“Doubt is natural and healthy. It keeps us humble, but it needs to be partnered with strong affirming voices.” Shaun McNiff
Lately I’ve noticed how beginning a new painting frequently brings up feelings of self-doubt and fear. Can I turn this subject into a satisfying painting? Do I have what it takes? Will it work or will I just be wasting my time? Because these questions can never be answered in advance, I often hesitate and start stalling. My favorite stalling statics include shopping, reading, and spending time researching pet topics (happily, I can report that my stalling tactics rarely involve cleaning house!).
I’ve noticed a few other things, too. Trying to resist doubt and fear doesn’t work, and trying to make them go away doesn’t work either. So, because stalling can lead to big-time procrastination and become a major obstacle to getting my work done, I’ve begun to anticipate that doubt and fear will definitely be showing up when I choose my next subject to paint. Rather than trying to resist or ignore them, I’ve decided to step out of the way, acknowledge their presence, accept them, and just let them be.
Recently I had shelves installed on the wall across from my painting table so that I could display photos of some of my favorite completed paintings and paintings in progress. This has turned out to be a great source of support and encouragement when the inevitable happens and doubt and fear show up at my studio door. Now, when I start feeling anxious and want to abandon ship in favor of greener pastures, all I have to do is look up and I’m reminded that I’ve been there before and that these doubts and fears are natural and will probably always be stage one of my personal creative process. Looking at my wall of paintings instantly puts me in touch with the confident part of me who struggled, persisted, failed, recovered, and went on to create some paintings that I really do love. Of course, I have to actually be working at my painting table for all that to happen, and showing up and working on my work is the best way I know of to partner doubt and fear with self-confidence, because when I’m completely and passionately engaged with my painting, my paints, and the creative process itself, doubt and fear seem to disappear all on their own.