How to Combat Your Inner Critic by Cultivating Your Inner Animal

Battling procrastination and perfectionism one baby hippo at a time.

Last year, I was assigned a big project for a job. I had a few weeks to complete the assignment, but instead of finishing it early or getting a head start, I waited until the very last minute (“Shame! Shame!”). The day it was due I told myself, “I will really do this. I will do the thing.” But I did not do the thing. In fact, I spent an entire day not doing it.

And then 1:00 a.m. hit.

I realized later that I was trying to get my inner critic to go the fuck to sleep so that my inner animal could come out and play. (I never said this would make sense). I thought that if I stayed up late enough, my silly, creative side would take over so that I could do what I needed to do.

I mean, it worked, sort of. I finished the project. But there has to be a better way.

When you’ve spent your entire life with the deep inner sense that “there’s something uniquely wrong with me,” turns out it’s really hard to do things. So, I use sleep deprivation. Yes, I torture myself into productivity and 0/10 would not recommend this to anyone.

That got me thinking: what if I could cultivate an inner animal that just wants to play — that’s fun and silly and delightful, a creative self that doesn’t need sleep deprivation to come alive?
If the thought of having to repeat positive mantras to yourself in the mirror makes you want to change your name and move to Canada and not just for the free health insurance, this might be for you.

If you’re the kind of person who can’t take a compliment with a straight face—this is definitely for you.

Here are four steps to combatting your inner critic by cultivating your inner animal:

Step one: choose an inner animal.

I don’t care what animal it is as long as seeing it (in your head) brings you pure joy. Your inner panda loves chewing up bamboo shoots and spitting them into your eye? Adorable. Your inner turtle farts in its sleep? Love it.

Maybe you hate all animals. Pick a plant. Choose a weeping larch or a watermelon radish. A rock. Just pick something.

My inner animal’s name is Josh, because why not. Josh is a chunky, temperamental quokka who hates change almost as much as he hates people who don’t use left turn signals. His favorite food is leftover pizza from the office fridge. His favorite movie is Look Who’s Talking Too.

Josh doesn’t give a shit what anyone else thinks.

Step two: cast your inner critic as a movie villain.

Choose wisely. I have a thing for sexy-creepy villains, so I’m going with Hans Gruber from Die Hard. He’s just so menacing and thick-browed—and his voice!

Maybe your inner villain is smooth, educated and well-spoken like Hannibal Lecter. Maybe she doesn’t need to say anything at all to put you down. A look will do, like Miranda Priestly.

Step three: sit back and watch for how your inner critic tends to show up.

The inner critic doesn’t always show up in the same way. Sometimes it’s not that obvious — it’s not Negan in The Walking Dead telling you that you’re a failure at life who will never beat your mom at Scrabble (my mom is really good at Scrabble). Sometimes it’s just a general sense of dread or guilt or shame. Sometimes it’s a heaviness in your chest or a tightness in your throat.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth: my inner negative voice often shows up as mean thoughts about other people. Like, whoa there, what is happening, why am I judging this person for not being a real adult with a mortgage, stable career and 1.5 gerbils? When I have harsh or negative judgments about someone else, I’m often masking my own fears and insecurities.

Step four: imagine a dialogue between your inner villain and your inner animal when you’re caught in negative self-talk.

Go wild. Make the dialogue as fast-paced and funny as possible.

HANS GRUBER: This article about your inner animal makes absolutely no sense at all. No one is going to get it.

JOSH: Pipe down, Hans, I’m trying to think of a synonym for “eyebrows like two fuzzy caterpillars.”

Instead of fighting my inner critic—which, let’s be real, is incredibly vocal, smart and relentless—I’m trying to nurture my inner quokka instead. As poet Mary Oliver wrote:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Humor and creativity achieve the same thing that mindfulness does: they put a safe distance between you and your inner critic and you and your inner child. You get to be in control and that creates a sense of safety.

The truth is, you don’t have to conquer your negative self-talk — not today, not tomorrow, not ever. There’s no pressure and no rush.

After all, villains deserve love too. You may discover that even your inner Hans Gruber had an inner hedgehog all along.

Written By Maylin Tu