I reach a point in every painting where I begin to doubt my abilities and decisions, however briefly. My painting may not be turning out as well as I’d hoped, one of the techniques I tried wasn’t very effective, or a color that I mixed wasn’t what I wanted. Or I may just find myself in the ‘difficult middle stage’ of a picture, after the initial layers of color but before painting any details. This self-doubt can lead to anxiety and second-guessing. I think almost every artist feels a similar emotion about their art at one time or another. And I believe this is very normal.
Do you worry about small mistakes or flaws in your work? Do you sometimes attribute your successes to luck or happenstance? Are you sensitive to even constructive criticism? Do you ever feel that people will inevitably discover that you are not as knowledgeable or talented as you pretend? Do you ever downplay your own expertise, even when you are genuinely skilled in an area? This kind of self-doubt, although quite common, has been called imposter syndrome or imposter mindset.
Imposter syndrome can affect anyone! In fact, scientists suggest that as many as 82% of all people experience the self-doubt and lack of confidence of imposter syndrome at one time or another.
Perfectionism can play a significant role in Imposter Syndrome. Steven Pressfield discusses perfectionism in his book The War Of Art and describes perfectionism as a type of resistance and fear. Perfectionists fear failure and not being good enough. They may also procrastinate, making it difficult to get started on anything new, or to continue a project when encountering difficulty.
Imposter syndrome and resistance can hit unexpectedly, out of nowhere. I can be painting along, having fun, secure in my progress so far, when that self-critical voice suddenly screams at me. “What were you thinking? How could you possibly think you could paint this? Really?” It can be deflating.
I have to remind myself that these doubts are just thoughts in my head. Everyone feels unsure at times, but I’m trying to train myself to step back, evaluate the situation, reassess my painting, and engage in some positive self-talk. “Let me be realistic and try to be objective here,” I tell myself. “It’s time to adjust my attitude.”
How exactly can you overcome imposter syndrome and self-doubt? I have some suggestions that have worked for me. Try them and see if they help you.
- REALISTIC GOALS: Set realistic, attainable goals. Step back and try to regain some objectivity about your situation. Stop expecting yourself to be perfect. There is no such thing as perfection. Mistakes actually help you learn and grow. They define a problem, and now you can solve it! Think of each mistake as a puzzle to solve, a challenge to improve.
- SMALL STEPS: Break up overwhelming tasks into small and manageable steps. In a painting, don’t try to paint everything all at once, including all the layers and details. Focus on one task at a time.
- BE POSITIVE: Focus on the positive. Even if you notice something you don’t like, make a conscious effort to notice all the good work you’ve done. This approach will start to change your critical focus and build a positive new habit. Remind yourself of all the things you’re good at.
- NO NEGATIVE SELF-TALK: Cultivate self-compassion. Be kind and encouraging to yourself. You’ll enjoy life more and begin to appreciate yourself and your work. Enjoy the process of painting.
- AVOID COMPARISONS: Avoid comparing yourself to others. You are unique. No one has had the experiences you’ve had, or has your viewpoint, which is as valid as those of others. If you look to comparisons as a way to gauge your successes and the quality of your work, you will always find others more skilled than you (as well as less skilled). Believe that you are progressing at the rate that is right for you. To compare your progress to someone else’s will only increase your insecurities. An environment where you feel safe, comfortable, and accepted rather than ‘lesser than’ is vital for your creativity.
- FOCUS ON PROCESS: One important way to recover from perfectionism is to begin focusing more on the PROCESS of reaching TOWARD a goal, rather than just focusing on results and the goal itself.
- ACTION: Self-doubt feeds on inaction, so choose your best option and get something done! Stop overthinking. Stop ruminating, worrying, or second-guessing yourself. The people who push through imposter syndrome have one thing in common: they don’t abandon the situation that they find themselves in — they don’t give up. They turn their fear of failure and embarrassment into a motivational tool to keep moving forward. Your achievements do not define your self-worth. As Fred Rogers might say, “You’re perfect just the way you are.”
- SEPARATE FEELINGS FROM FACTS: What you’re thinking and feeling about yourself is not necessarily the ‘truth.’ Don’t believe every thought you have. Having a thought over and over does not make it fact. When you FEEL inadequate, it doesn’t mean you ARE inadequate. Never define yourself as a failure, because what you believe will then become reality. Examine your self-doubts. If you can change your thoughts and your internal beliefs, you will break through your feelings of imposter syndrome. What you think and believe creates your results. Let go of the pressure that you’re putting on yourself to be great. Doing your best work will be just right.
In summary, most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important part is not to let that doubt control your actions. The trick is doing what you do ANYWAY, despite your insecurity and anxiety. Don’t deny your strengths, or you will remain trapped in imposter syndrome. Give yourself credit for your efforts, and celebrate all the improvements you make.
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