It’s difficult to write when there’s a loud voice in your head telling you to stop, that you’re writing is crap, and that what you’re trying to do is pointless because no one will ever, or should ever, read it.
Away from the keyboard I feel inspired and capable to share my story, to write about mental health and burnout and like i’m really itching to write down all my thoughts but as soon as I get to my keyboard and see that cursed blinking vertical line, my inspiration vanishes and self-doubt returns.
In measured amounts self-doubt can be a good thing. I wouldn’t go as far as the writer Theodora Goss goes and reframing it as a strength, arguing that feelings of self-doubt can push us to work harder and strive to meet the high expectations that we have of ourselves. But just like strengthening a muscle requires pushing it to new limits and comes with some discomfort, so does growth in other areas of our life. It makes sense that we question our ability to do something when we’re doing something different, when we’re treading new ground and pushing ourselves to new levels. Those feelings of doubt are reminders that we are trying something difficult.
The thoughts telling us to give up can easily overpower our determination to continue, as my many and extended absences indicate. So what can be done when the feelings of self-doubt become paralyzing?
For one, awareness. Becoming aware of what we’re feeling and recognizing that it is self-doubt, and not something else that’s holding us back allows us to get the support we need to continue. Instead of continuing to beat ourselves up for not making more progress or providing more space for all that negative self-chatter to continue, pause and ask, what do I need at this moment? Is it a break? Support? To do something different? Just putting one’s head down and pushing forward isn’t necessarily the solution. There are times when that might work, but it doesn’t deal with the underlying issue. There are smarter ways of working and we need to find them. I, for example, know that I need more support. I need someone who I can bounce ideas off of, who can challenge me and who can encourage me when the thoughts get too tough.
I doubt that there’s a support network, pre-writing ritual or writing schedule that will forever keep our feelings of self-doubt at bay so maybe we also have to learn to live with it and get used to it. Instead of denying it, maybe welcome it in and find it a seat that isn’t right in front of you and try to continue. You’ve made it this far, is there any reason you can’t go a little bit further?