A guide to creating for the self-doubter

Oh come on, I can’t do that. I’m not strong/creative/skilled/experienced/adjective enough.

We all have those thoughts. We firmly tell the world no. We guard what we can and can’t do like our lives depended on it.

Unfortunately, we’re not completely wrong. Our doubts are often based in some kind of truth, or else they wouldn’t be so powerful. But they don’t tell the whole truth. Only the part keeping us from doing the work we’re hesitant to do.

Our doubts leave out the part that we can learn. They forget to mention that most highly skilled people start out bad. Because our self-doubt don’t want us to try, it’s too scared of failing and embarrassing ourselves. Self-doubt is black and white. Either we can or we can’t (and it’s always the latter).

These thoughts don’t go away. They are an annoying side effect of being human and aware of our limits. But we can learn to recognize self-doubt’s voice and teach ourselves not to listen.

Viewing self-doubt as a separate part of you

Before we learn to recognize our self-doubt, it generally sounds like our own voice, our rational, reasonable self. The fact that we’re often told to listen to ourselves doesn’t make it less complicated. Even worse, self-doubt is smart enough to change it’s voice and reasoning when we try to dodge it. Overall it’s a sneaky bastard.

To avoid it, we have to start thinking about it as one part of us. It’s the scared part, the part who still hasn’t got over the embarrassing moments as a teenager, the part that would most of all like to crawl under the blankets and not go outside ever again. It’s the part that would never in a million years say yes to holding a speech. Can you hear that voice?

Since self-doubt tries to disguise as everything else to get it’s way, we need to be vary of every time a reason not to do our creative work pops up. It could be that we’re feeling a little sick, we’re stressed, we don’t have time, we’re bored with it, we have to be with family, we need to clean, we’re tired. The annoying paradox is that self-doubt is endlessly creative.

But if you view self-doubt as that scared part of you who’s trying to find every reason not to create you’ll eventually learn to recognize it’s voice. Hearing your own fears takes you one step closer to not letting them decide for you.

Questioning self-doubt

Self-doubt is a great storyteller. It tells us that unless we had a creative talent as a kid, we’re doomed at any creative project. It whispers that we’re not special or interesting enough to create something worth creating. It tells us that we’re too structured, close-minded or unimaginative to be creative. It’s persuasive.

When we hear those stories, if we can’t ignore them, we need to question them. Self-doubt will never give up even if we have facts based on extensive scientific research, but counter arguments can help us not to listen. Questions you could ask is:

  • Is the logic of the story working? Is it based in reality?

  • How would a different story sound?

  • What’s the “proof”? Is the proof really proof? What different circumstances are at play?

  • What’s the why behind the story, why does self-doubt want to quit/change/do something stupid? Is there a different why behind your creativity, like joy instead of success/being liked?

For example, when self-doubt tells me I haven’t received enormous praise for my fantastic creative abilities and that it’s a sign I’m not good enough and should quit, I remind myself that JK Rowling had to try different publishers before anyone wanted Harry Potter. Then, I remind myself I’m not doing this to be rich and famous or to get praise, I’m doing it because I love it. I firmly tell self-doubt that I don’t care if I’m not good enough, I’m creating anyway. That shuts it up for a while.

Trusting the process

When our creative projects don’t look pretty or interesting, we tend to get anxious. Our visions aren’t showing in our work. We get scared it will all turn out bad. That’s a moment we might be tempted to throw in the towel and give up. The problem is that both our taste and our self-doubt is at play here.

Our taste says: It’s not good enough yet.
Our self-doubt says: I suck and there’s no point in sticking with it.

Your taste is actually a good thing - it’s what tells you when to change something and when you’re done. Without taste, you would have a hard time making your craft good. It’s your compass when creating. But taste can be harsh and self-doubt loves that. It gives your fears an opportunity to get their way. It takes your taste and makes it into a proof of how bad you are.

When taste is telling you what you just did wasn’t very good, you need to remember the process. Creativity isn’t making something up in your mind and then creating an exact replica of it. It’s having a vague idea, often just a feeling and going down that path to see where it leads, changing and iterating as you go. Creative projects are done in drafts for a reason.

You need to trust that just because it’s bad now doesn’t mean it will always be bad. The process will take care of it. You will make it better, if self-doubt can just sit down and be patient.

Accepting discomfort

Creating with self-doubt is uncomfortable. We just don’t feel very good. Sitting down to start can feel like a physical battle. We may suddenly have a headache coming on, we squirm and have trouble sitting still, we’re too hot or too cold. Or we feel gloomy, sad and negative. Anxious, restless or whiny. Something is nagging you but you can’t put your finger on it. You’re not in the mood.

Our natural response to discomfort is to try to escape it - generally a good response in life. Obviously we don’t enjoy feeling like crap. We try to change things to make us feel better. So when we feel discomfort while creating, our instinct is to stop. That’s very unfortunate for us and very good for self-doubt.

The thing though is that almost always, when we just keep creating, however badly, while being uncomfortable, the discomfort goes away. Self-doubt is a strong force but when you don’t listen and change your behaviour according to it, it loses it’s power.  

Remember that discomfort is normal. Battling it and trying to get it to go away isn’t very effective. You need to accept that it’s there and just create anyway. That’s when it releases it’s grip.

Ruthlessness

In the end, it comes down to just doing it. Self-doubt can be very loud and angry. We can feel like we’re going to die a little bit if we challenge it. There can be a million reasons not to do our craft. Every bone in your body may be against it, your feelings screaming. Maybe you’ll even cry!

What I’m trying to say is this: It’s not always pretty. It might be messy. Chaotic even. If that’s the case, you need to be stronger. You need to decide that whatever happens, you’ll create anyway. Set a timer and go. You’ll be the stubborn creative in the midst of volcanic eruptions, the relentless creator in a hurricane.

Unless it’s life and death, you’ll be there, creating. Let me tell you, that mindset will get you to blow your own mind over and over.

 

I believe in you. You can do this.