“You’ll never stick with it!”
“They’ll see right through you.”
I was designing business cards for my blog and had dared to give myself the title “writer, speaker, life changer.”
“Life changer?” came the voice. “You think you can change lives? You can barely change the sheets on your bed!”
My inner critic was trying every trick in the book to prevent me from taking action on my dream.
Once I sat back and listened to what it was saying, I couldn’t help but compare it to another voice I’d heard recently on the big screen.
In the movie Birdman, a Hollywood action star (played by Michael Keaton) tries to reinvent himself as a legitimate Broadway actor only to be blocked by his own inner critic – a character, visible only to the actor, who takes on the persona of the Birdman, the superhero he played in the films that made him famous.
We all have a Birdman in us –
We all have a Birdman in us – a voice of doubt that pretends to be our friend by convincing us in times of change that it would be better all-around if we just kept things as they are.
While that doubt typically doesn’t manifest itself in a superhero suit like in Birdman, its power can be just as strong.
Without giving away too much, let’s just say in Birdman, Micheal Keaton’s character listens to his alter-ego and things don’t go well.
Fortunately, unlike in the movies you have the power to write and rewrite the story of your life. This means, like a screenwriter, you can shape the dialogue in your mind which, in turn, shapes your actions.
With a few lessons from Hollywood you can even kick your self-doubt to the curb.
1. Go behind the scenes
We love movies because they make us feel strong emotions – love, sorrow, lust, fear and joy. Elements such as music, set design, lighting and camera work all come together to create that moment but we are often so immersed in the feelings they are creating, we don’t notice them.
Similarly, when we experience a lack of confidence or internal resistance to something we are trying to achieve, we don’t always recognize what’s behind it.
To slay those moments of self-doubt, you need to first be aware of the internal dialogue that is driving it.
Next time you feel like “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t” do something that is otherwise harmless and would bring you closer to your goal:
- slow down
- take a breath
- ask yourself, “What thought or thoughts just went through my mind?”
If it helps, write them out.
After recognizing that first thought, you may have to probe a bit deeper and ask why.
If the result is a bunch of stuff about how you’re not worthy/ would fail/ would get rejected or otherwise lose love, it’s coming from your inner critic.
2. Name your enemy
So you’ve heard the creepy words of your inner critic foreshadowing ominous things to come. Now get ready for your first plot twist:
Your inner critic isn’t you.
In fact, like the Birdman, it isn’t even real.
Instead, it’s the internalized voice of someone – a parent, a childhood bully, a teacher or other person – whose love or approval wasn’t forthcoming at a time when you needed it.
Over time, our mind distorts this voice and turns it into a character disguised as yourself.
The second step to diffusing its power, therefore, is to name it.
Perhaps you name it after that nasty ballet teacher or the guy who made your little league days so brutal or that horrible kid from grade school.
Or, maybe, you choose another name. I like to call mine Dum Dum Pants, but the Prickly Jilter would do just as well.
It’s your evil alter-ego. You created it. Have fun with it!
3. Take control
In movies, the climax usually happens when those who had power are rendered powerless and those who were previously powerless are finally in control.
So how do you render your own inner critic impotent?
Give it some ridiculous traits. Whenever it pipes up with words like “Loser!” put that thought in the voice of a tiny mouse, or Gomer Pile or Bob Dylan.
If you are visual oriented draw a picture of it, exaggerating it’s characteristics so it is super skinny or incredibly furry or polka-dotted with plaid trim.
The moment you stop taking your inner critic seriously, you win.
4. Arm yourself with a mantra
No Oscar-winning screenplay was ever produced based on its first draft. So too, is it sometimes necessary to rewrite the words that create the story of your life.
When I was making my business cards, the thought that was blocking me was “you rarely follow through with what you start.”
Ultimately, my inner critic was trying to protect me from the possibility of failure and public ridicule.
When I looked at the empirical evidence, however, I saw that it was wrong: I’ve followed through on plenty in my life – quitting smoking, become a full-time writer, teaching fitness, and ultimately changing my own life for the better.
Not only that, the feedback I’d received from others when I’d written an article that helped them or gave a talk that inspired them, proved that my work did make a difference.
I might not be a life changer of the Hollywood blockbuster order where things are NEVER THE SAME AGAIN, but I did give people information and tools that empowered them.
And that was worth the risk of trying something new.
Armed with this knowledge, I wrote a new mantra: “I help others live bolder, happier, more satisfying lives.”
When your inner critic says negative things about you, challenge its truth and come up with some affirmations or words that champion the opposite.
5. If your self-doubt rises from the ashes, act anyway
In action films, there is always that moment when you think the villain is dead but he/she/it returns with one final attempt to kill the hero.
In these moments does the hero give up? Does she decide that she can’t because, well, she tried once and that didn’t work? Does he run screaming back to the way things were never to try again?
No. the hero becomes even more focused in succeeding in their goal. They accept that the villain is there, and do their best to slay them, but more importantly they act anyway.
Sometimes, it is only by taking action despite inner doubts that you can silence your inner critic once and for all.
And that – doing something against your own odds – is where true heroes are made.
Ultimately, you are the star of your life.
Slaying your inner Birdman might not win you an Oscar but it will lead you to something much more valuable – a life where you can be authentically you.
How do you silence your inner critic? Share your tips in the comments below.