Happiness, Journey

How to Fight Negative Self-talk

That damn little voice. You know the one. You’re reaching into your soul on a project or piece, attempting to reach new artistic heights, when you hear it:

“Wow. That’s embarrassing. I can’t believe you went to school for this; clearly you wasted your money. You should have gone into law or medicine, something useful, because you’re never going to make it as an artist, blah, blah, blah…”

Inevitably you end up fighting the voice (which is exhausting) or giving into it (hello half finished projects that never see the light of day). So what do you do? How can you win against an enemy that lives inside your head and knows your deepest insecurities? 

It’s not easy to win that war, but it is possible!

FIRST YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DEALING WITH

So what’s the deal with this stupid voice? What is it, and why does it insist on making life miserable for you? Remember in Inside Out (and if you haven’t seen it, please do! It’s a real gem) how all the protagonist’s emotions live inside her as individual beings? There’s Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. 

Well, that negative voice that you hear, telling you that what you’re doing is no good and should be abandoned NOW, RIGHT NOW, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, is none other than your very own Pixar animated personified emotion. If you haven’t figured it out already, that little voice is none other than Fear. 

In Inside Out, Fear is depicted as a spindly green scaredy-cat that gets freaked out by everything. I love that interpretation, but am pretty sure that my Fear is more like the three year old version of me: super small, shy and terrified of anything she’s not sure of. And just like in her favourite movie, The Wizard of Oz, my Fear has created a glorious way to pretend she’s more mighty than she is; she hides behind a curtain and speaks to me in a terrifying giant- headed- monster voice (or something that sounds like me if I were my angry bitter grand-mother): condescending, know-it-all, fear mongering. 

The thing is, just like my grand-mother, Fear speaks the way she does because she has my best interest at heart. She is, after all, a survivor. 

 FEAR IS NECESSARY 

Fear developed as a way to help us survive the dangers we had to contend with for most of humanity’s time on the planet. Before the modern era, we lived in a world where things that might eat us could appear at any moment. Fear kept us cautious and aware and told us to stay close to our pack, because the chance of survival was higher with others around us. We want to fit in so that we don’t die. Makes sense, right? The problem is that we no longer need to fear tigers and lions and bears (oh, my!) jumping out at us from behind a bush.  Or at least, most of us don’t. But Fear can’t differentiate between a true danger, like a tiger on the loose, or an imagined danger, like our art being ridiculed. And Fear hasn’t caught on to the fact that we no longer live in the same world as our ancestors, where not fitting into our group could mean being outcast. For most of us, we can find our own people if the ones we’re currently with don’t accept us. Hooray for modernity!

The world has changed around us, but Fear remains the same as it ever was, and will do absolutely anything to survive. So if you think that voice you’re hearing is incredibly harsh and doesn’t sound at all like a sweet little scared doodle, that makes sense. Fear will do and say absolutely anything to protect you from whatever it deems a threat, which includes doing anything vulnerable, like creating art. 

Great, so now we know what that voice is, how do we deal with it? I’m sure there are many ways to deal with Fear, these are just a few of the ones that I’ve found helpful. And remember, that voice is never going to totally go away—Fear is apart of you and will always be with you (and really you don’t want it to vanish completely. It is the voice that keeps you safe, after all!) The goal here is to learn how to handle it when it starts preventing you from being your true vulnerable, creative self. 

FEAR DOESN’T KNOW MORE THAN YOU… IT JUST SOUNDS LIKE IT DOES

Just like the Wizard of Oz, Fear is just a little frightened being hiding behind a curtain, speaking bigger than it has any right to do. It will say things that sound true, with an authority that you might find hard to dispute, but it’s all just a show. It literally can’t know more than you because it is you. Fear will tell you that your work is no good, that no one will like it, that you are a failure— but how does it know what other people think? Do you know what is on every single person’s mind? Can you guarantee that there’s no one out there who would appreciate what you do? Of course not. You’re not omniscient, and neither is Fear. Everything it says is A BIG FAT LIE. 

GIVE FEAR A NAME

Imagine pulling back the curtain and discovering Fear hiding behind it. What does it look like? Does it look like you, or someone you know, or maybe it’s not human at all. What is its name? When it sees you’ve discovered its secret is it angry? Humiliated? Scared?  Really take the time to “see” your Fear. 

Once you know what your Fear looks like, and its name, you can finally have a conversation with it, rather than just listening to what it has to say. I like doing this exercise by writing down what I want to say to my Fear, but if you want to imagine it, or have a full out conversation, you do you. The most important thing is to just begin a dialogue with this voice. Find out what exactly it’s afraid of. Take the time to let it know that there’s nothing to truly be afraid of, and that being vulnerable is a strength not a weakness. Reassure it that it’s safe; being safe is very important to Fear. It constantly needs to be reminded that everything is gonna be okay. 

And don’t forget why you’re creating. There’s a reason you want to be vulnerable and push yourself to new artistic heights. Know what it is, and let it be your guiding light. If you have a strong clear reason for creation, you will have the energy to deal with Fear when it rears its ugly head. 

KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING

Hopefully after a good long talk you will have Fear on your side for the moment, but no matter how quiet Fear might be after you calm it down, it will speak up again at some point. Unless you’re devoid of emotion, it’s never truly going to leave you and that’s ultimately a good thing. The important thing for you to remember is that dealing with negative self-talk is not a one step method, it’s a practice. You need to keep the conversation with Fear going. As long as you remember that that nasty voice is really just a scared little wimp looking for your reassurance and trying to scare you to protect you, you should be able to keep it in line. Just take it moment by moment, hold onto the why of your creation, and remember— YOU GOT THIS.

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