Category Archives: Inner Critic

Being Yourself

We want to work like a CEO, delegate like the managing partner of a law firm, produce wonderful art like whoever is popular right now and smile like a Orbits chewing gum commercial.

Become-who-you-areWe rarely want to be just like ourselves. Flawed, working hard, trying to be better is wonderful. It keeps us busy and mindful of change. But when we always aspire to be better, smarter, cooler, and other-than-us, we don’t get to be ourselves very much.

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself,” Miles Davis said.

It takes time to discover all the parts of you, sort them out, and make something of them. The best way to do that is to focus on the parts of you, instead of comparing the parts to someone else and falling short. Focusing on the you that exists already helps you discover who you are, what you like, what you want to do with your talent. Comparing yourself to others shows you what you are not, what you lack.

And lack is the home of the inner critic. Bring out The Assembler of the Pieces of You as an inner hero and celebrate all the parts of you that are marvelous.

Quinn McDonald is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. She’s happy she wrote the book. It’s not a fast-riser on the New York Times best-seller list, but the reviews on amazon.com are amazingly thoughtful. People are being themselves when they comment. Nothing could be better.

 

Easy, Cheap, No Work

” I want the eight hour class, but I want you to spend no more than half a day. And I don’t want you to lose anything. Can you do that?”

Postcards“The two day class seems like a lot of work. Can you cut out some of the exercises without losing any of the learning?”

“My group really is scared of complicated classes. What can you do to make the topic simple so no one has to ask any questions or see a demo?”

I hear these questions at least twice a month, both about my art classes and my business writing classes. Fun, easy, simple classes are wonderful. Many things that are easy and simple are valuable and worth learning.

From Lisa Loves Learning

From Lisa Loves Learning

But there is value in complicated. Struggle with something and conquer it and you have two valuable outcomes–you’ve learned something new and you have learned that you are strong enough to stick with something worthwhile.

Sadly, challenges are getting a bad name. If something is hard, it is the teacher’s perceived job is to make it easy. I’ve seen the title workshop become “playshop” because, you know, work is hard.

Teachers are not meant to hand people pre-digested solutions to solve problems or to complete a project. Part of  personal growth is in the struggle, is in finding solutions, is in completing the work. No one loves failure, but it can be part of a larger success. A life that has no challenges, whose answers come supplied by others does not add any significant learning or meaning.

Struggle for the sake of struggle is not useful. But working hard for what you want brings rewards independent of winning. And rewards are worth working for.

Quinn McDonald draws out the brave in people. She admires the brave meaning-makers far more than winners.

 

Loose-Leaf Journal Box

Loose-leaf journaling is practical and fun; I’ve talked often about why. But when you make loose-leaf journal pages, you need a place to gather them.

box1Some weeks ago, I found a lovely box of stationery. The box was well designed and sturdy. Once the stationery was gone, the box was the perfect size for 5-inch x 7-inch loose-leaf pages.

Box2Using a piece of lavender ribbon, I glued it to the back, long side of the box and about one-third of the way across the bottom of the box, leaving the rest unglued.

box3Once the ribbon was dry, I placed the loose-leaf pages into the box. This happens to be a group of inner hero cards from the last month.

Box4The ribbon, because it is not glued to the entire bottom of the box, allows me to lift up all the cards easily. One or all can be lifted out without wearing down the corners or breaking a nail. It’s an easy way to carry the cards and a sturdy way to store them.

—Quinn McDonald has an ever-growing collection of inner heroes.

The Pull of Inner Critic and Inner Hero

It’s hard to admit that after writing the Inner Hero book, I’m still bedeviled by my Inner Critic. People expect me to be over it by now. Sadly, not. I’ll have to face down my Inner Critic many times in the coming years. If I’m lucky, I’ll get good at facing him down. Why won’t he go away? Because I’ve got faults, and he’s an expert at noticing them, showing them to me, and then helping me believe I am that fault, and am helpless in the face of it. Oh, and while I’m worthless, I might as well destroy all my art, too. And toss in the writing for good measure.

Which brings me to something I said in the comments yesterday, and which keeps coming up with my creativity coaching clients: Your faults are your strengths turned up too loud.

Image from The Music Ninja.

Image from The Music Ninja.

