Mindfulness, drawing, purple elephants and the 'inner critic'


Is your 'inner critic' bothering you?

One of the most common experiences people have shared during the 30 Day Mindful Drawing Challenge, has been the steadfast presence of what they call their 'inner critic'. I know many of you notice this inner voice whilst you're drawing - and all of us encounter it at some point as we create, or when we have just finished creating something. Using the simple creative mindfulness approaches I share, lots of people have also been commenting that they're ALSO noticing moments when inner criticism is totally absent and how much they're enjoying the space this brings. 

And yes, we start to notice the spaciousness of letting go as we draw or create and it feels brilliant. And also yes, when we become aware of the ways we hold on, or the critical thoughts coming back in - it feels even worse because we've had a breather from them. It can feel like the 'inner critic' is taking over again even worse than before. But 'they' are not, it's just that we are now more mindful and more aware of the patterns of thoughts and feelings that goes with 'them'. And that's actually BRILLIANT - though it might not feel like it initially.

If you find this happening, I want to encourage you not to lose faith with this process. It works. Over time we become so mindfully familiar with the script our 'inner critic' uses, so used to hearing it with compassionate awareness, that it looses its power over us.

The inner critic isn't real

To help us develop this mindful relationship to inner criticism, It's also good to remember that what we call the 'inner critic' isn't a real entity or sub personality, but is actually just some old habitual thought patterns. They're not a person, or our alter-ego. THEY ARE JUST THOUGHTS.

So it's also important to just notice to ourselves -  'ah, that's thinking,' when critical thoughts or self-doubting thoughts, or lack of confidence thoughts arise, and remember, 'it's all just thinking, just thought'. When we do this we start to build a more mindful relationship to the kinds of thinking that can often impede our creative flow.

Just thoughts arising and passing away

I find that this 'thinking' label also helps to undermine the 'inner critic' label, which to be honest can sometimes end up becoming a hinderance, since the name makes it seem like a 'real' larger than life personality, when 'it' isn't, it is just thoughts arising and passing away.

So if you find yourself thinking something like, 'I'm useless and this drawing is rubbish,"notice  these as critical thoughts arising and passing away, and label them as 'simply thoughts.' After all, they are no more real and true than if you were saying to yourself, "I'm a purple elephant."  Are you a purple elephant? No you are not. Are you useless? No you are not.

Purple Elephants

Many of the creative people I've worked with have ended up using 'purple elephant' as a kind of visual mantra or visualisation, briefly labelling a thought with an image or the words 'purple elephant' before taking a breath and returning to their creating. This can be a simple and light hearted way to acknowledge critical thoughts are passing through, and of kindly putting them to one side, so that we can continue creating from a space of playfulness, curiosity and experimentation, not caring about end results, simply enjoying the process.