I have been an Islamic geometry artist and educator for a while now, but it hasn’t always been a smooth path. There have been many moments I had to face myself and my self-doubt, and I want to share with you 10 major shifts – ten ways to overcome self-doubt as an artist even when the voice in your head says you can’t do it.
***RELATED CONTENT: My coach #1 advice that totally changed my career as an Islamic geometry artist
WHERE TO START
I have recently started reading “The Artist’s Way” book. It’s not that I feel a particular block stopping my creativity, but I am always up to new discoveries and ways to improve myself.
I was reading the chapter about negative beliefs and while I was reading it, my mind was like: “Hmmm no, I don’t have these negative thoughts about myself and my art”, which is perfect, right?
Then the writer proceeds to give a real-life example of a guy who was an amazing writer until a teacher who was praising him tried to sexually abuse him. From that moment, the guy stopped writing and really felt upset when someone tried to praise him. And this made me realise one thing about myself.
Whenever someone praises my art, I say: “Pff, nothing special. Anyone could do it”. And don’t get me wrong. I don’t say that to diminish my art. Maybe in part, but I don’t feel that’s the only reason.
Before going on with this, I want to share a speech Angelina Jolie gave in 2013 while receiving an award (click the link below and skip to min. 3.24 for the speech)
I really believe that EVERY human being is creative. Every one of us has the potential to create something. And I am not only talking about drawing and painting. A pie can be a piece of art. A beautiful garden can be a piece of art. Even delivering food with a smile on your face can be a piece of art.
God gave us creativity, and we live on this planet doubting ourselves, diminishing our potential and being afraid of what other people may say.
When I shared what I discovered with my husband, he said: “Yes, anybody could do it, but no one is doing it”.
Yeah. Why? Why on earth would someone not do this?
During all these years as an artist and educator, I have met hundreds of people. You can’t even imagine how many of them have said something negative about the piece they have created. I could easily say 98% of them. And this freaks me out, for REAL. How used we are to negative self-talk.
Here are some of the sentences I have heard:
- I am not talented
- I am not good enough
- I am too old for this
- I don’t have money for this
- I don’t have time for this
- I have to focus on my family. I can’t do it
- I don’t deserve this
- My family would never accept this
- My friends would make fun of me
- It’s just a dream. It’s better to stick to real life
- My life is not that bad. I can be without it
- I will look like a fool
- I am scared
- My husband would leave me
- I don’t know enough about it
So, now. If you are fed up with all this negativity and you REALLY want to change, here is what worked for me.
I request you to grab a pen and paper and do a writing exercise. If your first thought when reading this is: “Oh, I don’t have time for it” or “I hate writing”, then maybe you are not fed up enough with your situation. This exercise is only for people with guts.
So if you want to change, grab a pen and paper and write the following things down.
Also, make sure to pin this blog so you can come to it time after time and do the exercises whenever you want.
WHAT IS YOUR PAYOFF?
Yes, read it again. I know it’s hard to believe, but this is a mental process that our mind does without us even knowing it. Every time you complain about something or have a negative thought you have a payoff.
The payoff can be:
- Being right or avoiding being wrong (if I say I am not good enough and then my painting sucks, I was right about me not being good enough, which kind of soothes me).
- Dominate or avoid domination (in this case, I would say avoid responsibility because being great at something brings responsibilities).
- Look good or avoid looking bad (especially when you are afraid of the people around you – family, friends, neighbours, etc).
- Win or avoid losing.
- Diminish someone (in this case, yourself) or self-justify.
Choose your payoff, and yes, you HAVE to choose one and write it down. Then look at why you are doing that. For example, if you think your payoff is “being right”, then write what you are right about and why you want to be right about that.
You can have more than one payoff too, but usually, there is one that is greater than the others.
Now that you have written down your payoff, I want you to get present at the cost. Yes, because every payoff has a cost.
The cost could be:
- Love and affinity (in this case with yourself but it could be with others as well)
- Health and well-being
What is the cost you are paying in order to keep dwelling on your negative thoughts about yourself?
You can apply this exercise to every complaint you have in life. In my case, my payoff is to avoid domination/ responsibility, and my cost is self-expression.
Get present to what you are doing to yourself and what is the cost of that behaviour.
Understanding this really made a difference in my entire life, not just in art.
SWITCH “ORs” WITH “ANDs”
I don’t know why but as human beings, we seem to be wired to work with exclusions.
- Shall I do this OR that? Shall I be this OR that?
- Shall I have kids or pursue my art career?
- Shall I spend my time with my family or creating?
- Shall I teach or paint?
Have you ever wondered why we think like that? We brag so much about multi-tasking nowadays, yet we all have a limiting way of thinking.
I invite you to write down at least 5 of your “exclusion thoughts”. Even more, if you have more than five. After, rewrite each sentence by changing “OR” with “AND”.
- You can have kids AND pursue your art career.
- You can spend time with your family AND create.
- You can teach AND paint.
- You can be freaked out to death about something AND still do it.
Your mind will expand on the many possibilities you have. Even when you think something is impossible.
When you can combine two things together, that’s when your creativity starts to flourish.
DON’T LET THE “IMPOSSIBLE” STOP YOU
Here is another thing that I discovered that really shifted my perspective and my self-doubt as an artist.
If I told you: “Go and climb Mount Everest”, what would you say? Most probably, you would say: “I can’t. That’s impossible for me”.
Now, here is the thing. Do you have experience of yourself climbing Mount Everest?
