job, but was fine working retail since the tasks associated with that kind of job were much more flexible, and differed to some degree, during each work shift.

Be Brave Enough to Reveal Your Truth to Yourself


To really be honest with yourself means taking the time to tune in and beyond that, one very important part — compassion for yourself as you try to figure it all out. According to Dr. Kirstin Neff, an Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas at Austin and a blogger for Psychology Today and The Huffington Post, people often think picking on themselves helps to maintain a sense of safety and being “on-guard”. In reality, it completely drains motivation and drive.


As with anything, catching yourself in the act is the first step to changing the habit. Neff suggests the following steps as a guideline:

  • Start by tuning into it and getting clear on the volume and persistence of self criticism
  • Notice the suffering associated with it — how you feel physically, emotionally and mentally
  • Take the time to build in a new response focused on positive reinforcement, once you catch yourself slashing your own creative motivation
  • Create a dedicated meditation practice that you do daily in a dedicated, quiet space
  • Have compassion for the part of you that is driving the habit


Neff also shares a very direct way to curbing the mind chatter and inner critic. Say to those little mind gremlins, “Thank you for trying to help me, but maybe there is a different way to approach this?”


If you are able to give the voice what it needs to be heard, over time, the mental chatter or emotional distraction won’t be as intense or strong.


The most important thing to remember is that taming the inner critic is a PRACTICE just like yoga, meditation or healthy eating. Changing old, ingrained habits of self-criticism happens in stages, and is a very important on-going part of opening up to your creative joy.