Turn up your favorite music too loud and your sternum shakes and all you can hear is a base beat and distorted sound. You can’t make sense of it. You just want to get away from it. It’s not music, it’s ear-splitting noise.

Your strengths and faults work in much the same way. Let’s say a strength is a good sense of humor. Great. Helps you get through the tough patches in life, helps you not take yourself so seriously, helps you be easy on yourself as you make learning mistakes.

Turn up that sense of humor too loud and it is easy to be insensitive, even obnoxious. Your friends can’t hear you making life easier, all they can hear is the jarring noise of not-caring.

Image from InnerFidelity.com

Image from InnerFidelity.com

Maybe your strength is teaching others life skills. Wonderful. Your guidance helps people find what skill they need to work on, focus on it, practice it while you help them see and avoid the pitfalls until they get good at the skill.

Turn that up too loud and you are micro-managing, pointing to all they do wrong, insisting on your way as the only way to to be “right,” suffocating any ability to learn by making mistakes. Too much advice, and they lose the freedom of making their own choices and learning from the results.

I often ask my creativity coaching clients to make two lists: three characteristics you are really proud of, that you are good at. The second list is three characteristics of faults you have. Failings you feel bad about. (Just three, not 10). Now compare them. Almost always,  the client sees how the fine characteristic can get too big, too loud, too jarring, and turn into a fault.

Still, faults need to be worked on. We can’t just say, “well, that’s my authentic self, it’s the me you get, like it or not,” and continue on our way, pleased that we are being”real.” Our authentic self is our self-realized self. Flawed, but aware and working on it.

When we pull our out faults by the roots, we also pull out the very ability that is a strength. Best not to try too hard to discard those faults, they contain the possibility of change.  Instead, try dialing them back until they talk to you, sound resonant and useful. That’s your Inner Hero, holding the space where you do good work.

HeroBook* * *   This week is the local launch of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. (If you are in the Phoenix area, it’s at Changing Hands independent book store on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. Bring a pen, we’re going on an Inner Hero hunt!)

Note: Congratulations to Jeff (@fernseeds), winner of Get It Done by Sam Bennett. Congratulations, Jeff! Send me a note at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com with your mailing address and the book will be on the way!

–Quinn McDonald is busy turning down the volume so she can hear the Inner Hero better.

Leading With the Left Hand

A comment on the last blog reminded me of something and that led to another jump and. . .a blog post.

I’m left-handed. Born that way. In a time when being left-handed was not acceptable. As was quite common in the years when I was growing up, my mother took the pen from my left hand and put it in my right hand. There were some shaming words that accompanied it. In seventh grade, it became Sister Michael Augustine’s goal to turn me into a right-hander. Skip forward several decades.

left_handedI’m still left-handed. But I write right-handed. Except when I write on a flip chart of white board–a task I took up as an adult. And I write on flip charts and white boards left-handed. Unapologetically.

Part of what I learned as a left-handed person is that I was not good enough, and that I was flawed. To prove to others (and, of course, myself) that I was good enough, I fell into the habit of overwork. Now that I own my own business, it looks great to work hard. A 70-hour week is one in which I’m coasting.

Today, when I came home from teaching a fun class, I was exhausted. It was warm out, and instead of sitting down for a few minutes, I assessed the yard work that had to be done and began to fret about the DVD project which has to be planned. Samples made. Projects half-made to save time on the set.

The only one who can slow me down is . . . me. Taking a break feels exactly like being lazy. So I sat down with my Inner Hero called “Left-Hand” (I’m not one for fancy names) and did some artwork. Listened to what she had to say. Did not talk back. Here’s what she said:

“There will never be less work. When there is too much work, you worry. When there is not enough work, you make more work and worry more. So just for tonight, close the computer, grab those art books you want to read, and put your feet up. No one will do the work for you. It will still be there tomorrow. But you will be rested. And bolder. And begin to think with your left-hand first. Because that is the sign of bravery for you.”

Good idea. How will you free yourself from destructive noodling and step into a healthier mindset today?

Quinn McDonald has nut bread in the oven and a DVD ready to run.

Get It Done: Book Review (and a Giveaway)

What better day than Valentine’s Day to love yourself enough to give yourself the creative help you need to finish your work? Creative people are wired differently and see the world a bit differently–but the one thing they have in common with every other person is a lack of time to work on projects that are due, projects that sound like fun, and projects that need to be explored.

