Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Artists have a complicated relationship with criticism. We tend to hold ourselves to sky-high standards and strive to only put out our best work. The paradox is, that when we are too self-critical, we end up getting in our own way. We sometimes judge our work so harshly that we prevent ourselves from succeeding or from submitting all the work we just did. I see this a lot in my coaching. Whenever I see a student getting frustrated or judgemental towards themselves happens I remind them to be kind to themselves. Vulnerability is such a key component of art. Riveting and believable performances can only happen through vulnerability. Thus judgement kills creativity.
How can you practice self-criticism in a way where you don’t beat yourself up about it? A way that doesn’t deflate your confidence? An approach that inspires you to produce your best work instead of preventing it?
I have written a lot about criticism lately from how to give constructive criticism effectively to others in every aspect of life, to how directors can use criticism to get the best voiceover possible for their project. In this post, I’m speaking to actors and artists. At any and every point of your journey, chances are you face self-criticism in one way or another. I certainly do, but I try my best to catch myself and remind myself that judgment will only hurt my performance and future performances that day. I hope that the following points will help you mindfully let go of judgment when it arises and transform self-criticism into a tool to help you create your best work.
The first thing to consider is where judgment starts. Then you can begin to recognize it before it takes over.
Judgement creeps in when something isn’t clicking. When we stumble over an unexpectedly difficult word a few times more than we’d like. When we have an idea in our minds of what we should sound like and use that as our benchmark of success — which by the way we should never do as we are not fortune tellers who can see the future nor do we possess some godly vision of what anything should sound like.
The problem with listening back to our work and deeming it to be a pile of flaming hot garbage is that in doing so we disqualify everything that’s good about it, all the parts that ARE working, and all of our vulnerable efforts.
So, instead of allowing the judgment to seep in and kill your creativity, notice it. Acknowledge it as an instinct, and let it go. Focus on what IS working for a second. This can be hard to do when judgement is felt as it coats the entire performance in a cloak of failure. But when we let the judgement go, we see that no attempt is a failure. And that if we view our efforts with kindness, there’s actually a lot more that works than we thought before we let go of judgment.
When you surrender yourself to judgement, it controls you. But when you let go of that judgement it surrenders its power over you. Only from there can criticism can become a tool.
Once you are more aware of self-judgement or self-criticism, you can begin to recognize what triggers it. These triggers are clues of where you should focus your attention as a place to work on. Furthermore, when you allow judgement to envelop your entire performance you allow it to have full control over you, but when you let go of judgement you gain control over it — and can use it as a tool.
When you let go of the shame that accompanies self-criticism, you gain a clearer picture of what isn’t working. The critique becomes objective instead of destructive. And recognizing what is successful in your performance gives you the opportunity to take it further.
Trust yourself. In acting, the answers are just as much in you and your interpretation as they are in the script.
Ever play that game trust? The game where you free-fall backwards, entirely unable to see the person catching you? I’ve played this game countless times in various theatre classes I’ve taken throughout my life. The reason so many acting teachers proscribe the game is that it forces participants to commit fully to living in the moment in a state of tremendous trust. As voice actors, we need to play the game of trust with ourselves. More important than building trust with screen or stage partners is building trust in ourselves.
And guess what? When you trust yourself, it’s hard not to criticize kindly. When you believe in your talent, in your instincts and choices and skills, AND you believe in using your judgement and self-criticism in a healthy way that doesn’t negate your efforts, you WILL perform better.