I am sitting on my bed, mentally going through the articles I have to write for a magazine. I feel an uneasy lurch in my stomach, a little twist and then that niggling voice in my head. My thoughts then drift to my dissertation, and the deadline for its completion, now less than half a year away. Both tasks seem unachievable, impossible and out of my reach.
Self-doubt has been my constant companion for as long as I remember. Whilst self-doubt is, to a certain degree, quite normal, especially when you are about to start new tasks or try out new skills, I am doubting (no pun intended here) that questioning every single thing about your life and persona is. Since I was a child I analysed friendships and relationships. “Do they like me?” “What do they think about me?” “Was this piece of work good enough?” ” What will they say if I fail?” “What will they say if I succeed?” Those questions jump up and down in my head until I feel dizzy and have spent minutes in a frenzy that twists itself in a rock hard knot. Welcome to an over-thinker’s reality.
Whilst I have those moments regularly, I also have moments of intense clarity and positivity, where I take on the world and get to work with awesome gusto. Ideas bounce in my head and manifest themselves on the page or screen, I jot down ideas and act out my creative dreams as if there is no tomorrow. I thrive, I grow, I let go and I fly. It’s the best feeling in the world.
But then those dark clouds come in, usually triggered by something I read or see online, or life gets in my head and in the way, takes time from me, I lose my mojo and train of thought, and down I fall into a dark and glum place of self-doubt, disbelief and defeat. “You’ll never amount to much.” “You’re a failure.” “Everyone around you does everything so much better.” ” You are nobody.” ” You suck.” Unkind words are not something I utter to anyone, least myself, but they find me anyway, they drill and hack a way into my skull where they wreak havoc until I can’t write, I can’t create, I can’t even find joy in dressing myself; all 3 things that usually come so naturally to me.
Self-doubt is the devil of creativity and success, so, I ask myself: Am I doomed? I am a positive person down to my core, I am a survivor and fighter. Self-doubt may come knocking at my door from time to time but I will never let it stay and reside for long. So, what can you do to pull yourself out from that dark spiral, that freaky merry-go-round, that distorted mirror that makes you look like a warped alien?
1) Acknowledge your feelings but know they are “just” that. Feelings. They are not a true reflection of your capabilities and your worthiness as a person.
2) Learn to let go of your negative feelings. They can become your truth if you let them stay around for too long. Distract yourself by doing something you enjoy. That, in turn will make you feel better and make space for your creativity.
3) Talk to someone. Whether it’s a good friend or, even better, a trained therapist, talking about your feelings will clarify them in your head and help you to shift your focus and state of mind from darkness to light.
4) Go outside. It is my advice for almost everything but that’s because it is an incredible all-rounder and cures many ailments. A change of scenery from your own four walls, fresh air and the big, open sky can remind you that the sky, indeed is your limit and, like the weather changes, good times are just round the corner.
5) Stay away from alcohol. I have never been a drinker when I felt down or in pain, but stress and anxiety often ask for something to numb the symptoms. The day after though is never thankful for that 1 or those two glasses of wine. Not drinking isn’t a miracle cure but self-doubt feasts on it, so better stay away.
6) Finally, get up from that bed or sofa and do what you usually love, even if you don’t feel like it. After a while, those natural instincts that crave joy through creating will come back and before you know it you will have danced, cooked, painted, photographed, written or played your way out of self-doubt.
There is no magical pill or potion to replace your self-doubt with self-confidence and self-belief. As with life, you can’t be happy all the time and it’s not always plain sailing. However, being gentle and kind to yourself and doing small things to divert negativity, help re-direct your brain on a road that lets you see yourself for what you truly are: A valuable human who can offer something unique to this planet.