I’ve worked with a lot of creatives over the years. And one thing seems to be true for the vast majority: self-doubt. It’s the worst. I’m sure everyone in the world struggles with this in some way, but I think it’s even more prevalent with people who identify as creatives.
I think a lot of self-doubt comes from how we think about ourselves. And how we think about ourselves comes from how we were raised.
At a young age, most of us start to create. It seems like most little kids want to make stuff and use their imaginations, but there are some of us who have a stronger pull. We draw. We write stories. We make up songs. We paint. We make. Then, at some point when we are young, we show someone what we have made. Most likely the first people we show something to is our parents or teachers.
The reactions of people during these first years are what will either make or break us as creatives. It starts to shape how we think about ourselves and about the world.
I’m not sure how many chances a parent or teacher gets to push a child to more creativity or less, but I don’t think it’s very many.
For example, let’s say you’re 5 years old and worked hard on a drawing and are really proud of it. You take it to your dad and say, “Hey Daddy, I made this do you like it?” and he responds with “Great job! I love that!” you get a hit of self-worth. Then you want more. You feel valuable. You feel worthy. And you go back to making more.
On the negative side, what If your dad responded with words that were more like, “I don’t know why you’re always drawing. That’s silly and you’re not very good at it anyways.” Well then, the air has been taken out of you. And you don’t feel value in the making.
Or what if you’re in middle school and you brought your creation to a teacher and she responded with a grunt and said, “Just make sure you get your math done.” It would show that creating isn’t important to her, math is. Nothing against math. Math is good. But I am speaking to creatives. And when we are young, and these responses come from an authority figure, we learn what’s important in life. If we hear that math is important in life, but we aren’t good at it or drawn to it, we start to think something is wrong with us.
When we become adults, these interactions with parents, teachers, friends and strangers still affect us. They’ve created a pattern of thinking in us. And it either strengthens or weakens the confidence we have in our natural creativity.
If we were nurtured as creatives and artists growing up, we probably have a high level of confidence in who we are and what we make. If there wasn’t any nurturing of that young artist, our confidence is probably low and filled with self-doubt. Then you mix in your personality style and you may or may not have a cocktail perfect for self-doubt.
Self-doubt for me comes as a voice in my head. When I want to speak up, the voice says, “Who do you think you are to make that statement?” Or if I have an idea to make something, it says, “You’re not that good at it anyways. Why bother?” Or if there is a big meeting to lead, it says, “They’re going to know you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The more you talk to yourself like this, the worse it gets.
Your brain does what you tell it to. It is a muscle.
Just like your body does what you tell it to. If you eat junk food all day, your body will get fat. If you tell yourself that you are stupid every day, your brain will think you are stupid. These inner voices come from a blend of all the interactions I talked about earlier: Parents, teachers, friends, etc. It’s strange what we remember. But it only builds on those voices inside of us.
The fantastic thing about our brains is that we can change them.
Just like body can get fat, it can also lose weight by taking in less junk and exercising more. Our brain is the same. We have to take in less junk thoughts and exercise more.
How do you exercise your brain?
A good brain exercise I know comes from a book called The Artists Way. Try this: Take a minute and write out the phrase: I_________________ (your name) am a brilliant and prolific ________________ (potter, writer, painter, leader, designer or whatever you are) and I am not afraid of anything.”
Write that ten times in a row. Seriously try it. By the end of the 10 times, you will have just started to scratch the surface of your brain thinking in a new way. Then, when the negative voices come back in your head, repeat this phrase instead of playing the negative voice over and over again. Replace the bad with the good. Your brain will start to strengthen. Do this for a morning. Then a whole day. Then a whole week. Then six months. If you do this for a year, you will be a different person one year from now.