SamRt443-199x300Sam Bennett created the Organized Artist Company and she wrote a book that is part coaching, part time management, and part kick in the butt. Get It Done, from Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day is a book with suggestions, how-tos, and clever ideas to help anyone (but especially artists) choose their work, get their work done in a time frame (by working 15 concentrated minutes a day), and complete their work.

Here’s are some chapter titles:

  • Procrastination is Genius in Disguise
  • Which of Your 37 Projects to Tackle First
  • Overcoming Perfectionism
  • How to Do Your Could-Do List
  • Where Will You Find the Time?
  • Organizing Your Space
  • Why Is It So Awful When Everyone Thinks You are So Wonderful?
  • Do You Quit When You’re Almost Done?

When you read Bennett’s book, you know she is an artist, has been in your shoes, and can teach you how to dance in them–backwards–to success. Her worksheets are realistic, her steps doable and her process powerful.

sambennett-412fab8b-eff5-4bda-bf24-8f7aa46f6602-v2The book is a fast read but one you will want to concentrate on to overcome perfectionism and the destructive procrastination that goes hand-in-hand with it. She’s knows art is important to culture, supports the necessity for excellent work, but won’t let you ruin your success with senselessly chasing perfection.

It’s 204 pages that are packed with good advice, success stories, and real help.

Giveaway: I’ll be giving away this copy. so leave a comment for a chance to win. The drawing will be random. And the winner will be announced on Monday’s blog. Stop by and see if you were the lucky one!

Disclosure: The book was sent to me for review from New World Library. I did not purchase the book I read. However, I did purchase one after I read it, as I’m giving away the original.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who will be using some of the ideas in this book in combination with the ideas in The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.

The Powerful Placebo of Creativity

Say the word placebo and people’s noses wrinkle up. A placebo is a pill that doesn’t do anything, doesn’t cure anything, contains no drugs. And yet, between 35 percent and 75 percent of  people who are given placebos experience the same cure as people in the group that were given the real drug. If the doctor who hands out a placebo is optimistic and assures the patient the pill is the real thing, the cure rate is on the higher side of the statistics.

How do placebos work? They trigger the powerful body-mind connection we all have. They give the mind permission to do the healing work, and the body follows along. Not bad for a blank pill.

When I do book signings, I sometimes ask the people in the audience to make permission slips. I bring blank watercolor postcards, pens, colored pencils, markers, and glitter glue. As we make permission slips, I encourage people to give themselves permission to be creative, to let the housework slide, to take time to daydream.

Some people ask me to sign the slip. I encourage them to sign their own slip, as each person needs to give him- or herself permission to let go of their old beliefs. The Inner Hero is not a new person–it’s the authentic you, the person you wish you might be someday. But you already are, but have trouble admitting it. Heroes have a lot of responsibility.

Occasionally, I do sign the permission slip. I look the person in the eye and say, “This is powerful, and you have to work an hour every day to make it work.” I’ve begun to hear back from people, who have discovered that their permission slip has power.

Like a placebo, the permission slip takes away excuses and replaces it with possibility. The chance that ideas will come, that creativity will flicker and catch pushes reluctance aside, and leaves space for acting as an Inner Hero. When success gets breathing room, it expands.  The people who write me to say their permission slip worked–they always were creative. What they needed was the permission to believe it and act on it.

What would you like to take a pill for if it gave you what you were hoping for?

--Quinn McDonald is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.  She will be signing books and encouraging people to discover their Inner Hero on February 20 at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, Arizona. 7 p.m. Come join in!

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Risking It

The clamor has died down about the drug overdose of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The fact that keeps repeating in my head is that he was clean for 23 years and then, in 2012, began taking pain pills and then more.

the_butterfly_effect_by_artfactotum-d4kffb5-o7e3kw-300x200The risk of every recovering alcoholic, drug addict, or person who controls a restricted diet through willpower is a single motion of hand to mouth. A single drink, a quick pill, a forbidden food can change a life. And the lives around that life. It’s the Butterfly Effect of evil.

It seems trivial, but one of the difficulties of my choice to lose weight and stick to a strict diet is that there is no medicine at hand if I eat something I shouldn’t. My only choice is not to eat the foods I should not. No mistakes allowed. Despite the urgings of friends and strangers with assurances that “everyone needs a little treat,” or “you have to have one day that rules don’t apply,” for me they do.

