Silencing the Inner Critic: Lessons From in Front of the Camera
Recognize when your inner critic is holding you back, and learn to strike a balance between self-criticism and self-affirmation in your pursuits.
"Here it goes. Stay calm."
For the past 9 months, I've been working on a personal project to bring focus to my daily piano practice. My goal is to record the entirety of "The Seasons" by Tchaikovsky, a set of 12 character pieces, each representing one month of the year. To accomplish this goal, I've been learning one movement each month. As of October, I'm on track!
Today, I began the recording process. For the past few days, I've been preparing and fine-tuning the first movement. I thought I was ready.
"Have fun," I told myself." There's no pressure- just play."
As my fingers met the keys, my overly active inner critic began to berate me with a detailed list of how I was actively failing at the performance.
"That could have been cleaner."
" What happened to the phrasing?"
"That chord was way too loud."
"You need to slow down more there."
As the thoughts flooded in and I continued to play, I recalled the moment I learned to silence my inner critic.
The Lies of the Inner Critic
A few years ago, when cleaning out my basement, I stumbled across a recording of my college senior clarinet recital. At the sight of the 18-year-old CD my heart simultaneously sank and soared.
"Do I dare listen to it?"
I wasn't sure if I was brave enough.
What if the recording revealed I had never actually been a skilled and talented musician? What if the opposite was true? What if I discovered I had once been a brilliant player who sadly gave it up?
Both ideas filled me with fear, insecurity, and a curiosity to discover the truth.
I found the only CD player in the house, an old desktop computer, and pressed play.
It was good--exceptionally good.
All those years, I had judged myself as a musical failure. This recording proved otherwise. I wept. I grieved for the younger me who had been unable to see my abilities. As I processed this revelation, I wondered how often I remain victim to my overly active inner critic.
In that moment, I learned not to give my inner critic more space in my life than it deserves. No more would the voice of my inner critic overwhelm my self-affirming voice.
Pushing Past the Inner Critic
But back to today…
“Now isn’t the time to listen to my inner critic,” I told myself. "Trust the process. Keep going. It might be better than you think."
I recorded this piece six times hoping to find that elusive "perfect" performance. It wasn't to be found --or so I thought. With each attempt, I heard new ways to improve or correct my playing. With time running short, I stopped recording and paused to listen to my performances.
My inner critic had deceived me once again!
My performance today was good. All those mistakes I heard while performing? They seemed to have disappeared into the ether, not detectable on the recording!
I told my story effectively and passionately. To the average listener, it might even be great! To a highly trained musician, my performance could use a little more work-- and that's okay.
I'm in this interesting phase of my life as a musician. I was once an aspiring performer, so absolute perfection was the goal. That striving for the impossible drained joy from me. Feeling burning out, I barely touched my instrument for over a decade. Returning to the instrument now, I no longer hold the same dreams. With significantly less time to devote to honing my craft and opportunities to perform, I play out of a desire to connect with my soul and the beauty of music - not to achieve accolades or create a performance career.
I somehow seem to be performing faster and more accurately than ever.
Better yet, the hardships of my life have informed my playing, giving me more to say through my music.
Balancing the Inner Critic
This pursuit of perfection in the performing arts is truly elusive. Musicians of all abilities desire to improve their playing out a love and appreciation for the art form.
So where is the line? When do we say that's good enough? When is it time to silence the inner critic?
That's a personal decision and depends on one's individual musical goals. I'm still learning where to draw that line for myself at this stage in my life.
I know this for sure; my inner critic is louder when I fear the criticism and judgment of others. Though that voice served me well at times, helping me achieve excellence in many areas of my life, it doesn't always deserve to be the loudest or only voice present.
As for this recording project? With two songs down and ten more to go, I'll keep in mind the tendency of my inner critic to overwhelm my self-affirming voice. I'll silence my inner voice by finding joy in the process, staying consistent in my practice routine, celebrating my little wins, and prioritizing the expression of my soul through this beautiful art form. After all, isn't that what it's all about!
Food for Thought:
Where is one area of your life where you've allowed your inner critic to dominate your thoughts to the detriment of yourself and your self-affirming voice?
If your inner critic is preventing you from finding joy in your pursuits, I invite you to lay that voice aside and keep pursuing your unique goals while finding beauty in the process.
Envision what it would feel like to trust the process, to move towards your goals with confidence and consistency, and to hold the voices of self-criticism and self-affirmation in balance.
Then go for it! Allow yourself the freedom and joy of celebrating your wins and being authentically you while also pursuing excellence in all you do. It's a balancing act! But, I know you are up for the task!
It is my true delight to bring the joy of music into hearts and homes through remote piano instruction that honors your individual goals.
If you are looking for a teacher who understands what it feels like to do battle with an overly active inner critic, contact me today.
The process is simple:
1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.
2. Select a lesson time.
3. Take your first lesson!
To have these "Insights From The Piano Bench" essays land directly in your inbox, subscribe to my monthly blog digest newsletter. Let's explore what music can teach us about life together.