Four steps to be more fearless and doubtless every day

Fear and doubt are natural enemies of the creative mind, here are four steps you can take to make them serve you.

“What’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.” — Jamie Foxx

Fear and doubt are among the worst enemies of the creative, curious and adventurous mind. When these destructive wonder twins aren’t trying to convince me I’m old because my brother turned the big 3–0 this week or that I am unfit for entrepreneurship, they’re laying out detailed storylines of my demise that often end with this line from Bridget Jones’s Diary:

“[You’ll] finally die, fat and alone, and be found 3 weeks later, half eaten by wild dogs.”

Yes, fear and doubt are not only unoriginal, they lift lines from Bridget Jones. Why not Star Wars (“Never tell me the odds!”), Casablanca (“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”) or the 1942 comedy To Be Or Not To Be, lines of which appear in this song from Wax Tailor, (“I have the key in my hand; all I have to find is the lock.”)?

Probably because those lines might actually be helpful.

No, seriously, here’s why: our minds naturally skew negative. It’s an evolutionary hand-me-down — an ancestor’s ugly sweater we’re forced to wear. We ruminate and negative scenario plan constantly, especially women. We can wrap ourselves up in stories that are not true, convincing ourselves that we are somehow predicting the future. The fact is, we’re better at multitasking than we are at predicting the future. (Note: We can’t multitask.)

“The difficulty isn’t that we have negative thoughts. The problem comes when we believe our thoughts are true.” — Barbara Markaway, Ph.D.

Here are the four steps I follow to try and conquer my doubts and fears and live a more fearless and doubtless life every day. Take them, try them, toss them, add to them and make them your own. I’m in the Parker Gates camp of advice giving: It’s nice to share, but what I make for me works for me. Here’s hoping it helps you find what works for you. Now, these are specific to self-doubts and fears that keep me from executing in my work. I can’t say it works for fear of spiders, heights or other such fears. You may want to dive into Albert Bandura’s work for that.

Step #1: Hit ‘pause’ and resist distractions.

It’s easy to distract ourselves from dealing with fear and doubt head-on. There are just so many opportunities to bury our heads in the digital sand. Resist. Rather than seek out that dopamine hit or low-hanging fruit snack, take a moment to really identify your fear and doubt. Steve Tobak, over on Entrepreneur says it best:

“The worst thing you can do is give in to the powerful urge to distract yourself. Don’t pick up your phone, write a blog post, read an inspirational quote or get on Twitter to see how many new followers you have. Self-doubt is important. It’s not something you want to sweep under the rug. You want to pay attention and see where it takes you.”

Step #2: Use fear and doubt to identify what you need

We developed this negative thinking tendency to help us solve problems. Much as envy can be used to help us identify what we want, fear and doubt can be used to help us identify what we need. So, once you’ve set aside distractions, try using this frame to translate your fear and doubt into a need:

I FEAR I am bad at business development, and I DOUBT I’ll find good business opportunities. So, I NEED to start researching opportunities and test my pitch by talking to more people about the challenges they face, how I might help them and the value I offer.

I find this framework helps me name my fear and translate it into a need. That lets me entertain a host of potential solutions to meet that need. It moves my brain out of paralysis and into possibility, opportunity and action. That leads us to Step #3.

Step #3: Get creative and “design a plan”

Buried in this seven-steps listicle was one step that I couldn’t recommend more highly. It calls on us to lean into our creativity and design a plan that can take us from our fear and doubt to an action that will lead us to fulfill our needs. This action is not the distraction we might default towards, but is, instead, a step toward our goals and away from the paralysis induced by fear and doubt:

“Design a plan. Sit down and plan out a strategy for defeating your doubt. Make an educated decision about what to do next. Choose a path that you think will lead to conquering your doubts. Next, put your plan down in writing.”

Step 4: Execute and embrace feedback

Leo Babauta has a nice piece over on Zenhabits.net. In it, he points out a natural next design-thinking step. Once, you’ve made a plan, execute. Once you’ve executed — and this part is critical — seek and embrace feedback. An urge to be defensive of your work may arise. Identify it and let it go. Remember that the feedback you receive on the work you did to conquer your fear is more valuable than any self-doubt or fear you may harbor:

“Do something, get feedback, keep doing it, get better at it, get feedback all along the way, and see what the data says. Put your doubts to test, let them be disproven. And when the results finally come in, and you know what reality really looks like, be proud of yourself for at least putting the doubts to test.”

Those are my four steps. That last one can trigger fear and doubt all over again, of course. That takes me back to step number one. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Sometimes, giving voice to your fears and finding fears in common with others can help you build courage and dispel them. While I think Tobak is right about distractions. Sometimes writing, blogging or journaling can be helpful. If you’re looking for an interesting source of articulated fears, check out The Fear Project by Julie M. Elman (h/t Jane Elizabeth). In the meantime, good luck and happy creating. You can read more about fear and doubt in this week’s newsletter.


I run a consultancy at the crossroads of human-centered design, media, policy and professional development. I recently gave a TEDx talk on the need for a marriage of design and unconscious bias in professional development and media training.

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