It doesn’t matter who you are, how healthy you eat, or how many sit-ups you do, anyone, at any time, can be stalked by the silent killer on panther paws: doubt. From doctors to lawyers to new adult dark fantasy writers, each is equally likely to be pounced unexpectedly, usually at the most inopportune moments. For me, I know it often comes just as I try to settle in to sleep. I could be exhausted, a day that has run me hard and put me away wet, yet those little tendrils of doubt slither their way into my brain. Then we’re off to the races. My mind won’t stop. Anxiety whips my thoughts into a fury. At this point I might as well and get up and do something. There will be no sleeping tonight.
Between Facebook, Twitter, blogs and professional meetings, I see I’m far from the only one. This hunter stalks indeterminately and is always hungry. What gets me is not only do I feel it at night; I see it in my students every day. Whether it is holding back an answer or losing points on a test due to anxiety, doubt has a near emotional monopoly on the world reaching every man, woman and, yes, child. Also, unlike my books, there are no vampires to save us from it.
No, defeating doubt is not a passive skill. In fact, the more we hide and hope it’ll take someone else and go away, the worse it gets. Fighting it is an active counterattack requiring strategy; we have to engage in this battle every day if we hope to keep the clutches of depression and defeat at bay. In dark days and hard moments, when our blinders are the thickest, our sparring techniques can be forgotten, so today I thought I would force myself to remember what they are.
- Stop and Breathe. Bring the world and your responsibilities down to the size of your breath.
- Don’t Ignore It. Making pretend everything is okay will only make you feel guiltier.
- Don’t feel guilty. Emotions happen. You are already taking charge.
- Probe the points of doubt with questions. Where did it come from? What do I know about it?
- Is the source real and concrete, or am I creating my doubt through perceptions? Check to see if there was an actual cause that I can deal with or work on. If not, identify it as a neurotic doubt and ask why I have created this for myself.
- Don’t judge or compare: Work with the hand I’ve got. I can play no one’s life but my own. Woulda, shoulda, coulda will get me nowhere. All I can do is make a plan from this point forward with the real world, not the one in my head.
- Create a plan and put it into action. I feel more in control when there are steps I can take. Figure out what I can do right now and do at least one thing.
- Have a way to remind myself of all that I have and can accomplish. Have this ready before, prepared when I feel good and confident. Create a Victory Deck of index cards, each with something on it that I’m proud I’ve accomplished. Remembering this when doubt has its claws in me will never work.
- Change something small physically into a confident gesture. Whether that is the way I walk, my posture or my facial expressions, changing something small about myself into something more confident can set off a chain reaction.
- Go do something I know will build my confidence. Whether it is an activity, a hobby, a game, cook some food. Just do something that makes me feel confident. It can even be just putting on a piece of clothing that makes me feel stronger or better.
So there’s my 10 step chain that I use to make darker times of self-doubt better. No supernatural shifters or vicious vampires required. Just active steps to chase away my internal ghosts. So, dear Dreamers, what’s yours? I would love to learn how to be stronger and better and you may just have my clue. What works for you?