Learning to Live with Your Inner Editor

As we discussed last week, our Inner Editor is a direct descendant of the Inner Critic. The Origins of the Inner Editor showed us that thanks to evolution, our brains has a hypersensitivity to ANYTHING that may be a problem – basically an ‘assume the worst’ perspective, and an overwhelming desire to problem-solve – translation; make it go away ASAP. Which worked fabulously for sabre tooth tigers and war parties approaching the cave, but when it comes to the ambiguous, amorphous world of creativity i.e. writing, it can get in the way.

As a psychologist and a writer, there are three things I can tell you about our Inner Critic, and by extension, our Inner Editor:

  1. The Inner Critic is inescapable.

In essence, we are primed for having an inner critic. EVERYONE has one. EVERYONE!!! (yes, even JK Rowling and Stephen King). Thanks to our evolutionary roots, our brain inherited a tendency to see problems, evaluate them and then try to make them go away. On the outside, that’s a great idea. It just doesn’t work so well on the inside.

  1. The Inner Critic can be VERY convincing.

Marketing executives could learn a few things from the Inner Critic. It has people falling for it hook, line and sinker! It knows to:

  • Get ‘em when they’re young (okay, maybe McDonald’s has figured that one out).
  • Use real life examples. Better yet, show your worst case scenarios – scare tactics are HIGHLY effective (fine then, speeding ads are all over that point).
  • Target what’s most important to you (e.g. writing better, weight loss, writing faster, being a better parent, selling more books, going green, or being a best-seller…). Oh, and make it emotion-triggering, heart-wrenching, tear-jerking content.
  • Bombard the individual when they least expect it, when they are most vulnerable, when they are off guard (okay, so humans have figured how to put it on radio, on billboards, on glossy magazine pages, on TV, on cereal boxes, on Facebook, YouTube and blogs…).

Have I sold you yet? Companies have figured all this stuff out, which is why marketing people earn a whole lot more than I do. But do their campaigns use EACH and EVERY one of these strategies simultaneously? Your Inner Critic does.

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  1. The more you listen to it, the less you write.

All that convincing propaganda is aimed at one goal. To stop you from taking risks. The outcomes of risks are unknown. The outcomes of risks can be painful. And ultimately, writing – putting your carefully-crafted words out into the big, judgy world – is a risk. So your brain will undermine your confidence, cripple your motivation, and have a whole lot to say: ‘I wonder if those leftovers are still in the fridge…’, ‘I can get those words down tomorrow…’, ‘oooh, is that a Facebook  notification?’

Ultimately, there is no choice about whether it’s there or what it says. The choice is what to do with it.

The way I see it, there are four things we can do about our Inner Critic.

  1. Listen to your Inner Critic.

Okay, I don’t recommend it in light of everything we just discussed, but it’s important to acknowledge it’s an option. I manage to do it all the time. Without consciousness or awareness, this is where I end up. And unfortunately the more I listen to it, yep, the less I write (nor would I have ever considered starting a blog…).

  1. Ignore your Inner Critic.

This can be effective in the short-term. I go read a book, play a computer game, listen to music. But when that little activity is over, the voice is still there. I haven’t dealt with it. Just side-stepped if for a little while. And the more you rely on distraction, the more you have to do it. In worst case scenarios, you end up taking avoidance too far because that’s all you’ve got. Next thing you know you are reading too much, watching Friends episodes over and over, cleaning the pantry…anything but dreaded writing.

  1. Challenge the Inner Critic.

There is a shipload of evidence that supports this option. It is one of the core tenets of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT is widely acknowledged as an evidence based therapy, and you can’t get any better endorsement in the psychology field than that. Once you’ve acknowledged what you’re Inner Critic is telling you, reframe the statement with a more rational one.

For example, my Inner Critic tells me;

“You’re gonna fail at this writing thing. You’re not smart enough, interesting enough, important enough.”

I would respond with;

“There is a chance this will go pear shaped, but I won’t know if I don’t give it a go. And if I do fail, it won’t be the end of the world, and I’ll be proud that I at least tried.”

I use this strategy sometimes, Inner Critics can be dramatic and irrational. A calm, rational response can make you see the Inner Critic for what it really is.

  1. Learn to live with your Inner Critic.

This one has worked the best for me, and it also has a truckload of evidence behind it. It’s called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, also an evidence based therapeutic intervention. I like it because it acknowledges the Inner Critic, but I don’t have to fight it – instead I let it come along for the ride. If Inner Critic is touting her hogwash, I tune her out. Turn her down like a radio. Ignore her like an annoying ad on TV. Instead, I focus my attention on what’s important to me. Like my sharing my knowledge and my passion. Like making a difference.

And once I tried this, I realised a battle is not the right thing for me. The match would never end, that it would be a fight I might not be able to win. And my opponent doesn’t want to hurt me. It’s actually trying to keep me safe. She just has a crappy way of going about it. Nor is she much about long term goals…

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So accepting my Inner Critic, and all her progeny like the Inner Editor, was critical for me. It’s meant I don’t listen quite so intently, I don’t believe quite so completely, and I keep writing. I’ve learnt how to live with my Inner Critic.

 

What about you? I challenge you to spend a few days noticing and accepting your Inner Editor. Learn to live with him or her, and don’t let him/her stop you from doing what you love. Writing.  I would love to hear what you’ve learnt, and what you’ve decided. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week,

Tamar

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2 comments

  1. “CBT is widely acknowledged as an evidence-based therapy, and you can’t get any better endorsement in the psychology field than that.”

    That depends on the evidence, Tamar. If it’s statistical trials, and it usually is, I disagree.

    EBT’s critics sometimes call it Evidence BIASED Therapy. It is all too easy with statistical studies to learn the price of everything and the value of nothing. The premise, methodology and conclusion are all open to question, but not enough people ask enough questions. So I’ve coined what I call ‘Shea’s Law’, which says that for every study that purports to prove something, there is or soon will be an equal and opposite study that purports to disprove it!

    CBT is useful, but not always and for everyone. It is just one tool. Likewise ACT. Incidentally, I use both, and other tools as well.

    My Inner Editor disagrees with this comment, of course, but I’m posting it anyway. And I hope I do not unwittingly support your Inner Editor! So many thanks for this post and your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re quite right John, random trials have their flaws. I much more subscribe to Practiced Based Evidence (rather than EBP). Psychology has spent so long trying to legitimise itself as a science it’s got a bit carried away. I think it still gives us a guideline that can be useful to follow, but no treatment framework should be utilised without critical thought and reflection, or applied without consideration for individual differences. Thanks for your thoughtful response, I love having these conversations 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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