Today, you are a detective. I want you to go get your detective's hat, fake beard and plastic nose. Seriously, we’re on a mission here.
Self-doubt can mess with our creativity to the point of keeping it hidden deep, deep inside of us. Fighting against self-doubt can feel impossible, especially if you’re not sure whether your thoughts are self-doubt or just you being realistic. The case here is to identify your self-doubt to see if it’s messing with your creativity or not.
You ready? Good.
Now, let’s go undercover and catch self-doubt in the act.
First, I’m going to tell you about my cats. I’m not crazy, this is context for our case. Just trust me, detective.
I have two cats.
My two cats love suitcases.
Whenever there’s a suitcase in the room, this happens:
Cat jumps into the suitcase.
Lift cat out of the suitcase.
Put thing in suitcase.
Other cat jumps into the suitcase.
Lift other cat out of the suitcase.
Put second thing in suitcase.
Walk away to get third thing.
Both cats are snuggling together in the suitcase and there’s cat hair everywhere.
I love my cats and cat hair is almost part of my DNA by now, so I mostly find it endearing. But wait, it gets worse.
One time, I got home from a trip and crashed on the couch. Unpacking my suitcase was not a priority, so I just opened it and left it.
Oh that was bad.
When I later wanted a shirt from the suitcase, I realized it was wet. Instant dread. Smelled it. Yes - one of the cats had peed in the suitcase. It wasn’t a small dash either, no no, everything had pee on it. Some things I had to toss, others I was able to save after a few days of sanitizing in the bathtub. Not a very pleasant experience.
Now what the hell does this have to do with creativity and self-doubt?
No, I’m not trying to tell you keep your suitcase away from cats (though that isn’t such a bad idea either). Here’s the deal.
Your creativity is a suitcase.
Your self-doubt is a stubborn cat.
Let me explain. Whenever we pull out our creative projects, self-doubt has a strong tendency to instantly come running and want to walk all over it. Self-doubt LOVES creativity. It goes wild, hairs and pees all over it and can completely ruin it. It wants full control over your creativity, which means it’ll stay hidden under self-doubts fur.
But it gets worse.
Self-doubt is not just any stubborn cat, no, it has two superpowers.
This cat is invisible.
And it knows mind control.
Yeah, self-doubt is a sneaky invisible stubborn mind-controlling cat who may pee on our creativity. Lovely.
So since it’s invisible, it can be super hard to know if it’s there or not. Getting the cat out of the suitcase gets so much harder when you can’t actually see the cat.
It took me a loooong time to realize that my thoughts of I can’t do this and I’m not creative was in fact self-doubt. That’s the invisible part. We tend to confuse self-doubt with being reasonable and rational, even with self-knowledge. The mind-control is that we listen to those thoughts and let them influence our choices.
Our only advantage here is the cat hair and the pee.
(Didn’t think I’d ever write that sentence…)
Because they are signs the sneaky, invisible, stubborn mind-controlling cat is in our creative suitcase.
Clearly, since this is the most complicated analogy ever, it’s not actual hair and pee (though feeling a bit similar). Now, put on your detective’s hat and let’s have a look at the evidence.
Evidence 1: You suck
This one is the meanest, and probably the most common of what self-doubt leaves behind. It’s the especially stinky pee. It’s the thought that you suck.
This is what my nasty cat meowed in my ear:
I suck at this.
I’m not creative.
I can’t do this.
I have no experience.
I’m not interesting enough.
I will never ever be good at this.
Who the hell would be interested in anything I have to say?
I should be silent. I’m not worthy.
I was extremely convinced of all of the above a couple of years ago. I thought I just knew my own limits and it was a good thing. But as I now know, it was self-doubt.
If you find yourself being an uncreative, uninteresting, inexperienced yuck, you might not actually be those things. It might just be that invisible self-doubt cat snuggling with you.
So, detective, take a long hard look on your beliefs about your creative abilities. Are they real? Or has the cat been here?
Evidence 2: You’re suddenly busy
We’re busy, right? Well, there’s busy and then there’s busy. You know the times when you just have no time for creativity. There’s all of the other things, like meeting people, doing laundry, cooking, working, watching Gilmore Girls, refolding the laundry, arranging the teacups by color, scrolling, learning cat massage.
I’m an expert at being busy. You have never seen my home as clean as when self-doubt is prowling. Suddenly, the other things I’ve procrastinated for months seem very urgent. Anything that’s not creating is a priority.
Now, there are of course times when we are busy. So, detective, how do we know if it’s the cat or just life? Well, these cat hairs have a special quality that makes them easier to distinguish from real busy.
It’s bad at telling the time
When supercat makes us think we’re so extremely busy, it tries to hide that there actually is time in your day. It could be commuting time where you can sketch, weekend time or random scroll time in the evening. When self-doubt is at play, there’s usually time somewhere, we just forget it.
