7 Ways To Dial Down Doubt And Crank Up Creativity

Don’t give those negative voices in your head more traction than they deserve.

7 Ways To Dial Down Doubt And Crank Up Creativity
[Photo: Flickr user Balint Földesi]

“I doubt it.” How many times have you uttered those words? More importantly, how many times have doubts and fears prevented you from pursuing fresh ideas or launching creative projects?


“All of us, whether we are in show business or not, have little voices that tell us we’re not good enough and we don’t deserve it,” Ellen DeGeneres told the New York Times earlier this year.

I call those little voices of self-doubt the Negative News Network. Here are seven tips for pulling the plug on this insidious internal broadcasting system:

1. Listen Up

Carefully listen to your Negative News Network and record what you hear on a sheet of paper.

“Write down all of your angers and fears related to finishing a project,” suggests Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. “Sometimes they’re very petty: I’m afraid I’ll finish it and no one will think it’s any good. I’m afraid I’ll finish it, and I won’t think it’s any good.” Get doubts out of your head and exposed to the light of day.

2. Ask Yourself Three Questions

Now that the doubts are out in the open, ask yourself:

  • Is it true? Is it true what the Negative News Network is saying? Are you absolutely sure it’s true? If doubts aren’t anchored in absolute truth, then why pay attention to them?
  • Can you do it? Do you have the basic skills for this idea or project? If so, why not at least give it a go?
  • What’s the best and worst that can happen? Be honest. Usually the very best scenario makes the risks worthwhile, and the worst turns out to be far less than you had feared.

3. Recognize The Futility Of Worry

Marketing guru Seth Godin often says that worry is “experiencing failure in advance over and over again.” And Steven Dubner, co-author of Super Freakonomics, says, “If you don’t fill up your mental bandwidth with the things most people worry about, you have room to think about more things, ask more questions, and create more.” Worry simply doesn’t work, so why let it rent space in your head?


4. Notice Who’s Whispering In Your Ear

Do the people around you spew negativity and discourage forward motion? Stop befriending people who aren’t friends of your creativity. Instead, surround yourself with those who support and encourage your ideas.

5. Play Your Highlight Reel

On mornings when I find myself staring at a blank computer screen and doubting I’ll ever write another article or book, I take time to read over a few of my past writings that have been well-received. Pretty soon, I’m pecking away at the keyboard, figuring if I’ve done it before, I can do it again. To reassure yourself that you have what it takes, review your past success stories.

6. Explore More

Your internal Negative News Network can’t stand curiosity. There’s no room in its programming for captivating books and compelling films, stimulating websites and provocative blogs, ethnic foods and alluring shops. Fire up imagination and shut down doubts by staying highly curious about your world.

7. Make Something

Writing about the Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, author Patricia Volk tells of the time Schiaparelli’s charlatan husband ran off with dancer Isadora Duncan. Alone and penniless, Schiaparelli gives birth to her only child. “And what does she ask for from her hospital bed?” asks Volk. “A lump of clay. She is not happy unless she is making something.”

The same is likely true with you. You’re unquestionably not happy when in doubt and fear; you’re assuredly happier when creating. So dial down doubts by surging into action. Just get moving and make something!

Sam Harrison is an in-demand speaker on creativity-related topics and presentation skills. His books include IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea, IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your creative ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers, and Zing!: Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command. Find him at