When I mentioned this blog post title to a very good friend, he said, “Um, shut up?”
It’s a start, but I’ve learned over the past eleven months or so that there are more specific things I tell it that help me shut it up, better and faster. I hope you find them useful, too.
1. I can learn.
Fear and anxiety stem in part from not feeling confident in your ability to be efficacious — to be successful at getting what you want and need. But you are. You might not be great at the exact thing you want to do yet, but you as a human being are made to learn, and you can learn that thing you want to do — whatever it is. Our brains are our means of survival. Thinking, reading, and figuring stuff out is what we are meant to do.
If you’re afraid of something, don’t skip steps and expect yourself to know it all. Start with research. Always, always start with research. Want to write a book? Read some books about how to do that (wait, wait, don’t do that yet — wait for mine to come out later this year and read mine!). Want to learn to draw? Take some classes. Afraid of doing your taxes? Meet with an accountant. (Afraid of finding an accountant? Ask everyone you know. Do some Internet research. And make sure you see point number 4 below, because everyone is afraid of taxes. Everyone.)
This goes for everything. Sometimes with more personal things like social interactions, communication, and romantic relationships, you might think that’s supposed to be easy or come automatically, but they don’t. You have to learn them, too. Read books. Lots of them. Talk to people who are smarter than you. Take a lot of classes. Spend time processing and thinking over what you learn. It won’t shut your inner critic up entirely, but it will make him be quieter for longer.
2. That guy’s work is not perfect and he is successful.
A good friend of mine criticized the quality of my videos when I posted the first one. I knew I might get some criticism of this. I have no background in video-making. I know the quality is not the best; I’m using a $100 webcam to film them and the most rinky-dink backdrop setup you’ve ever seen. It was cheap, I’m dead broke, and I’m giving this content away for free. At least I have a backdrop! (Please feel free to donate if you’re enjoying the blog and would like to help out! There’s a donate button in the sidebar. I really appreciate all your support.) I did what I could, and you know what? I feel confident about that decision because I did a lot of research before I started, and I learned some things.
I took a webinar put on by Derek Halpern, the founder of SocialTriggers.com, a successful blog about Internet marketing. One of the things he said that stuck with me was that when you’re starting out, you can’t compare yourself to someone who’s already been doing what you’re trying to do for years. He showed us a picture of his first online course: three videos, with about the same level of quality as the ones I’m making, with him standing at a whiteboard. He joked that apparently he couldn’t even afford a haircut.
Hearing that, I thought of Hank and John Green. John Green is a popular YA author. Hank is his brother. Together the two of them started a back-and-forth vlog in 2007 that is now extremely Internet-famous. I had been watching some of John Green’s more recent videos while researching another project and admiring the way he does the cuts to make the video more fast-paced and interesting and funny. Armed with the idea that I should compare my videos to his early videos instead, I went back to the very beginning and found the first video that Hank ever posted (the brothers started by exchanging video letters with each other).
It’s dark, like he shot it at three in the morning. You can clearly see what looks like his mother’s basement in the background. The camera is on top of his face. Click here if you want to check it out.
It was great to see this video because it taught me several things. It’s easy to get caught up in the details when you’re trying something new and sharing it with other people. It’s easy to think that you have to make everything super polished and smooth. But Hank and John Green now have a huge audience, and that was their first video. And that’s because video production values are not a thing that matters when you are starting out. What matters is that connection. Sharing what you know as only you can do it. And Hank Green is a great example of that, because I don’t even think his content is that useful. (Sorry, Hank. I don’t follow either of the Green brothers.) But it has loads of personality, and if you like his personality, you follow his vlog. If you connect with him, you follow him. And his fans would never have had that chance at all if he’d been too obsessed with getting a fancy camera and making only perfectly professional videos to get his stuff out there.
You don’t have to be perfect to be successful, but you do have to put your work out there.
3. That’s not something that matters to me.
I have mice in my kitchen. I’m embarrassed by the mice in my kitchen, because my kitchen is messy. I used to be better about that, but living in New York City has drained whatever energy I used to have for such things and whatever money I might use to pay someone else to do it. This year in particular after losing a job I disliked, I’m feeling my mortality and my limited time on the planet to do the stuff that really matters to me more than ever, so I’m spending even less time cleaning the kitchen.
Besides, aren’t the mice the damn cat’s job? Where is she? She is apparently not at all embarrassed by the mice in our kitchen. In fact, she seems completely unperturbed. It may be that, at age 16, she doesn’t hear so well anymore. Or it may be that at age 16 she is wise enough to know that she ain’t got time for chasing mice no more.
And if that’s it, then she’s right. That’s why I started cleaning less in the first place. I’d rather be writing. So I am. (Hello, mouse traps.)
4. Other people struggle with the same problems I do.
When someone else I know says they have mice in their kitchen, I’m surprised. Every time. Or when they say they don’t like to go to the movie theater or that they don’t like dogs or that they get really into going to a craft store for hours or whatever thing it is today about me that my inner critic is telling me isn’t cool. It’s like somehow I expect that anything my inner critic looks down on me for is something that the whole rest of the world also looks down on me for. But the truth is that anything I have going on with me, there is someone out there somewhere else that has that thing going on with them, too.
I just put together a Cemetery in a Terrarium Workshop with Atlas Obscura that was a smash hit with the thirteen people who bought tickets. There are thirteen other people besides me (and that’s just here in New York City; who knows about the rest of the world?) who got excited about my quirky idea to make a terrarium with miniature tombstones and skulls in it. Lots of other people were skeptical, but those thirteen people had an amazing night and took home a one-of-a-kind terrarium that they designed themselves — all because I took a chance on something I didn’t know would work.
5. You have no power over me.
In the classic movie Labyrinth, Jennifer Connelly plays a girl named Sarah who fantasizes about being a fairy-tale princess. She rehearses lines from a play featuring a dark villain, the Goblin King, but there’s one line she can never remember —
You have no power over me.
Part of the reason Sarah can’t remember this line is because she’s still an imaginative little girl, prone to flights of fancy, who has no idea of her own power in the world. When the play begins to come true (Sarah wishes for less responsibility and the Goblin King steals her brother away; she must find her way through his labyrinth to claim him back before time runs out), the movie explores Sarah’s transition from little girl to grown woman, as she learns what she is capable of and what she wants for herself outside of the Goblin King’s influence.
(If you’re a Spunky Misfit and you haven’t seen this movie, you should. It’s one of my favorites and a sort of cult classic of the ‘80s. David Bowie plays the Goblin King. In fancy smoky eye makeup and tights. Wait, at least finish this blog post before you go for it, okay?)
Like Sarah, you need to know your own power, too. The truth is, when you’ve made up your mind to create, your inner critic can’t stop you — it truly doesn’t have power over you.
6. Starfish up!
The starfish is what Amy Cuddy refers to as a power pose in her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Stand spreadeagled with your legs open and your arms over your head. Try holding this pose for two minutes before you’re about to get to work — Cuddy’s research shows that doing power poses can make you feel more confident, capable, and happy, even when you start out feeling the opposite. You are not a brain in a vat. Changing your body changes your mind. You can also try the “Wonder Woman” — stand with legs spread and hands on your hips. Now you are the boss, yes? Bye-bye, inner critic.
7. I’m doing it.
Anxiety builds when you feed it. Don’t get trapped in thought circles. Sometimes, at the end of the day, you just have to smile at your critic and say, here we go.
What have you learned about how to best deal with your inner critic? Please share in the comments.