If you’re reading this article in secret, calm down – we’ve all been there. We’ve all struggled with that little voice in the back of our heads that takes every situation and spins it around to show us everything that could possibly go wrong:
“You know no one is ever going to print this…”
“Have you seen their work? Wow you’re so far behind…”
“What if no one hires you? Like, literally…what if not one single person hires you?
“What makes you think you know the first thing about running a business? Give me one example of another business you’ve successfully run.”
“What if all of this has been for nothing?”
These sentences are barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to negative self talk. And even with the abundance of articles gently suggesting that you just, you know, “trust yourself” or “think happy thoughts,” I wanted to offer something a bit more practical. So instead of sticking with the rainbows and butterflies approach, I’ve made a list of my top 10 tried and true methods for combating self doubt.
1.) Find The Source
I’m not saying you have to go all the way back to childhood to figure yourself out. Sure, there was that one time when you were 8 years old and you drew a picture of a rainbow for your grandma and she told you it was rubbish and ever since then you’ve been unable to feel a sense of self-confidence. Get over it. You were 8, you’ve probably done better rainbow work since then, and we both know your grandma was usually drunk anyway.
But there is always a starting point. Is it the second you hear about a new assignment, or are you usually pretty excited about it until you get home and a concerned family member starts worrying aloud? Or are you an “end of the project” kind of person, like myself. I’m excited the entire time and then just as I finish up the editing process I begin thinking of everything I should’ve done differently.
By identifying the exact moment negativity starts creeping into our minds, you’re able to start nailing down a pattern, and this helps you determine if there is a specific situation or person that is making you feel this way. The sooner you know the source, the sooner you can nip it in the bud.
2.) Write It Down
Sometimes self doubt is all in your head and sometimes it isn’t. Writing your fears down allows you to see them as tangible problems in the real world, which is the first step in addressing them. Go ahead and write down any thoughts of self doubt. Then begin to examine them.
Let’s say you’re afraid of submitting to magazines because you’re afraid no one will write back. Ok, fair enough – now let’s examine that. What would happen? Would your career be over? Would you ruin your reputation? Would you lose money? What is literally the worst thing that could happen?
3.) Plan For The Worst
Go ahead. Think of the worst possible case scenario and then plan for it.
Let’s go back to our magazine example from Tip #2. First of all, understand that you will receive some rejections. Hell, just while writing this article I received a submission rejection. But what’s the worst thing that could happen? Drumroll please…you feel shitty. You feel a little embarrassed because no one liked your work enough to publish it. Okay, that’s life, but that doesn’t mean your career is over or you’ve ruined your reputation as a photographer. In this worst case scenario, the risk really isn’t as terrifying as your mind is making it out to be.
And in other cases, that risk really is a pretty big deal and planning for the worst case scenario is absolutely necessary. Maybe you’re considering taking out a loan to open a studio, for example. In this case, your partner isn’t being negative when they ask if you might go broke, they’re being a realist. By writing it down and discussing it, you can address many of the issues you both may have and determine whether or not this is a risk really worth taking. And if it is, you can plan for the worst in case things don’t work out how you hope they do. By creating a plan, you take away the fear of the unknown that naturally comes with so many of these risks. This will allow you to focus on what you need to do to move forward.
4.) Take It Step-By-Step
I’m a runner. I usually run a minimum of 6 miles a day, but other days I’ll go all the way to a full 13.1 miles, just to see if I can do it. I never walk out of my front door knowing I’ll be running 10 miles today though, instead I tell myself I’ll run for 20 minutes. I run in one direction – ensuring I have to also run 20 minutes back. At the end of the first 20, I’ll decide if I feel good enough to run another 10 minutes, and then maybe another (always in the same direction). The farther I run in one direction the farther I have to run to get back. I don’t think about the total 10 mile stretch, only the first 2 miles, and then one mile at a time after that.
It’s the same with business. In the beginning, it can feel overwhelming: build a website, create a price list, make social media sites, order sample items, streamline your portfolio, order business cards, draw up client contracts, contact other vendors and businesses, create marketing flyers, and so many other things. But you can’t look at it that way or you’ll never get past the first mile. Make a list of steps and then break those steps down into even smaller steps. Create a timeline. Determine exactly what it is you need to do and set a goal date for each step to be completed by. By creating a clear cut list, you simplify the process in your mind, thereby leaving less room for doubt to creep in.
5.) Set Yourself Up For Success
I write in the morning. As in, 2:30 in the morning. I don’t know what it is, but writing during the day is incredibly difficult for me. I can’t find my vocabulary, my brain is fuzzy and it takes forever to bust out an article. I get nowhere and I feel like a complete failure. Early morning hits though and I’m on fire. So I don’t write at 2:30 in the afternoon, I write at 2:30 in the morning. Don’t make things harder on yourself than they already are.
6.) Cultivate A Support System
We all need a little push now and then, and that’s where your support system needs to kick in. Are you dragging your feet for serious reasons or are you just being a pansy? Do you need someone to gently feed your ego or do you need someone to light a fire under your ass? Your support system can help point you in the right direction and help give you what you need when you need it most.
7.) How Would I Say This To My Best Friend?
The main problem with negative self talk is we say to ourselves what we would never say to anyone else. You’d never, in a million years tell your best friend, “Are you kidding me? No way you’d get accepted into that gallery! What are you even trying for? God, just give up already.” But when it comes to critiquing ourselves, our manners go right out the window. Next time you hear that voice talking down to you, try and think about how you would phrase it to someone you really care about, you know, like yourself. And speaking of being nice to yourself…
8.) Take Care Of Yourself
It’s pretty easy to think poorly of yourself when you’re already in a downward spiral. I can choose to start a project after I’ve binge-watched the entire last season of Game Of Thrones while eating a stuffed-crust pizza, or I can start a project after I’ve run 6 miles, taken a shower and had a fruit smoothie. Which one do you think is going to have a better effect on that little voice in charge of all my self-talk?
9.) Get Answers
The main reason we doubt our ability to do something is because we have no idea where to start. So figure it out! Find someone that knows something about the area you’re struggling in and ask them for help! Get on Google or spend some time on YouTube. Stop wasting time feeling sorry for yourself for not knowing anything when there is this thing called the freaking INTERNET right at your fingertips.
10.) Just Do It Already
Yes, you’ve gone through all the planning and you’re still unsure of yourself. Well…suck it up. I’m sorry to say but that is probably never going away. It’s likely there will probably never be a time when you will feel completely safe and comfortable as an artist, but isn’t that part of the excitement of it all?
If you’re really stuck in the mud, here’s a little tip: count to three, and when you reach three, go for it. Press the send button, sign the papers, post the image. It’s like diving into a pool or trying escargot for the first time. Sometimes you just have to go ahead even with that little voice screaming like mad.