“A deftly crafted and thoroughly fun read … especially and unreservedly recommended for elementary school, middle school, and community library Fantasy Fiction collections.” —MBR Midwest Book Review

Creating in Spite of Self-Doubt

It’s the saboteur within and it can torpedo our dreams.

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Every writer I know, including myself, has anxiety and self-doubt about their creative efforts. When I went into it further, I found that it’s the curse of the creative classes.

The Gifts of Creative People

Creative people see possibilities, value complexity and have the gift of innovation. They can bend their glorious imaginations to envisioning new things or ideas. Often sitting a little (or a lot) outside of the mainstream, they have a different lens through which they experience the world. At their best, creatives see possibility everywhere and enjoy experimenting with concepts and perspectives. What they love most is bringing those ideas into form, whether it’s a book, a painting, a poem or an entrepreneurial venture.

The downside? The gift of a rich and profuse imagination holds within it a curse.

Every Creative Person Has Self-Doubt

It takes a big imagination to come up with all the reasons why our work isn’t good enough and why it shouldn’t be released into the world. Some common themes run through all self-doubt scenarios:

1.     Confusing the value of our contribution and our infinite self-worth as a person.

Overidentifying with how an idea or creation might be received can cause us to supress the creation for fear of judgement, criticism or ridicule.

2.     Interpreting any feedback as criticism.

To avoid any possible negative feedback, we get to the final stage of bringing something to life and then hide or quit.

3.     We feel defeated when our creations don’t match our visions.

No matter how bright and sparkly our ideas are as they frolic in our brains, bringing them into form irrevocably changes them. It’s easy to feel frustrated and deflated when our creations don’t fulfill our visions.

4.     Comparing ourselves to others

It’s oh-so-easy to slide into idealizing the lives of others doing what we want to do and tip over into comparison, envy and resentment. Feeling like a loser is very common. At times we feel like our noses are pressed up against the window with the desired object forever out of reach.

Sneaky Ways Self-Doubt Sabotages Us.

1.     We find safety in the possibility of creating without actually delivering.

It’s known as Shiny Object Syndrome. We feel overwhelmed with ideas; find it impossible to choose, bouncing from project to project never completing anything. This leads to invidious comparisons with our original vision and the output of others.

2.     We juggle too many projects at once.

In the vain attempt to act on multiple ideas at once, we fail to align our projects with our desired outcomes. We dissipate our energy across too many projects. The result is we wear ourselves out before anything is completed. Therefore, we save ourselves from having to release anything out into the cruel world. You are likely to feel depleted when there isn’t a clear alignment to what you really want. Honouring the ebb and flow of our personal energy is a big deal for creatives.

3.     Our Inner Critic runs amok.

This is the helpful little voice we hear that tells us nothing we produce is good enough. This voice is a complete jerk.

It is scornful.  “Who are you to thrust such paltry ideas on an unsuspecting public?”

It mentions (often) our terrible limitations, our hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. If we let it, it can bring us to our knees.

4.     Falling for the carrot on the stick.

We find ourselves saying things like, “If I ever get ______, then I’ll____________. E.g. “If I ever get published, then I’ll call myself a writer.” “If my painting is accepted by this gallery, then I’ll call myself a painter.” “If my business hits a million dollars in sales, then I’ll feel I’ve made it.”

“But until that day, you’d jolly well better not call yourself a _______,” says the Inner Critic.

The Bad News

Self-doubt never goes away. It rises and recedes and sometimes lies dormant for blissful periods of time. But it always comes back! Nothing we ever gain or accomplish will erase that doubt entirely. It goes back to the same brain that can imagine wonderful creations can also imagine why they can and have gone wrong.

But when self-doubt has our confidence swirling down the drain, we can be prepared.

Defences Against Self-Doubt

 Sas Petherick, Self-doubt Researcher + Coach + Podcaster suggests, “Go on a comparison diet and remove any people or apps that become your default shadow comfort when you get stuck.” She also offers the following practices:

  • Start a 30-day project and do something easy and creative each day, just for fun.
  • Begin a conversation with your inner-creator – the part of you that leads from curiosity, innovation and inspiration. What does your creator-self want for you?
  • Explore the question, “What does being ‘creatively courageous’ mean to you? In what ways do you wish you were more courageous?”

To her sage advice, I would add:

Accept you’re going to have self-doubt. 

You’re never going to get rid of it completely. That doesn’t make you damaged or peculiar or deficient. You have self-doubt because you a creative person.

Accept the self-doubt and decide to create it anyway. Don’t listen to the doubt that tells you to quit.

Accept that not everyone is going to love your work

Criticism is just someone else’s opinion. Even people who are experts in their fields are sometimes wrong. It is up to you to choose whether to believe some of it, none of it, or all of it. Their criticism (or what you interpret as criticism) is only about the creative output. It has nothing to do with your worth as a person.

The hard truth is that we never really know what someone else is thinking nor can we control it. It’s what you think that counts.

Give yourself permission ‘fail forward’. 

Yes, this means what you create may be “all wrong.” Learn from it.

If you keep going, you will improve—even when creating crap. Tell yourself, “It’s okay if I suck right now. I will figure it out and it will get better.”

Stand up to your Inner Critic.

You don’t need to pay attention to the insidious voice within you that creates pain, or makes you feel less competent, smart or able.

Just because the Critic tells you something that does not make it true.

Look for three things that make what the Critic is saying false. Give your Critic a name. This immediately distances the Critic from “me”. So, for example, my Inner Critic is called Delilah. This helps me to see her pronouncements as an external point of view and not as true statements.

Write Your Manifesto

This is a declaration of your promise to honour your creativity and to engage in it no matter what. Make a fancy poster, print it off and stick it up where you can see it while you work

It might look something like this:

·      I will _______ when I don’t feel like it.

·      I will _______ when it hurts.

·      I believe I can ________, even if I don’t always get it right.

·      People want to ______ what I create. I know because I want to _________ it, too.

·      It’s okay if I fail right now. I will figure it out and get better.

·      I will not stop _________.

If you hang on to these four steps, you’ll make it through.

  1. Believe in your ability to create.
  2. Believe that being a creator is worth the fight.
  3. Know the episode of doubt will pass, and it will also return. Doesn’t mean you have to let it win.
  4. Do NOT listen to the doubt and stop creating. Creating garbage is far, far better than not creating at all; bad practice is better than no practice.

 REMEMBER: When we try we might fail, when we succumb to self-doubt, we doom ourselves to failure.


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