Surviving Self-Doubt

July 21st, 2009

Subway Stories: Orange Line

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.

More help with self-doubt: Re-Thinking RejectionRe-Thinking Success

40 Responses

Leah, thanks for these wise and compassionate suggestions for meeting self-doubt in a loving way. The idea of keeping an appreciation folder is brilliant!

Love, Hiro

This is a beautiful and inspiring post. Thank you so much for sharing. I think every artist feels self-doubt at one point or another, and learning how to deal with it (without being stunted by it) is very important.

wow what a great reminder! thank you and am adding a kindness folder to my mail…


LOVE the idea of writing a letter to myself from my wiser self! Oh, I almost can’t wait until my next self-doubt moment so I can try it! Thank you!

Dearest Leah,

What an amazing and inspiring post. Thank you for all these wonderful reminders to treat ourselves always with kindness and compassion.

You rock!


What a lovely post, and very timely. Thank you.

Perfect timing Leah…I really need this and finally got off my butt and posted my “Self” inspiration that took me ever since you announced the theme to do!

I like the idea of an already done list rather than a to do list.

Hello, gorgeous! (Stick that salutation in your kindness folder.) ;) Leah, this is a WONDERFUL post! Love the idea of making an appreciation folder and a list of accomplishments work wonders. In the throes of self-doubt, it can become so hard to remember that we’ve done, well, anything (worthwhile)! :) I’m all for the baby steps method…it’s such good advice daily (hourly!)…to just keep putting one (baby) foot in front of the other. Lovely post. xo

Dear Leah, What abeautiful post. It’s so perfect in many ways for artists of all kinds. We all seem to go through cycles and the down parts seem too be full of craters gunked up with sticky muck. Self-Doubt is one of the nastiest muckiest gunk out there because it’s so hurtful.
I love the idea of making a Kindness Folder. It’s such a nice way to savor the friends that we make.
Thank you,
Janet XO

You are a miracle, woman.
I utterly ADORE this list!

What a beautiful reminder. These are wonderful ideas. I’m going to go set-up a kindness folder right now and I’m going to make it point to make sure my friends have emails from me to fill their folders with. I love how you show us the way gently and compassionately.

Crazy, I’ve been working the last week on my next newsletter article that’s going out tomorrow and it’s about failure! Love the quote – I’m gonna include it! Thanks!

Hi Leah,

Great post and timely too! I like the kindness folder idea. I started an Accomplishments document in January and have been amazed at all the things (big and small) that I have done throughout the year. As someone once said, if we don’t pat ourselves on the back, who will?


This is fantastic Leah. Thank you!

great tips!
I had a big sag in confidence about a month ago as new projects were not flowing & I didn’t feel very excited about them. I find that it helps to keep working, but maybe shift directions, try something new (with less expectation attached), make the current work less “precious” so I can just let go.
I photograph all my jewelry pieces & sometimes I surprise myself at all I have accomplished when I look through the files of pics on my computer.
Since I have started art journaling, I have more to look back on with my visual art. The continuity of the journal gives a lot of perspective. Some days really stand out and more are ok. That’s life.
Thanks for the food for thought that you provide, Leah! xo

Thank you Leah. I avoided even posting my name to the list yesterday because I’ve been in a funk for weeks – three projects started and stuck and the more I avoided them, the less I understood why. I felt like a flamingo with her head under her wing. I’m the queen of procrastination and avoidance!

Your post took me aback because it never occurred to me that the problem was self-doubt; or that self-kindness would pull my head out of the feathers. How precious is the gift of understanding!

Oh, thank you, Leah, for this fabulous, wonderful post! I spend a lot of time in Doubt – but I do keep going. I love the idea of a Kindness folder. I’ve recently started keeping a log of how much I write or edit – and it was really wonderful to see at the end of last month how much I had done, just 1 or 2 pages at a time. Your idea about Baby Steps reminds me of something I read recently in a book by SARK (not sure which one) – where she mentions something similar called “micro-movements” – just taking that tiniest first step to do something. This is a fabulous post – and I *LOVE* the artwork at the top. Absolutely captivating! – And here’s one for your Kindness Folder – I am so very very happy and grateful for CED!! Thank you so much for providing this forum – and for having the commitment to keep it going on a regular basis.

