Fear of Failure – Overcome Doubt, Self-Doubt & Creative Paralysis

Fear of failure. The words pierce the heart of any creative person. Everyone with talents has experienced doubt and self-doubt. Whether it takes the form of anxiety about the quality of your work — or terror at the state of your career, fear of failure comes in different flavors and burbles up at different points in the creative process. It can interfere with your creativity, block your progress and instigate creative paralysis.
Some occur during the generative phase of the work. You’re composing a melody, soldering a earring post or applying a wash to a canvas when a little voice in your head raises one (or more) of the following:
1. Niggling doubt. Is this good enough?
2. Deeper doubt. Is this any good at all? Is this worthwhile? Is it adding one whit of value to the world?
3. Self-doubt. Am I good enough? Who am I to try to do this? What am I playing at?
4. Paralyzing doubt. What’s the point of working on this — it’s doomed. OR: I seem to have no idea how to proceed. OR: I’m afraid that whatever I choose to this website do next, it’ll be wrong, so I better not do anything.
It’s one thing to have anxiety about a particular project or piece of work. It’s worse when we experience fear of failure concerning your creative career. It happens to most DaVincis — to artists newly launched on a creative path, to those who have achieved some success and even to some of our creative heroes. It can look like any of the following:
– I’m scared I won’t make it — I’m afraid I won’t achieve these particular career goals.
– I’m afraid I’m stalled.
– I’m concerned I’ll never get past ‘here’.
– I fear that I peaked too early and have been sliding downhill ever since. (A version of this, by the way, was expressed by Julia Cameron, author of the uber-successful ‘Artist’s Way’ series, novels, plays, musicals and much more).
– Is that all there is?
Whatever nasty little voices are interfering with your creativity or clouding your perceptions of your career, it’s important to do whatever you can to silence them. This gets easier with practice…but even seasoned, successful artists harbor doubt, self-doubt and creative paralysis from time to time. So how to overcome them?
Ways to Overcome Creative Doubt and Self-Doubt
1. Ignore them. Pretend you can’t hear these doubt-filled inner voices and carry on. ‘Act as if’ you were full of confidence in your work.
2. Understand what’s really going on. Realize these messages are meant to protect you, not hurt you. Your psyche is a worry-wart and, left to its own devises, it expresses angst on your behalf. So don’t let it run rampant. When you hear doubts in your head, realize “Oh, there goes my brain, trying to save me heart-ache. Thanks, but no thanks, Brain. I really want to do this and you’re not helping.”
3. Dig deeper. Who’s voice is it really in your head? A parent or other head soccer hack cheats relative trying to ‘spare’ you being ‘a starving artist’? A romantic partner jealous of your gifts? A frenemy who confided that you’d never visit more information amount to anything? Your fourth grade teacher who never really cared for your vocal stylings? Sometimes it’s helpful to realize that something that happened years ago is affecting you in the present.
4. Dispute the message. Regardless of the intentions of people in your past — or your own protective psyche — these doubt-inducing messages are not true — they are simply unhelpful beliefs. What evidence do you have to support these horrible statements? What evidence to you have to refute them? (“You know what, come to think of it, Mrs. Crabgrass wasn’t exactly a musical genius, so who was she to say my singing sucked?”)
5. Suspend judgment and keep going. Be like Scarlet O’Hara and vow to ‘think about it tomorrow’, while you take action today. Realize that you can’t create and evaluate at the same time. No writer or visual artist or dancer or sculptor can accurately assess the quality of their work at the moment they create it. You must suspend judgment while you are creating. Delay or defer your assessment of the work. Tell yourself, ‘Hoo boy does this seem like a stinker but I’m going to keep going anyway.”
When you separate the creative process from your evaluation of your work, you’re apt to be pleasantly surprised. How many times have you created something you thought was utter garbage…put it away for a while, then surprised yourself by how good it is? “Did I write this gem,” we marvel. “Why, I almost stuffed it down the Garburator!”
Similarly, you can’t accurately assess your career — so you might as well stop trying. Instead, focus on the nature of the work you love. If you love to create, keep creating.
Activity: How does your doubts and self-doubts manifest? When? What have you done in the past to get over them? What else might you try?
Activity: When you hear those ‘nasty voices’ in your head, who’s voices are they? When did you first hear these messages? How valid are they? What evidence is there to prove these fears are false?
Activity: What fears do you have about your creative career? How do they surface? Under what circumstances? What have you done in the past to get over them? What else might you try?
Please use the comment box below to tell me about how you overcome fear of failure. How do you dispel doubt, self-doubt and creative paralysis? How do you get over concerns over your creative career? I’d love to hear from you.
(c) Liisa Kyle, Ph.D.
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