Really, anyone can use these strategies. They’re designed for “creatives” because doing creative work tends to bring up loads of self-doubt.
But, as I’ve said before, creativity is a term we define too narrowly.
We’re all creative beings: I am, you are, everybody you know has creative drive and creative capacity. Creativity is a universal human trait, not a special dispensation to the select few.
We’re all creative, and we all want success.
Now, how we define success differs… a lot. But the basic drive—to avoid failure, to have what we need, to feel worthwhile—is the same.
If we have these desires—to succeed, and to avoid failure—then we need confidence. Success depends on decisive action more than anything else.
Guess what makes decisive action difficult?
Lack of confidence. Self-doubt. Insecurities. Feelings of being unqualified, unimportant, unskilled.
Fortunately, you are not stuck with the current level of confidence you have about yourself, your work, and your capabilities.
You can increase your confidence.
I’m not talking about increasing your ego or becoming arrogant. Those things do not serve you, do not help you succeed, and do not increase your creativity.
Ego is based on labels or roles: you pick a role you think is “worthy,” put on the label, and try to become your ideal version of the role.
Arrogance is based on fantasy rather than reality. It’s a cover for deep insecurity. It’s unearned confidence, and deep down we know when our confidence is not based on something real. When you need confidence the most, arrogance will let you down. Put to the test, it always crumbles into crippling self-doubt.
Confidence is different.
True confidence is not based on roles predefined by your family or peer group or industry or society. True confidence is based on two things:
- the understanding of your inherent worth and capability, regardless of what you “produce” or how you fit in (or don’t), and
- the choices you make, actions you take, and behaviors that support your values.
Or, to be succinct, true confidence is based on who you are and what you do.
The list of strategies and tactics below address one or both of those areas.
- Some help you get a better sense of who you are.
- Some help you become more aware of what you do and what you’ve done, and see the worth in it.
- Some will help with both areas.
Additionally, some strategies work better over the long-term: build them into your life as a regular practice, and over time they will help dismantle the feelings of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and worthlessness. They will help you shift your internal understanding of who you are and what you are capable of, but they don’t work overnight.
Some strategies, on the other hand, are good short-term solutions. They’ll help most when you’re feeling crushed by those feelings of not being good enough. Use them freely in those times.
But remember, please, that short-term fixes will not change your internal mindset.
If you want to experience less crushing doubt, less insecurity, less fear, then you need to play the long-term game.
Choose a few long-term strategies and try them out, maybe one at a time for month. Stick with the ones you like. Trade out the ones you don’t like for alternates.
Make confidence-building a regular part of your work; it’s how you remake your thoughts and beliefs, upgrading your internal workings for a freer, more confident, more interesting, and much more rewarding life.
Creative, create thyself!
Find a few pertinent affirmations or write your own, dealing directly with the most vocal fears and doubts you have. Write them by hand or type them up. Review them daily (in the morning and in the evening work well) and also hang them up where you’ll just “glance over and see them” multiple times a day.
When you’re stuck, stop and answer the question: “What’s the worst that could happen if….?” Fill in the blank with the thing you’re afraid of: failing, doing a poor job, not finishing on time, letting someone down, looking silly, whatever. Spend at least ten minutes on this. Most of the time, the worst that could happen isn’t so bad.
Name the doubt, fear, hesitation, or insecurities that you’re having. Say them aloud.
- “I’m afraid that if I show how I really feel on this subject, people will think I’m a terrible person.”
- “I don’t think I have the skills to do this new project and I’m afraid that if they find out, they’ll fire me.”
For every doubt you name, ask follow-up questions:
- Is this a valid doubt or fear?
- If yes, is there anything I can do about it right now?
- If no, is there any harm in ignoring it and going ahead anyway?
If there are simple, quick actions to take, take them. (For example, make a list of the skills needed for that new project, identify which ones you don’t have, then figure out how you can learn or outsource them.)
You’ll find hundreds of articles telling you about the power of a morning routine to make you more productive, more efficient, healthier, sexier, more successful. Here’s one I wrote. Yay!
There’s a reason for the morning routine obsession: morning routines are powerful.
When you wake up with a plan and own that first hour of your day, you set the mood and the mode for your entire day. You remind yourself that you’re in charge. You feel better about yourself.
Honestly, I don’t think it really matters what you do in your morning routine; it’s a very personal choice, based on your preferences and goals. What’s powerful about a morning routine is the sense of ownership and power it gives you, a sense which extends into the rest of your day and all areas of your life.
Long-term + short-term
Whenever you get positive feedback, in any form, for anything, record it.
A compliment from a friend? Yes. A comment from a fan? Yes. Positive feedback, reinforcement, compliment, gratitude, even likes and claps: any sort of praise, personal or professional, is powerful.
Collect it. Categorize it, if you want. It’s a very helpful tool when you have to deal with haters or when you mess up. It gives you perspective. Patrick Rhone calls his a “yay, me” file, which I love.
