Do you ever feel like you’re not good enough?
Worried any moment you’ll be exposed as a hopeless wannabe that can’t cut the mustard?
Alone at our computer screens it’s easy to imagine everyone else has it all figured out.
Yet we are far from alone.
Wrestling with self-doubt is an occupational hazard. Agonising over every word, our insecurities looming, we’re easily ambushed by our negative thinking.
Layers of anxiety and frustration, heaped upon doubt and despair threaten to keep us from writing at all.
Yet this isn’t just a personal failing. It can affect any of us, striking at a moment’s notice.
But if we can appreciate why we’re so quick to doubt our own worth, maybe we can avoid getting knocked out of the game.
It’s in our biology.
Our ancestors left a genetic legacy inside each of us – a strong negative bias. The evolutionary advantage of a pessimistic outlook.
Doubting our own ability fuelled a keen sense of self-preservation. The more hesitant and fearful among us survived, anticipating danger at every turn. A sense of innate cautiousness passed down the generations.
Recognising the benefits of safety in numbers, we all fear rocking the boat at some level. Much safer to stay unnoticed. Confidence can be mistaken for aggression and leave us alone, thrown out of the tribe and left to fend for ourselves in a hostile wilderness.
With dangers lurking round every corner, our super effective fight or flight response automatically activates whenever we feel threatened. For most of our history this protective instinct has served us well.
And now, even though most of us no longer live with the ever-present threat of danger, any hint of reticence, concern or fear can still trigger that same survival instinct. Hitting publish on a blog post may be nothing compared to the threat of a hungry tiger, but the stress it causes can still kick off a similar physiological response.
It’s in our society.
The development of language allowed us to classify and categorise our environment and experiences, but it also encouraged an obsession with labelling and judgement.
From an early age we’re graded, evaluated and even diagnosed. Seeking the approval and acceptance of others, we fear making mistakes and being criticised in front of the class.
Determined to avoid public humiliation at all costs, it’s no wonder we lose faith in our own judgement and defer to the supposed expertise of others.
Feeding on our fears of being rejected by the tribe many of us internalise the subjective judgements of others as objective truth. Assessments made in an instant can define us for a lifetime, denying the reality that we are all in a state of constant and complex change, our strengths and our weaknesses affected by a myriad of physical, emotional and environmental factors at any given moment.
It’s in our psychology.
Our talent for making snap decisions when faced with immediate danger has enabled our species to survive and to thrive.
To stay alive, we had to think fast. Careful consideration takes time, can cost lives and compromise social cohesion.
Any hint of stress and our capacity for complex thought is limited. Our thinking becomes polarised, bereft of subtlety and nuance – are we safe or in danger, successful or failing? And if we’re not sure, we err on the side of caution.
To be certain of triumph, there can be no room for doubt, no whiff of mistakes and no trace of criticism. But writing is an art-form and art provokes subjective, emotional responses that defy clear assessment.
Our words may touch readers in ways we’ll never know and could never hope to understand. And yet those same words can have an entirely different effect on another day. And those responses, they tell us much more about the reader than they do about the worth of our work. We can’t please all the people all the time and we don’t have to.
A bit of doubt can be a good thing.
Being too sure of our own ability can make us unwilling, and unable to see when we’ve messed up.
A misguided sense of our own genius is dangerous.
Without reflection we’re unlikely to improve. But recognising the value of learning from our mistakes can bring wisdom and clarity.
Harnessing the doubt that we feel can motivate us to work harder, to learn more and to get better at what we do.
Self-doubt may be a curse, but it’s also a blessing. There’s always more to learn.
But too much doubt, that’s just selfish.
Overwhelmed by self-doubt, obsessed with our own inadequacies we have little time and energy to consider the needs of others.
Thinking too much about ourselves takes us away the world and from those we love, robbing them of our care and attention.
We don’t want to see our constant apologies, our doubts and our fears echoed in our children.
But if we can get comfortable with our flaws and appreciate the opportunities they offer us for development and growth, then that can be a powerful model for those around us.
We can never be sure what impact our writing will have. But allowing anxiety to stop us putting pen to paper removes any hope that our words could sow seeds in the minds of others. No chance that we could light up the dark, encourage or inspire.
So don’t be selfish, be kind. Know that the roots of self-doubt run deep but they can offer us a strong foundation from which we can learn, grow and develop as writers and as people.
Your words matter. You are enough x