Who’s on your inner committee?

Is there a little group of people, sitting round a meeting table positioned prominently in your brain, passing judgement on all you create and enforcing rules that put endless obstacles in the way of your creative work?

I’ve just been reading Creative Strength Training by Jane Dunnewold, which has a really interesting chapter on this subject (and more!). In her introduction to the chapter she writes:

I see faces. The day it dawned on me that I had a Committee, I wanted to laugh out loud it seemed so absurd. Then I wanted to cry. My Committee members were my father, two famous artists I know personally and the president of an organisation I’d belonged to for over twenty years. It was weird by true. Working along in the studio, feeling just fine… and then progress would slow, even get a bit rocky. As soon as it did, one of those faces would pop into my head with a very disapproving look indeed.

I bet like me, you are nodding along in recognition with this… Here’s some of the points that my own committee love to raise:

at-college

whats-that-supposed-to-be

what-about-that-washing

not-up-to-standard

colours-dont-go

And that’s just a few of them…. Are you feeling intimidated? I certainly am..

But as Dunnewold points out, committee members don’t volunteer for their positions, we assign them to their roles. Some of them – maybe family or friends, would probably be hugely upset to discover that they are at these meetings. And other members probably aren’t even aware we exist, so are wondering why they are being forced to attend…! And that’s the good news, of course:

I have created my committee – over time I can choose to dismantle it.

The key to this whole process of dismantling process is, counter-intuitively, NOT to ignore those judgy voices. That just results in that whole ‘don’t think of a pink elephant’ and all you can think of is pink elephants thing. One technique I have learned from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is to hear all the negative comments but to carry on regardless (usually with a muttered ‘that’s b*ll*cks’ to help me on my way). It’s a bit like listening to a relentless toddler talking at length about their love of Peppa Pig – you can hear them, but you’re not going to let their enthusiasm for it change your mind.  Seriously, if you can get through to the other side of the negativity from your committee, and just make some work it feels like a real achievement, and it will be easier the next time.

Dunnewold suggests going deeper, and paying attention to who the committee members are, why they are there, and why they are saying what they are saying. She recommends writing this down and working through the reasons for their presence on the committee. From there you can respond to your committee in an imaginative way – writing each member a letter for instance, or giving them a good telling off, or having a laugh at the daft reasons that they have ended up in your head. In the book, there are some amazing drawings, caricatures and collages that artists have created in response to their inner committee. I am hoping to start on the writing, and see where it goes… it would be so nice not to have to listen to quite so many discussions of my work!

Looking forward to reading your responses to this post so much.

8 thoughts on “Who’s on your inner committee?

  1. That’s an interesting observation. Maybe we all have a commitee. I know I suffer with self doubt alot and have a commitee too. I remember learning to bake long after I left school and having my mean old cookery teacher on my back the whole time telling me I was doing it all wrong. I conquered it by replying to the negativity with positivity “It’s good enough. It’s good enough for now and I’m going to get better”. I thought I was mad, I’m glad to hear that others have the same problem.

  2. Somehow while sewing, I have silenced the voice of reason about the washing needs done. The CEO in my brain trying to run me ragged mixing cores with hobby……I think that they died (chuckles). Interesting post….and pretty accurate we do listen to the voices in our head, perhaps the hobby voice in life stays pretty quiet, until the creativity flows. Then that voice makes the logic and reason voices cower!

  3. Hello Ali very interesting- although my committee is a jury and much as I know all about CBT it can be awfully hard to ignore those remarks and comments. I have been living with this jury for a long time but reading your reflections is making me reframe all of this. Thank you for a wonderful post. Have a fabulous weekend.
    Dorothy xx

    1. I relate to that – CBT is hugely hard work – and I get to that low feeling of ‘I’ve been round this block so many times before’ it’s really tiresome. But the only answer that seems to work (for me anyway!) is to keep on keeping on! I heartily recommend the ‘Creative Strength Training’ book – some of it is a little bit way out and quite arty, but there are some brilliant ideas in there.

  4. Hi Ali, I think we are friends on Goodreads but I couldn’t find the group through the link that you provided.

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