Most of the time, we believe something is impossible just because we don’t have experience of ourselves doing that thing. And that scares us to death, and we end up saying: “Well, that’s impossible”. Maybe you were born to climb mountains, and you don’t even know it.
Now, write down 5 activities that you think are impossible for you. Then spend the next 5 weeks doing one per week. You don’t have to tell anybody if you don’t want to. But try to do them all.
And I PROMISE YOU that even if you fail or suck or whatever, you will finally breathe fresh air.
SUCK AT IT
When I first started doing Insta stories, I was very shy. I didn’t know what to say. Showing my face on camera? Nope, not for me.
I was trying to have everything sorted out, the perfect angle, the perfect outfit, talking without interruptions. Doing and re-doing the same speech multiple times just to get the perfect shot. I was trying to be perfect.
And, of course, it lasted two weeks before I decided something needed to change.
I realized that if I could just allow myself to do them in a “bad” way ON PURPOSE, that would make things more fun and lift a heavy weight on my shoulders.
That’s when I started to make silly faces and funny noises.
As David Goggins beautifully said in his book “Can’t hurt me” we spend so much time doing things we are already good at, and we fear anything that we might fail at (I am paraphrasing here). My goodness, when I read that sentence I wanted to sign up for singing classes because I am sooooo bad at singing.
I am fully aware I am bad at it, and because of that, when I sing, I try to sing in the worst way possible with high pitched voice and low tones with no sense at all. That allows me to sing in front of people without the pressure of being Celine Dion.
Next, write down 5 things that you are very bad at, and then spend the next 5 weeks sucking at it. Go all-in. If you don’t want to do it in front of people, do it in your bathroom even though doing it in front of someone would truly unleash your inner child.
Allow yourself to suck at something. And do it for fun.
WHAT’S THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN?
This is by far the best way I use to solve any problem I have. I learned this from the tv series “This is us”, and it really makes miracles when it comes to self-doubt as an artist.
Whenever you are scared or fear something, ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen. Don’t be afraid to answer this question. Sometimes what we imagine in our minds is far more traumatic and huge than what it actually is.
Letting thoughts get out of our minds by saying it to someone or writing it down on a sheet of paper puts everything into perspective.
Does your painting look like a doodle made by a 5-year-old child?
Ok, what is the worst thing that will happen if you decide to show it on the Gram?
- Your friends will make fun of you.
- Your family would lie saying: “Oh it looks amazing”, even though it’s not true.
- Your husband will say: “Stop embarrassing me publicly”.
- You will die.
Write down 5 things you really want to do but are afraid of doing. Then, for each thing, write the worst thing that could happen. Then go and DO IT.
Most of the time it’s just an unconscious fear that something will happen, but nothing happens really. And if it happens, you will be mentally ready to deal with it.
I don’t know if you have noticed already, but all my previous points are about the way we think and speak to ourselves. I have spent all this time talking about how our self-doubt as an artist comes from our minds.
Unfortunately, we take our thoughts and emotions as reality. But they are not.
One minute you are happy, and the next you are sad. One night you hate your drawing, and the next day you love it. Can you see how 90% of what you do is actually led by emotions that are changing as fast as the clouds in the sky?
Next time you have a negative thought, a voice in your head that says: “You can’t do it”, or “You are not good enough”, or “You don’t have time for this”, tell yourself: “Thank you for your amazing advice but I am going to do it anyway”.
In simple words, just STOP IT. Give yourself a break. Give yourself some grace.
Thank the voice in your head for trying to protect you. I really mean it. Go in front of the mirror and say it out loud. But then move on. And when another thought pops up, say thank you and move on.
You can have those thoughts AND still do it. They don’t mean anything.
Btw, this is the video my coach sent me at the beginning of our collaboration when I was whining about how “I am not good enough”. It’s funny but straight to the point.
FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
Many of us spend our lives waiting for compliments and words of affirmation from other people around us while we, ourselves, are not willing to compliment or acknowledge ourselves.
If you have come to this point, done the work and looked into your soul, acknowledge yourself for that.
Look what you have done so far and be amazed at how courageous and bold you have been because facing ourselves is the hardest thing on earth.
Next, I want you to choose 10 positive affirmations from this list and write them on your paper. Choose the ones that you strongly resist. You don’t have to believe them. Every cell of your body can throw up at the idea of writing them down. And still, you are going to write them down.
Then for the next 30 days repeat those affirmations every day. You can even add new ones from time to time if you want. If you repeat those words to yourself long enough, you will start to believe it.
Fake it till you make it. Is this how they say?
Some of you might find this blog post boring.
Some of you might find it very confronting.
Some of you might find it very exciting.
Wherever you are right now, it works.
What I do request from you is to do the work listed under each point. And do it often.
Gosh, I have 30+ years of experience in being Sandy do you think that a 5-minute blog post can do miracles? Of course not. This “thoughts-cleaning” is just the first step. It’s a matter of dedication and doing the work over and over again.
New negative thoughts will come out from time to time. It’s perfectly normal.
What makes a difference is to practice catching your thoughts, become conscious of them and train your mind to think differently.
Yes, it’s a matter of training just like going to the gym.
Overcoming self-doubt as an artist is not an easy thing and I hope this has helped you free yourself from the weight you are carrying and made you realise that whatever you tell yourself is not reality.
Creativity is God’s gift to us and we, ourselves, are creations. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature. Deciding to give up doesn’t bring joy to life.
7 ways to overcome self-doubt as an artist
July 3, 2023