If you work in a creative profession, you've likely battled with self-doubt at one point or another.
Perfectionism is the bane of any creative professional's existence. Constant insecurity about the quality of your own work can cause creative paralysis and make it difficult to stay motivated. And that's a big problem if being creative is how you make a living.
Unfortunately, there's no quick fix for developing confidence in your own work, but we've shared a few exercises here that will help get you started on the right path. Check them out below to start building creative confidence and a renewed sense of purpose in your work.
4 Exercises that Boost Creative Confidence
1) Learn a creative skill outside your comfort zone.
If you're a copywriter, take up photography. If you're a graphic designer, sign up for a cooking class. If you're a painter, try poetry.
It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it falls outside of your usual creative grind. Once you start earning a living in a creative field, it's easy to get stuck in a rut -- you're getting paid to produce creative work in a single area, so why should you try anything that doesn't directly relate to it?
Stepping outside of your creative comfort zone and trying a new skill can have a positive impact on your creative confidence. Author Srinivas Rao calls it creative cross-training, and it can help creative professionals embrace new points of view and come up with fresh ideas in their respective fields.
You don't have to become an expert in the new field, you just have to try it out and commit to experimentation without self-judgment. Rao, a podcast host and writer, tried out realism drawing and found it gave him a new appreciation for everyday objects:
When I read the book Teach Yourself to Draw in 30 Days, I learned so many things about why nothing I drew ever looked real. I learned about the role that light and shadows play. I learned about how to create depth in my drawings. But more than anything, I learned how to see all the things that I had never noticed before when I looked at everyday objects.
Challenge yourself to try a new skill outside of your field for 30 days. Take a class, get a book on the subject, or just search the web for tutorials. It doesn't matter how you learn it, as long as you commit to it fully and approach it with an open mind.
2) Embrace checklists.
Checklists end up getting a mention in many articles on productivity and creativity because they really work. Setting small, attainable goals and marking them as complete not only helps us keep big projects on track, it also boosts our confidence and gives us more creative freedom.
Worried that checklists are too rigid or confining to be useful in a creative profession? The exact opposite is true, according to psychologist and career coach Marty Nemko. "You won't feel confined," Nemko wrote in Psychology Today. "Knowing you'll remember everything will free-up the brain space to use your creativity ... safely."
When we cross something off our checklist, our brains release dopamine -- the chemical that makes us happy. Using checklists to stimulate dopamine levels can help us form productive habits and feel good about accomplishing attainable tasks -- which in turn boosts our confidence. Psychologists call this effect self-directed learning.
When we acknowledge successful actions with a small reward (like checking off an item on a checklist), the resulting release of dopamine serves to "lock our attention to the current topic," which researchers at the University of Colorado say plays a role in "encouraging focused practice on tasks where success is possible but not certain." In other words, you're more motivated to complete the next task, because your brain knows it's going to be rewarded.
3) Start designing a flexible work process, not a rigid one.
Creative work can sometimes feel inherently unstructured (especially if you're a freelancer or work from home), but designing a process you can continually come back to can make conquering creative projects more methodical, and less of a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of endeavor. Having a proven approach to creative work helps us build confidence, giving us a method we can fallback on if we ever hit a creative block.
Designing a process around your work doesn't mean you need to immediately create a strict schedule for yourself or put intense expectations on your daily output. Going from no clearly defined process to a super-strict process overnight isn't realistic, and you risk setting yourself up for disappointment.
When we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to adhere to structured creative schedules, we usually only end up getting mad at ourselves when we fail to meet those lofty goals right away. This hurts our creative confidence, and makes us feel like we aren't disciplined/talented/productive enough.
Start documenting your process to see what works best for you, and build a daily creative practice around what you discover. Keep a record of everything you do each day for a week (work-related and non-work-related), and look for patterns on the days you were most productive and motivated.
4) Build keystone habits.
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, coined the term "keystone habits" to describe positive habits that have a strong correlation with other positive habits -- like a ripple effect of positivity. For example, exercising regularly has been proven to increase confidence levels and lead to healthier eating and sleeping habits. When you adopt keystone habits, a lot of other things in your life tend to fall into place.
Building keystone habits around your creative endeavors can help you develop more confidence in your work, and increase your overall productivity on a daily basis. Start by cultivating positive daily rituals you'll actually hold yourself accountable for, like developing a morning free-writing practice, preparing a meal completely from scratch, or even just making your bed. These seemingly small habits can add structure and intention to your day, resulting in more good habits and confidence down the line.
Originally published Jan 19, 2017 5:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017