We all have one. In fact, it means quite well. That pesky inner critic? Yes, it’s there to keep us safe.
Now that might seem about as helpful as my Sheltie Lizzie throwing me off balance by barking loudly and hurling her furry body at me to stay inside the backyard gate when I’m carrying hot tea, and whatever else I need to leave home, but, like Lizzie, our inner critic starts ‘barking’ whenever we’re taking risks, such as creating a new design, shopping for new clothes, or cooking a meal about which other people might not tell us is brilliant, flattering, or tasty.
According to Playing Big expert Tara Mohr, the best response to one’s inner critic goes something like, “Thanks for your input. I understand you want me not to take risks, but I’ve got this,” thereby acknowledging the inner critic’s (or Lizzie’s) desire to play it safe, while ignoring the “advice” and making, wearing, or baking whatever brings us joy.
But what do you do when your inner critic is being full on your Inner Critic and plaguing you with doubts or causing you to procrastinate on what you dream of making, wearing, baking, etc.?
Note: I’m going sci-fi here, so, even if it’s not your thing, stick with me a minute.
For Second Technician Arnold Rimmer of the British comedy series Red Dwarf an inner critic isn’t just a brain function, it’s a full on, Leonardo level art form. He can turn the most pleasant of holodeck style fantasies with his dreamed-of girlfriend into the worst dysfunctional nightmare in a nanosecond.
“My father was a half-crazed military failure; my mother, a bitch-queen from Hell. My brothers had all the looks and talent. What did I have? Unmanageable hair and ingrowing toenails. Yes, I admit I’m nothing. But from what I started with, nothing is up.”Arnold J. Rimmer
Rimmer (Chris Barrie) and his fellow crew members – Lister (Craig Charles), a happy-go-lucky underachiever; Kryton (Rober Llewellyn), a mechaniod with Emily Post manners, and Cat (Danny John-Jules), the Prince-styled, James-Brown-dancing, evolutionary descendant of…you guessed it…a cat – encounter a ship where all criticism is banned and punishable by death in the series XII episode ‘Timewave.’ As punishment for telling off the ship’s Critic Cop (Johnny Vegas) they are all held in a machine to “Drain their Inner Critics.” The Red Dwarf crew is terrified of the Draining Machine, lest they become like its operator Ziggy (Jamie Chapman) and the SS Enconium’s vast crew of utterly inept people with absolutely no dress sense.
“We are going to drain you of all your critical faculties by removing your inner critic, that little voice in your head that stops you achieving your full potential. Now you will no longer turn down opportunities for fear of failure or humiliation. You will only feel love for all things.”Ziggy Briceman
Amidst the blue electric arcs worthy of a Frankenstein movie, Rimmer is confronted by the intimidating, scowling appearance of a hideous version of himself. Yes, again you guessed it, his Inner Critic come to life..or at least a holographic version. (Hang in there, all my non sci-fi fans!) Gnarly and nasty, Rimmer’s Inner Critic berates him for all his failures in life.
“I am Rimmer’s Inner Critic. I’m the voice inside his head that reminds him he’s an idle good for nothing, underachieving idiot…You need me. I protect you. Remember the school talent contest? …We’d have been humiliated…I stop you from making a fool of yourself.”
“No, you don’t. Rimmer’s always making a fool of himself!” argues Lister as others, including Rimmer, chime in that Rimmer’s Inner Critic doesn’t keep him safe at all.
In the whacky conversation and budget special effects, Rimmer’s Inner Critic is put in his place because he can’t cope with the reality that his stream of negative thoughts does not help Rimmer be any better off. Much like the solution to the 1983 movie War Games in which a kid (Matthew Broderick) shows a military AI machine “the only winning move is not to play,” the Draining Machine self destructs, Rimmer’s Inner Critic returns to his normal background noise level, and the Red Dwarf crew is free to continue meandering around the universe.
When creating and making choices, we all need the inhibition that imagination requires.
We need freedom from our inner critics so we can try new things to be creative. If, however, we can’t access a little objectivity, then we risk, like Ziggy, thinking everything is so wonderful that we don’t have to put in any effort.
Few of us are in danger of becoming Ziggy.
Plenty of us could learn a lesson from Second Technician Rimmer and remember that our inner critics aren’t that great at keeping us safe, and most of the time, we should thank them for the memo then move along toward that which brings us joy