Working with the Inner Critic
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Brene Brown revitalized this quote, a portion of a speech Theodore Roosevelt gave campaigning. These words are robust and provide many avenues for exploration and inspiration. Today, I’m meditating on the idea of the critic. I’m acknowledging that the critic might not be the public, the ‘haters’, or some external party. Sometimes, the critic is the very person who is in the arena– you.
For me, the inner critic usually shows up as the imagination of Someone, Somewhere… Who is Perfect. Who do I think I am, trying to improve myself, when Someone Else is already lightyears ahead of me? When Someone Else doesn’t have these kind of doubts, nor reason to have them? When I’m having a breakdown, I imagine someone who is confident and brave and who never gets low. Or, when I am having trouble learning some new concept, I imagine someone who has flawless memorization capabilities and who has never made a mistake in their life. When I’m feeling unhealthy I imagine someone who has never eaten refined sugar and who wakes up every morning for hot lemon water and yoga. This is my imagination working against me, trying to take me out of the arena (and back into bed!).
How do I break down the inner critic and grant myself the freedom to keep striving valiantly?
Change what I imagine. Picturing some false and unlikely person doesn’t inspire me to keep trying: imagining the type of person who hasn’t got it all figured out but is willing to attempt does. Did MLK wake up a great orator one morning? Nope. Did the Wright brothers stop trying to invent planes because other people were more well-funded or educated to do so? Nope. These people were never perfect before they tried- and damnit, they we’re actually never perfect. I remind myself I don’t have to be great to start, but I have to start to be great.
Think to myself: “Would it be so great to be perfect anyway?” Say I was Perfect- would people even like me? Would I be relatable? Would my effort even matter, if I knew the outcome would always be success?
Practice gratitude for my flaw or failure. What if this blow I’m imagining I’ve been dealt is actually preparing me for a bigger fight? I’m David learning to use a slingshot, knowing that when Goliath enters the arena I’m prepared with the sort of laser-precision aim that can only come after a few thousand failed practice shots.
Remember, the next time your inner critic tries to silent your great enthusiasms, when the inner critic imagines all the other people who are better suited or more deserving of the dream you’re dreaming: you’ll never be satisfied if you leave the arena. Buckle down, silence your mind with action, and be grateful.
You will always stumble. You will always be able to do the deeds better.
But this is your arena, and you owe it to yourself to fight with all you’ve got.