July 21st, 2009
An artist is the one who can fail and fail and still go on. -Agnes Martin
Self-doubt is something that plagues most creative souls at one time or another. We may be going along, feeling great about our creations, and then something happens that shakes our confidence. Perhaps we get a rejection to a show or someone makes a nasty comment about our work. Perhaps we compare our work to someone else's or our inner critic gets really loud. Or perhaps self-doubt just sneaks up on you out of nowhere, whispers in your ear, and suddenly you'd rather do anything, but make art. Self-doubt feels awful, but it comes up, so how do we move through it and return to our creativity?
Be Gentle: Don't beat yourself up over your self-doubt. It's easy to go there, to think, "Ugh! Get over it already. Stop procrastinating and just do it. Sheesh!" Yelling at yourself may work in the short term, but it usually turns into a viscious cycle of beating yourself up, avoidance, more beating yourself up, followed by procrastination, some more beating yourself up, with a kicker of feeling like dirt. No fun. Instead of going to your drill sargeant voice, try going to your gentle mother voice. Try telling yourself something like, "Hey, it's o.k. that you're doubting yourself right now. It happens. I know you're wonderful. What small step could you take to feel a bit better?"
Keep a Kindness Folder: Sometimes we need to be reminded how fabulous we are. Try keeping an appreciation folder (I keep a folder in my email for just this purpose) where you can collect kind emails, letters, notes, tweets, etc. When you begin to doubt yourself, go to your folder, read a few of the notes you've saved, and soak up the love.
Write a letter to yourself: Feeling appreciation and love from others is wonderful, but we are also capable of giving ourselves love and appreciation. I've found it's helpful if you can write to yourself (maybe your artist self) from your wiser self. You'll find your kind, wise self will know just what to say to lift you up.
Begin with Baby Steps: I mentioned this briefly in the first step, but it's so important that I had to make it its own step. One of the best remedies for self-doubt is action. I prefer to begin with gentle action, action that is full of kindness and permission and playfulness. And the best way to move into action when you're in self-doubt mode is to start small. Start with a doodle on an piece of junk mail, write a silly haiku, dance around your living room, sing in the shower, or play with crayons. Let go of the need to make a masterpiece and for now, for this moment, start with something that brings you delight, one teeny tiny thing.
Remind yourself of your accomplishments: It's easy to forget all that we have already accomplished. Take some time to make a list of how much you're already achieved. Looking back over old diary entries can sometimes help remind me how far I've come. On a smaller scale, you can keep an "already done" list each day to keep track of all the things you've done instead of focusing on what you didn't do.
Keep taking risks: It's amazing to me how despite our self-doubts, we keep putting ourselves out there. And I want to simply encourage you to keep taking those risks, big and small, in your life and in your art. Taking risks helps squash those pesky self-doubts in a powerful way. Your risks may be trying out a new color, learning a new style, reaching out to a fellow artist, submitting your work to a show, posting your work online, or opening up a shop. Not all our risks will have the results we want, but every risk gives us the inner knowing that we are capable of more than we realize.