There is a risk of failure. But there is also the possibility of success. Each day without medication is a day away from the debilitating effects of long-term medication. The trick, of course, is not to put the hand to mouth, filled with the wrong stuff. That’s always the point, isn’t it?

In the distance, I hear the flap of a butterfly’s wing.

Quinn McDonald’s creative manifesto starts with self-care. It’s less fun than she imagined. On the other hand, she will teach at the Minneapolis Book Center in April.

How To Journal Even When You Resist

Note: Janine Rudnick is the winner of Fast Fiction by Denise Jaden. Send me your mailing address and the book will be on the way! (My email is under “contact” on this blog) Congratulations, Janine!

*    *    *    *    *
When you sit down to write in your journal,  after morning pages, what happens? Does peace flood into your mind, stillness settle in, and the sun rises just over the horizon of your deep inner peace? Liar. It does not.

My Inner Critic. PittPen on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2012

My Inner Critic. PittPen on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2012

Your head fills with yakking.  Monkey mind starts right up with the to-do list, “Right after this I need to go shopping, but before that I need to stop at the ATM and get some money, I don’t write checks anymore. Where is that checkbook? I haven’t written a check in months. You don’t need to do that anymore. I must have put the checkbook in my desk drawer, and I’ll bet it slipped back, so the desk drawer jams. Or maybe I need to wax the runners. . .” On and on goes monkey mind, hopping from topic to topic while you are seeking quiet.

More likely, your talk is not neutral, but damaging. Journaling helps the negative self talk crank up. The critic or the judge, one in a red velvet jacket and one in a powdered wig show up and start in on what isn’t right, what hasn’t been right, and why you don’t have talent, dedication or time. If they are really active, they will ask how you will ever make enough money to support yourself as an artist if you spend time writing by hand.

So now you are poised over your journal page, frozen. You try to push monkey mind and negative self-talk from your mind, but they persist. Of course they do. Instead of pushing them from your mind, sit down and listen to them. What, exactly do they have to say after the first sentence? Repetition. Endless repetition until you cave in and believe them. You will probably find that there isn’t an original though there. You’ve heard what they have to say from your parents, a mean teacher, a thoughtless sibling. Monkey mind and negative self-talk aren’t original, they are simply persistent. The more you push the thoughts away, the more they persist. Sit down and examine them, and they are not only not original, they are often spoken in voices from the past. And you are animating them. The voices in your head are yours. Your fear. Your insecurity. You make them up. And as evil parents in all the TV after-school movies say, “I brought you into the world and I can take you out.”

HeroBookThat scenario is exactly why I wrote The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. To help you create inner heroes to take on your inner critic. But for now, here’s a quick fix: On your journal page, draw the slide bar you use to turn the sound up and down on your computer. Take your pencil, drag it down to where it’s silent and draw the bar right there. It’s a lot quieter in your head now, isn’t it?

Start writing.  .  . what is it that you don’t remember but wish you could?

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She writes what she knows.

February Check-In: Word of the Year

How did your word of the year make it through January?

Helpful? Forgot it already? Working it through slowly?

platesMy word for the year is “scatter,” which I chose because it kept showing up in my dreams, even though I wasn’t sure it sounded like a word I would choose.  In January,  I understood one meaning more. It became really clear to me that I was spinning too many plates. (This was a skill on many variety shows during the middle of the last century). To keep all the plates spinning, you have to be fast, keep your attention on the different plates and move the sticks without losing focus. If you didn’t, the plates fell and broke.

too-many-spinning-plates1In January, I realized that scattering my attention to all the work I had was causing me to lose focus on the things I deeply want to do. While I decided years ago not to make my art pay the mortgage, I had too much on my . . .plate. And it was spinning.

So I made a decision to scatter my attention and energy less, and drop two of the money-makers I made. My energy will be transferred to attention to teaching more art classes, doing book-related events, and coaching. Doing less, but paying more attention to the things I want to do.

How did your word of the year change your routine in January?

At the beginning of each month, we’ll take a look at that word of the year and see how it is working for you. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know!

Quinn McDonald is launching her book locally on February 20 at Changing Hands Bookstore on February 20.