Priorities are off
Supercat makes everything that’s not scary seem very important - like the laundry or the TV. It tweaks your priorities in a way that suits it. Sniff it out by asking: what’s more important - the laundry or my creativity?
Meh feeling or dread
If your busy is accompanied with a sense of dread or meh around your creative project, that’s a sure sign you have an invisible cat sneaking about.
So, detective, what kind of busy is this? The real kind or the cat kind?
Evidence 3: No ideas
Your mind is completely blank. You want to do something creative but you seriously can’t think of anything. So you can’t create, right?
Hold on. The mind-controlling cat has peed and the odor of it blanks out your creative ideas. If you have absolutely no idea, no curiosity whatsoever, it could definitely be the cat. Good thing here is that the effect of the pee releases if you keep at it anyway.
So, detective, if you find yourself being idealess, dig a little deeper and see if the fog starts to clear away. Then you’ll know.
Evidence 4: Bad ideas
Our supercat is not stupid, unfortunately. It’s sneaky. It knows an idea or two might get through the pee odor. So what it does is make us believe that every idea we have is bad. That way, even if we have ideas, we won’t pursue them. Which of course pleases self-doubt who wants your creativity all for itself.
So, detective, are your ideas bad? Really? How do you know that they’re bad? Have you tried? What would make them better?
Evidence 5: Anxiety
The cat hair is itchy.
You get sweaty. Your breathing shallow. You feel uneasy and a little bit paranoid, not knowing exactly why. You may feel like you’re going crazy.
It’s okay. We’re all a little crazy, anxious or not.
I’ve struggled with anxiety in many different situations, doubting my creativity being one of them. If it’s getting out of hand, please, seek professional help. But there’s also a lot you can do by yourself.
Supercat is whispering that there is danger ahead and we respond with anxiety. The cat goes into our heads and find the things we fear the most - maybe it’s to have our innermost selves rejected, to change our identity or to be unloved. Maybe it’s fear itself. This damn evil cat uses this to tell us that what we fear will happen if we proceed with creativity.
Not surprising we get anxious.
So, detective, if your creativity is surrounded by a cloud of anxiety, be sure that your self-doubt cat is at play. How we fight it? We create anyway. We prove the fears wrong. We prove to anxiety that it’s not actually dangerous. That’ll make it go away and focus on something else instead.
Evidence 6: It will suck
When the cat’s bored with telling you that you suck, it switches things up with telling you your creative project will suck. Your novel is crap, nobody will buy your hand-knitted rainbow scarves, your photos are ugly, you sketch worse than a five year old, it’s best not try or you’ll end up disappointed.
But maybe our projects actually do suck? How do we know?
Well, detective, here’s the thing.
First of all, the result is not the point. The making is. However, our supercat do not care about the process, only if others will like it or not. So if your focus is too much on the end result, you can be sure self-doubt cat is involved.
Secondly, the cat tells us it will be bad before it’s actually done. Which of course is impossible to know. Something may look like absolute garbage at draft 1-10. But at draft 47, it’s pure genius. Your self-doubt cat is impatient, it wants it to be perfect at the start. That’s your evidence - that impatientness and the discomfort of having your project be a little bit crappy.
So, detective, do you think your creative project will be sucky? Is it keeping you from making it anyway? Are you drawing conclusions too early? Then your cat may be mind-controlling you.
Evidence 7: Dreams of giving up
The sneaky invisible stubborn mind-controlling cat wants your suitcase of creativity for itself. It wants to hair and pee in peace. The easiest would be if you just gave up on packing your suitcase and left it for the cat as a comfy bed. So that’s what your self-doubt most want you to do - give up. All of the meows and pee odor and itchy hair comes down to this.
Give up, give up, give up.
So, detective, why don’t you?
Evidence 8: Not giving up
The final evidence doesn’t come from the cat, it comes from you. Beyond all of the struggles our self-doubt gives us, we still love creativity. We still want to fill that suitcase, even if there’ll be pee we have to wash off and hair that itches.
Detective, that’s your final evidence. If you have a supercat snuggling on your creativity, it will give you a hard time, but deep inside of you, you don’t really give up. Not really. Some of your dreams and hopes are hidden from the cat. They survive.
You don’t give up.
Solving the case
Detective, creative, cat-lifter and pee washer. There’s no easy solution on how to get the cat out of the suitcase. It is damn stubborn and it has superpowers. But knowing it’s there helps us to distinguish it from reasonable thoughts we should listen to. When you recognize it, you can fight the mind-control and not let it rule your creativity.
When you have a better understanding of your self-doubt, go on and read the post about Creating with self-doubt.