Call yours whatever you want. Just create it.
In the long-term, make a practice of funneling all positive feedback into this log. Review it regularly (weekly? monthly? quarterly?).
In the short-term, read through it whenever you’re doubting your skills, your ability to do anything worthwhile, your creative capacity, your impact.
A postmortem report is a tool that many teams use to review a project, once completed, and assess what worked and what didn’t. It’s a tool for gathering all the knowledge and experience gained through the project into a usable format, where it can be reviewed, understood, and put to good use.
You can do the same whenever you feel like you’ve failed in some way. It gives you a chance to get a little distance and understand why you failed. It also gives you a chance to gain invaluable knowledge and understanding from the experience.
After all, failure is just another type of success: it’s success in learning what you lack, what you need to change, what didn’t work, what could be improved. Postmortems help you change the way you view failure, which gives you power over it instead of the other way around.
It can be free: go for a walk, do some sit-ups, play a game of soccer, climb a tree. What does that cost? Nothing.
You don’t need special shoes. You don’t need special gear. You don’t need anything complex or costly. I like bodyweight exercises, kettlebells, walking, and jogging. Also dancing (see below). All of these are free, or very close (pay for a kettlebell once, use it forever; also works as a door stop).
In the long-term, incorporate exercise into your life. Go for something daily. Short bursts of exercise are great. You don’t need hours. Start simple. Find something you enjoy.
In the short-term, there are two types of exercise that really help in dealing with self-doubt, fear, and anxiety:
- A long, long, long walk. Walking is magical. We don’t do enough of it. Put headphones in or don’t. Walk on the road, at the track, through the field, on the sidewalk. It literally does not matter where you walk, just walk. Walk further than you usually do. Go for 45 minutes, an hour, or more. Trust me. Try this.
- A really hard, sweaty, challenging workout. Pushing yourself physically both drains and energizes you. It’s a hard reset on your brain and body. It forces you to get out of your head and into your body, which is usually what we need. Working out with friends is even better.
Having a clean, beautiful environment is actually a great long-term strategy for less insecurity, too. Physical clutter often reflects mental and emotional clutter. Getting rid of one (goodbye, 15-year-old winter coats!) can help you get rid of the other (goodbye, sense of embarrassment over my previous fashion choices!).
As a short-term strategy, cleaning something helps you regain a sense of control and order. It also, like exercise, forces you get out of your head and into your body. It gives your subconscious time to process.
Set a timer, pick a project or area, and spend some time decluttering and cleaning. Then go back to your work with a cleaner space and a clearer mind.
Dancing is one of my favorite things in the world.
Am I a good dancer? No.
I am a terrible awful dancer. I have rhythm, sure, but I don’t have coordination, balance, or grace. I don’t have moves like Jagger. I have moves like Elmo. Drunk Elmo.
To all that, I say: whatever.
Dance in your bedroom. Dance in your kitchen. Dance in your backyard. If you feel self-conscious, dance where no one can see you. If you feel inhibited, dance naked. Turn on some loud music and dance until you can’t breathe. It will cleanse your soul.
There are lots of different things that could go on a good list. I like to include projects I’ve actually finished, skills I’ve gained, and work I’m proud of.
Tailor your good list to what matters most to you. It’s similar to the praise list, but it’s not stuff people have said about your work: it’s your actual work, your projects, your choices, your achievements, goals reached, challenges overcome. It’s any win, personal or professional. It’s any choice you’ve made that you’re proud of making.
We’re so quick to forget the good stuff we do, and so quick to focus on the negatives, the failures, and the mistakes. You can shift that by consciously listing and reviewing the good stuff.
Reading about the fears, struggles, and creative process of others is inspiring and gives perspective.
When you realize that your personal heroes have also felt self-doubt, struggled with procrastination, or tried a lot of stupid shit that never got finished, you realize something important: Maybe this is kind of normal. Maybe feeling this way doesn’t mean anything, really.
That’s a huge revelation.
What gets us stuck isn’t the feeling of self-doubt itself: well, that gets us stuck for a moment. But what keeps us stuck is the meaning we assign to the feeling.
“If I feel this way, it must mean that I’m not a real artist… writer… creative person…worthwhile human….”– You, when you feel the utterly normal feelings of self-doubt that everybody feels sometimes.
We assign all sorts of ridiculous meanings to these emotions and thoughts that come and go. Read biographies and interviews on a regular basis, and you’ll see the patterns: everybody struggles with uncertainty, insecurity, and fear. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody messes up.
Somehow, the world goes on and we keep making cool shit despite all these feelings and failures. What a relief!
You can be creative without being confident. There’s no question about that. But why not put some deliberate time and effort into increasing your confidence? You might not be more creative (you don’t need to be!) but you’ll feel more creative, and that’s half the fun.