The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘the inner critic

 “Meditation is push-ups for the mind.”- Rachael Herron

As some of you know, I’ve been a long-time advocate of meditation. I use meditation as a tool in my life and I have often taught secular meditative techniques to writers.

Clinical research supports the claim that meditation helps to strengthen the mind, increase concentration and slow our thousands of thoughts down. This is so helpful for writers!

Why do meditation techniques work? Because all human minds, despite their great diversity and capabilities feel and experience the same basic emotions that include joy, fear, rage, happiness, sadness, etc. We also tend to experience similar thoughts both positive (‘I’m great!’) and negative (‘I’m horrible!’). We all also get distracted, frustrated and irritated on a routine basis in relatively the same ways (though about different kinds of things).

There lots and lots of meditation styles and techniques out there from a variety of secular and spiritual traditions. You’ve probably heard a lot about a type of meditation called ‘mindfulness’, so let’s start there.

Mindfulness is a practice of maintaining an awareness of your thoughts, feelings and environment in the present moment. Slowing down and paying attention to the present moment allows us to be more available to what’s happening right now, instead of living in the past or racing ahead in the future. Mindfulness also involves getting some distance from your thoughts and mind chatter without judging them.

Cultivating mindfulness can mean focusing on one’s breathing and being quiet.

Mindfulness can support your writing in a few ways:

-Mindfulness can get us back in the body

“Whatever stories we have, they are organically connected to our physical bodies. Cultivating that connection—that pathway between our heads and our bodies—creates deep writing.”
                                                                    Larraine Herring

Ever have that experience where you don’t know where time went and not in a good way? Ever realize that you’ve been on autopilot and not in the moment? To write well, we have to be connected to the body, our experience, the pain and joy of being alive. Taking a few minutes to recognize we are in a particular place in time and space and we are actually breathing is quite helpful when writing. Sometimes I’m working so intensely, I have hunched my shoulders, clenched my jaw and have tightened up all my muscles. It’s good in that moment to stop, breathe and readjust my body. Mindfulness can open us up to sensations in the body that we tend to ignore. And, indeed in slowing down, we can connect as Herring notes we can open ourselves up to greater bodily knowledge in service of storytelling.

– Contributes to Writerly Equanimity

Mindfulness helps us stay the course. Bad writing day? OK, we all have them…tomorrow will be better. If we have cultivated equanimity, when we hit an impasse in our writing, we’re more likely to be open to tapping our resources (including connecting with writing buddies, groups, etc.,), trying out other techniques (like taking a walk, freewriting) as opposed to thinking we have to solve it all ourselves or because we can’t figure it out, or that we’re bad writers.

Don’t Worry about What You Can’t Control

Practicing mindfulness allows us to see when negative thoughts arise, but also let them go (especially helpful when trying to write!).  It helps us recognize what we can’t control. If we overemphasize what we can’t control, over time that leads to stress. The only thing we can control is what we create, how much we create and over time, the quality of what we create. We also have a say in how we show up and interact with industry professionals. We can’t control an audience’s response to our work, nor the shifting and fickle interests of the publishing industry.

-Quieting the Inner Critic

A practice of mindfulness helps keep us connected to our inner creative self. I don’t know about you but I have gone through cycles of having a very active inner critic. For me, I’m less susceptible to believing the words of my most upsetting and vicious inner critic if I’ve been practicing mindfulness. Also, if I start to have an attack of the inner critic, if I soften my breath and tell myself, OK, I’m going to take a five minutes and watch my thoughts. Do this can give me the perspective I need to return to the work after the five minutes is up.

Less Easily Distracted

Mindfulness cultivates a resistance to being easily distracted. Practicing mindfulness teaches us about distraction and keeping with something, even when difficult.  If we are to succeed as writers, we have to develop both our attention and our intention. Then over time, we become better able to resist the false siren calls of distraction that are always around.

Something to Try:

One easy way to start to practice mindfulness is to start with the breath. You can practice the following before you write. Breathe in and out a few times (breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth a few times to get relaxed). Then breathe in through the nose for a count of four, pause for a moment at the top of inhale and gently breathe out through the nose to a count of four (over time you can do a longer exhale to six or eight counts, which tends to relax the nervous system). Continue this breath cycle for a minute or more and then build up to 3 minutes or more.