Leah, Thank You so much for this post. I am plagued by self doubt more often than not. However,just in the past few days have reached an epiphany of sorts where I seem more willing than ever to give up the ’shoulds’ and the ‘oughts’ which have historically led me to ‘I can’ts”.

Your words are the universe reminding me that I am on the right track.

Thx ;o)

Thank you for a wonderful post! Words I really needed to hear today, especially on taking risks.

Thank you Leah, such a poignant and heartfelt response. These thoughts and affirmations are an outstanding contribution to a very cold (at times) world which presents more challenges than comforts.

Those are two examples of expression/meditation of self- doubt for me, although my poetry in general .. tends to live in the realm of acknowledging, coping and dealing with self doubt. Poetry is my power, my heart and my road back home.

hey sweet lady… i heart this post and all the little tricks and reminders to stay connected to our positive creative flow. some days the ebb just seems to take over, and what you share here will help in those moments. hugs.

Thanks for this great post. Just what I needed to hear!

Your post was lovely and inspiring. I like that you include specific things to do to overcome self-doubt. You are wise beyond your years. Many thanks!

Great ideas! And I really need this too, I’ve been procrastinating and neglecting my ‘art’ for far too long! I will be printing this out, thank you so much!

I have been dealing with this and remain in baby-step mode. How comforting to know this is merely a part of the process! A creative friend encouraged me yesterday to see progress as canoeing down a river: Sometimes rapidly moving, other times walking the canoe, still others on the bank — gazing at the beauty of wildflowers.

Do something everyday that scares you. Do something everyday that scares you. ~Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Thank you for this. I do a lot of these things already, but it’s funny how when you need them most, you can’t remember any of that. I am a big fan of baby steps and my “Did Done” list.

This is beautiful, Leah. I especially resonate to self-acknowledgment…self-celebration. It’s vital to our zest and joy for life.

Keep shinin’!

I love your artwork above! Well done, Leah.

It’s a shame so many artists get paralyzed by self doubt.

You have shared some lovely, gentle ideas here. I’m sure they will help any one of us at those times in need.

Those darn little inner critics can get very noisy especially as we start nearing our goals or taking those leaps. One thing that has really helped me is to surround myself with friends who are kind and supportive. When I share with them my dreams or projects and I receive their affirmations the inner critics quiet right down and even seem to go in hiding. It is as if the love and recognition shines a light that makes these dark shadows disappear.

You are doing a wonderful job with your blog. You are an inspiration.

{soul hugs}

[...] This post was Twitted by fabeku [...]

I needed to read this today, Leah. In more ways than one. This isn’t just about art, it’s about life. Thank you.

The idea of writing a letter to yourself is one I’ve used for myself, but also for my students. At the beginning of a semester, I have students write a letter of encouragement to themselves. They give it to me in a sealed self-addressed envelope, and I send the letter to them when I get a sense that they are struggling. It’s all very intuitive on my part, but the students always report that the letter came at just the right time.

Thanks for all of these wonderful ideas.


[...] yet, wherever ‘there’ is.  I have been plagued by the inevitable feelings of self-doubt this week, a feeling I am told, besieges any artist, budding or established, and that it is a [...]

[...] Surviving  self doubt [...]

Hi Leah,

I just wrote a blog post called the Psychology of Collaboration and realized that most of the post is about my self-doubt as an artist. I googled and found this wonderful post! Now if you could just whisper all these things in my ear and drown out my inner critic, I would be all set.

Thanks for posting this! I will come back to this post again to remind myself that I am not the only one fighting against my self-doubt.

Jaime Lyerly

Your ideas to survive self-doubt spoke to me so deeply. I’ve been sharing some creative things with people for the first time in my life, and my inner critic has gotten pretty loud recently.

When I read your idea about keeping a kindness folder, it reminded me of a troubled second-grader I taught who would journal, “I’m a bad boy. A terrible boy.” When I read that, my heart just about broke. We started keeping a special journal together, where he’d write down every time he helped someone, or did something he was proud of. He even eventually invited his classmates to write in it! His self-esteem sky-rocketed within weeks. Those written reminders are amazingly powerful!

So, after I read your post and remembered my little guy, I posted the walls of my office with positive feedback I’ve gotten about my teaching or my writing, or amazing work former students have done that I felt so proud of. It has really quieted those inner critical voices, and opened up a spring of creativity. Thank you!

[...] Surviving  self doubt [...]

This is exactly what I needed right now. Thank you for sharing so eloquently!

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