A few years ago, concert pianist Jeremy Denk rediscovered his boyhood piano-lesson journal from more than 30 years ago.
Denk sat and went through the notebook, carefully rereading all of his old teacher’s instructions and critiques. And, as he recently told The New Yorker, he had difficulty performing onstage for a week afterwards.
While playing, Denk would hear the teacher’s voice saying: “Better not play faster than you can think.” “Keep your back straight.” “Beware of concentration lapses.” This festered self-doubt.
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“Through several subsequent concerts, the voice lodged complaints and probed weaknesses,” says Denk. “Delivering opinions worse than any reviewer’s. It took me weeks to silence the voice and play normally again.”Denk’s experience dramatically demonstrates how internal judgment affects creativity and performance by acting as a breeding ground for self-doubt. Those long-ago words of criticism, once replanted in Denk’s brain, crushed his confidence and tamped down his talents.In my workshops for designers and others in creative industries, participants often reveal how negative voices in their heads stop them from expressing creativity. Sometimes they hear their own voice. Other times they hear the voice of a teacher, coach, parent, partner, boss or client. And listening to this internal negativity stops ideas in their tracks.As a designer, you’re no doubt familiar with having external sources take shots at your ideas. Although never easy to take, sideswipes come with the territory of being a creative person. But don’t double down on those negative noises from the outside by becoming the victim of your own internal voices.Here are five ways you can force out the naysayers inside your head
- Write down what the voice tells you. Get the words out of your head and down on paper. Exposing internal judgment to the light of day diminishes its strength.
- Repeat the voice’s words out loud while grinning. Keep saying the words out loud and keep smiling. Try laughing at the words — after all, internal judgment is usually more ridiculous than real.
- Turn around the negative statement. If the internal voice says, “Your idea will never work,” turn it around to “My idea will definitely work.” If the voice says “Everybody will laugh at you,” turn it around to “I’ll laugh at me and not take myself so seriously.” If the voice says, “You don’t have the resources to do this,” turn it around to say, “I’ll find the resources I need to do this.”
- Play some music. Not the sad, somebody-done-me-wrong stuff, but high-energy, upbeat sounds. Maybe even dance or plug in your ear buds for a quick walk — internal judgment hates lively exercise and will flee the scene.
- Go explore. Internal judgment also abhors curiosity. There’s no room in its agenda for new books or blogs, unique restaurants or shops. Fill your mind with outside insights and crowd out internal judgment.
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