How I deal with doubt

Writing is a struggle.

I’ve had a love for writing since high school, but haven’t pursued it seriously until my quarter-life crisis. That’s when I started this blog and committed to publishing a post every week in 2021. And while working on these posts brings great joy and satisfaction, even more often it’s a source of anxiety and dread.

Why is that? Why can something we profess to love seem so daunting that we question whether we should do it at all? Why do we doubt?

I have a theory about that. Our minds are an amalgamation of various drives, desires, and emotions. The ego balances and regulates them, aiming to create a coherent identity. Yet, it’s not an easy task, with drives for power, belonging, sexual release, or emotions like fear and anger making us do things we shouldn’t.

The ego is playing a parachute game. All the players need to cooperate to roll the ball neatly around the perimeter. But it’s bloody difficult to make them do that, so more often than not, the ball loses momentum and rolls down chaotically.

Parachute Games - Polebrook C of E Primary School
Life is a parachute game.

I have two modes. Sometimes I feel excited, elated, filled with vision and ambition. I imagine myself a celebrated writer, having touched people’s minds in a meaningful way. I see them cheering in awe.

Other times, all of that is completely absent, and the void is filled with dread, belief that I can’t make it, that I don’t have what it takes, intense fear of criticism, and images of people sneering at me. The positive drives are not tugging at the parachute hard enough, so they get overpowered by the negative ones, and the ball rolls down.

Somebody recently asked me how I define doubt. I thought for a second and replied that it’s forgetting our reasons for doing something. When I doubt, I somehow forget all the excitement and passion. Of course, that invites dread and fear, because there’s nothing to counteract them, and working for your dreams is hard work.

Why do I forget it? I don’t know. But fortunately, we are not entirely at the mercy of our fallible memories. There are ways that bring me out of fear mode into excitement mode, and I’m trying to consciously apply them.

Expose yourself to inspiration

One thing that brings me back is random moments of encouragement or inspiration. Somebody who read a post says that they enjoyed it, or I come across something on the Internet (usually a successful blogger or author). That makes me remember why I’m doing this and where I want to end up.

You can’t control when readers decide to give you positive feedback, but you can write it down somewhere. You can go back to that document whenever you’re feeling doubtful, to remember that people do appreciate your work.

You can’t control random moments of inspiration, but you can make an effort to expose yourself to inspirational content. Subscribe to motivational YouTube channels, podcasts, newsletters, etc., and make it a habit to consume them daily. Find the people who never cease to inspire you and expose yourself to them regularly.

Release the dirt

There’s a metaphor that I really like: creative work is like running an old tap (or faucet). At first, the water will be brown and full of filth. After you let it run, however, clean water will eventually come out. You have to release the dirt before you get to the good stuff.

I find that this is a major benefit of journaling. When I sit down to write, filled with negativity, I pour it through my fingers onto the screen. And at some point, I begin to see that it doesn’t quite make sense. Those thoughts that held such sway mere minutes ago, start to seem silly. I notice the logical errors in them and remember the counterexamples, like all the people who told me that they enjoy my blog. And I reassure myself that failure and patience are prerequisites of success. Journaling is very therapeutic.

Prepare for moments of doubt

When you’re in excitement mode, anticipate that you will get into fear mode at some point, and come up with a plan to get back. For my challenge of going 100 days without caffeine, which also has been a source of doubt, I crafted a document with the following lists:

  • Negative effects I noticed while on caffeine
  • Positive effects I noticed after quitting
  • What could make me fail or want to go back to caffeine
  • How to maintain motivation
  • Short log/journal

I keep a tab with this document pinned in my browser, read and update it regularly. It really helps.

I haven’t mastered doubt and probably never will, but I like to think I’m making progress. If you define doubt as forgetting about the reasons of doing something, the solution is to remind yourself of those reasons in moments of doubt. Some methods include anticipating what could make you doubt, working through negative thoughts via journaling, and deliberately exposing yourself to inspiration.

2110cookie-checkHow I deal with doubt

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