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Maker Series Recap: Denise Jacobs on The Inner Critic

07-17-17 Leah Kelley

Our inner critic can squash our ability to create and collaborate effectively. Creativity Evangelist Denise Jacobs leads us to address our inner critic heads-on in this Maker Series workshop.

Our industry is plagued with the imposter syndrome, a well-documented topic on The Foundry and in the tech community. The imposter syndrome is characterized by the underlying fear that even a well-qualified individual will be exposed as a fraud, with no credibility or expertise to offer. When you suffer from the imposter syndrome not only do you suffer personally, but your creativity and work suffer too. You begin to struggle with self-doubt, insecurity, and unreachable goals and expectations.

In her recent Maker Series workshop, Denise Jacobs shared how the imposter syndrome is just one way that our ability to create and collaborate can be bullied by our Inner Critic. Sadly everyone suffers from the Inner Critic in one way or another. However, Denise shared the tools to recognize our Inner Critics and stamp them out to put us on the path to better, more collaborative solutions.

Get To Know Your Inner Critic. Then Kill It.

Sparkbox welcomed Denise Jacobs for our first Maker Series workshop of the year titled “Banish Your Inner Critic.” She’s a Creativity Evangelist, keynote speaker, and author—but Denise Jacobs’ expertise doesn’t stop there. She’s the founder of The Creative Dose, a consulting company that teaches techniques to spark a culture of collaboration, communication, and creativity in the workplace. Her goal? Inspire others and promote betterness.

And that’s exactly what she does.

Denise began the workshop drawing comparisons between the imposter syndrome and something she calls the Inner Critic. The imposter syndrome is the result of stimuli and events that lead you to believe you’re a phony. The Inner Critic is the voice that tells you you’re a phony.

The Inner Critic is the culmination of all the negative things we’ve ever heard about ourselves throughout our entire life. It can materialize as self-doubt, perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, and the feeling that you’re just not good enough, and several other ways Denise covers in her book.

Overcoming your Inner Critic takes constant vigilance. Controlling that negative inner voice isn’t just a practice in positive thinking. Your Inner Critic can be guided through practical actions and steps.

  • Play: “One Negative, Five Positives.” Think of the battle with your Inner Critic as a game. For every negative situation, force yourself to think of five positive outcomes. This will force your brain to switch from a “glass half empty” approach to a “glass half full.”

  • Save your positive feedback. If your office conducts peer reviews or has an outlet to celebrate the awesomeness of its employees, Denise recommends saving all positive feedback you receive. Read it when you’re feeling down and kick that Inner Critic to the curb.

Learn to Deal with Criticism and Build Meaningful Collaboration.

There was constant audience participation throughout the day, and some questions quickly came up around how to balance staying positive/not listening to your Inner Critic, but appropriately receiving or providing critique of your own work. In professional settings, your work is critiqued constantly. Whether it’s sharing designs with a client or hearing feedback from a coworker, the Inner Critic likes to rear its ugly head when we receive criticism, even if it’s constructive. The Inner Critic says things like, “Other people could do this better,” “This isn’t original enough,” and “You’ll never be good enough.” In situations like this, it’s important to take a deep breath and actively listen to the negative feedback. Denise suggests to:

  • Detach yourself from the criticism and act like you’re receiving feedback about someone else.

  • Realize that this person could help you learn something about yourself that you might not have learned by yourself.

  • Look for what’s interesting in what’s being said.

  • Don’t take the critique too personally.

Perhaps seen through a different light, this criticism could actually be positive. It’s easy in moments like these to freak out and let your Inner Critic run the show. Too often people in the workplace receive criticism and then cease to participate in collaboration because they believe they aren’t good enough. Fight your instincts to quit. If you do, you’ve won the first battle in defeating your Inner Critic.

Knowing that we’re all fighting our Inner Critics can also allow you to give better feedback to your peers too. Even the strongest and seemingly most confident among us can fall victim. Be kind in your feedback so as not to feed your coworkers’ Inner Critics. Sparkbox’s Bryan Braun has great advice around how to help your peers in peer reviews that extends well beyond the scope of reviewing code.

“Creativity is the power source that feeds us and propels us forward.” —Denise Jacobs

Create an Atmosphere for Everyone’s Creativity to Thrive.

It’s impossible for your creativity to thrive in an atmosphere where your Inner Critic reigns supreme. That’s why Denise suggests dethroning it from the get-go.

Think of your brain as an ecosystem where creativity requires a delicate balance of affirmation, positivity, and mindfulness to thrive. According to Denise, one of the greatest attackers to this ecosystem is the Comparison Syndrome.

If you struggle with likening yourself to others, take away your triggers. For Denise, that meant starting a social media detox where she separated herself from the representation of perfect lives of others on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For you, it might mean blocking yourself from certain websites or downloading an app that monitors your computer use.

Whatever it looks like for you, it’s imperative that you take the necessary steps to keep your brain’s ecosystem balanced in order that your creativity can thrive.  

Bettering ourselves and our work is part of our ethos. We take healthy and constructive feedback seriously, which is why we’ve implemented peer reviews twice yearly where co-workers evaluate each other based on Sparkbox standards and core values, like fluency, empathy, and humility. Employees are pushed to be honest yet constructive. This is our attempt at cultivating an atmosphere where exemplifying betterness is affirmed and appreciated. We ask questions the encourage our team members to give just as much honest criticism as we do positive feedback to keep us improving, while celebrating our strengths.

Join the Conversation.

Denise believes in making the world a better place and cultivating each person’s creative spark. Her workshop at Sparkbox was met with overwhelming support and appreciation, and her creative insights and techniques to fight our Inner Critics are sure to benefit our team for the long haul.

If you missed the event, don’t worry! We took collaborative notes so you can get up to speed.

Collaborative Notes from the Maker Series

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