Don’t try to stop your thoughts, notice them and then keep returning to the breath. Visualize thoughts as passing clouds over your mental landscape.

Another way to practice: You can place one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly and observe your breath. Ask yourself the following questions:

-Where am I breathing? (meaning where do you feel the breath the most—the belly, at the nostrils, in the expanse of the lungs)

-What’s the quality of my breath? (Slow? Shallow? Tight? Rapid)

Observe without judgement and then take a few more deep belly breaths.

You can also begin by pausing to notice your breath for a minute and then the next week, up it to two minutes and so on.

Interested in learning more? I particularly like Dr. Sara Lazar’s Ted Talk about meditation—she is a neuroscientist at Harvard who started studying the brain changes in people who meditated regularly.

There are lots of apps (many are free or at least free for 30 days) and places on line to investigate mindfulness and meditation.

I’d love to hear your experiences with mindfulness or meditative techniques in support of your creativity!

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We have to be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.—Kurt Vonnegut

As a creative person, you have to be willing to try new things. To do this, we often risk feeling out of one’s league, unprepared, foolish, silly and weird. Even hints of these feelings can sometimes get the best of us, immobilizing us. Over time and with gentle practice however, creative people can become emotional ninjas navigating around these feelings and, of course, the press agent for inadequacy—the inner critic. I’ve been practicing my inner ninja skills for the last several weeks.

Recently, I bought a Flip Ultra HD video camera with the intention of making short videos. I have a new co-authored book that’s just been published and have a desire to make short video clips with myself and the co-author chatting about the book. Everyone said making short videos was going to be easy. Indeed a look on YouTube confirms that even ten year-olds nowadays can make videos and post them.

Even though I am professionally paid to tone my clients’ creative muscles and encourage thoughtful risk-taking, I usually shy away from anything that is remotely ‘techie’. So while I was nervous about taking the videos, the thought of editing them using the included software sent me into hyperventilating spasms. But, I proceeded….

I had the pleasure of attending the Chatham Creative Economy Summit a few weeks ago (see previous post), and imposed on friends and acquaintances by sticking the video camera in their faces asking to film them. Although I’m not an introvert, by walking up to people and asking them to say a few words, I definitely felt my underarms moisten heavily (and then worried about how much ‘fear sweat’ I was releasing into the atmosphere). As I’ve found with most things though, people are generous, kind and supportive when you say, “I’m doing this for the first time. Will you help me?” I discovered I absolutely loved capturing people’s insights as the summit unfolded.

So, while taking the videos was fun and relatively easy, it was working with the software that almost did me in (my fears were confirmed)! I started by uploading the software at 11:45 at night. Well, after looking at some of my videos, I was quickly reminded why filmmaking is a high art. Still, I tried not to let my inner critic (who won’t get an Oscar nomination in the category ‘Helpful Support for Trying Something New’), get the best of me. I breathed and told myself that the real goal here is not mastery and perfection out of the gate, but fun and learning. I began arranging the clips and decided that I definitely wanted to do some editing.

It actually would take another two weeks for me to figure out how to upload the edited video to YouTube, requiring multiple browser upgrades, online chats with customer service and at least one sleepless night.

It’s now on YouTube and posted to Facebook. As I write this, however, I discover that I have not posted the video correctly to Facebook—I stop and take care of that. My inner critic shouts about how absolutely ridiculous I am for not being able to post the video to Facebook perfectly and how this will make me look bad in everyone’s eyes. It shrieks that I have wasted too much time with this ‘video thing’ and condemns my lack of tech savvy.

I know it’s really just trying to protect the ego part of me—that’s one of the functions of an inner critic. It’s OK, I say back to it. Feeling foolish for a few minutes (or days), doesn’t outweigh the absolute joy of taking baby steps toward creative accomplishment. And, I say to it, if people really want to make judgments about me because of a Facebook posting error, then doesn’t that say more about their inner lives, than mine? I doubt that they do, because the inner critic tends to lie and exaggerate—A LOT. Mastery and perfection are the inner critic’s values, but not mine. I know that learning and being “bad” (or just inexperienced), at something the first time psychically feeds us as creatively just as much as when we present something to the world that’s polished.

The inner critic, temporarily outmaneuvered, has skulked off somewhere deep into my psychic underworld. As I watch my video again, I revel in my non-mastery and prepare to take even more videos.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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