August 29, 2012
Iced Tea, Mastery and the Plight of the Internal Editor
This question comes from Alan Roscoe of Olympia, Washington and it addresses a fundamental challenge of being human.
Alan, I know it’s reassuring to hear that you’re not alone in this so let me say it:
You’re not alone.
In fact, this internal editor that you describe is a basic part of what makes us human. Everyone has to contend with it and I’d like to share some thoughts and strategies that have helped me in my many struggles with this guy.
But bear with me. When we were young and completely dependent on our parents for survival, it was imperative that we stayed in their good graces. We needed to be as cute and perfect as possible to avoid being abandoned. It sounds ridiculous to us now, the thought that our parents might or could actually abandon us. But at one time, when we were entirely dependent on others for our physical survival, there was a deep, latent and primitive fear of just that.
Our internal editor made sure that whatever we did or said kept us closely attached to those who were responsible for keeping us alive. It made sure that if we asked for something we did it in the most reasonable way we could manage –even if we threw a terrible tantrum, our IE made sure we never went too far. If we needed to express ourselves, our IE made sure we never said things that would get us permanently rejected. We could be unnerving, annoying and irritating of course, but there was always this limit and the IE made sure we knew were that was at all times.
The reason I point this out is so we never make the mistake of going to war with our IE. When it rears its head and thwarts our latest creative endeavor with its nay saying and negativity, we’ll have the most success if we treat it with love and respect. The more we push it away the less able we will be of freeing ourselves from its deleterious effects. Framing an approach like this is helpful:
Nobody likes to be abandoned, not even an internal editor.
Recognizing that doing something horrible won’t kill you is probably the most crucial thing to remember -but since our fear of shame is so deeply ingrained this takes a lot of practice. In fact, practice itself should consist of mostly mistakes; horrible, disgusting, humiliating mistakes. As adults, most of us find ourselves doing only the things that we’ve developed proficiency with. It’s rare to find someone older than twenty who’s willing to try new things simply because the fear of looking like an idiot is just too painful.
So set out an iced tea for him. Let him drink it and leave you in peace as you work fearlessly for several hours. Call him back when you’re finished. You may even need to wake him up. But on second thought, if he’s sleeping, leave him be. It’s tiring being someone’s protector after all.