Overcoming “The Doubt Spiral”

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This past week has been a series of obstacles for me—creative obstacles, emotional obstacles, physical obstacles—anything you can possibly think of has been throwing itself in my way. Whenever I get bombarded with obstacles like this, I start second-guessing everything I’m doing, both creatively and personally. I fall into what I call one of my “doubt spirals.” Here, let me play this out for you. Maybe you can relate.

The Doubt Spiral

Phase 1: Speed Bump-Sized Roadblock-I’m moving along, doing my thang, and BAM—obstacle one hits. Okay, I think, this was unexpected. Not sure how to deal with it. I’ll have to think it through.

Phase 2: Analysis- So, I spend some time thinking through the obstacle, which of course is distracting me from making progress elsewhere, but it’s a necessary evil. Some things need to be dealt with when they pop up. The longer you let them go on, the worse they can get. So, I think it through and find a reasonable solution that will get me over the hump. Awesome.

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Phase 3: Hill-Sized Roadblock- Back on track and feeling good and then BAM BAM—obstacle two. Whelp, I think, that was REALLY unexpected. How did that even happen? What does this even mean? How the heck do I fix this? The solution isn’t so simple for this one. In fact, it’s pretty complicated. Solving it seems impossible.

Phase 4: Panic- So, I think harder and longer, until this problem is the only thing I can think about and I’m bordering on obsessive. I feel like I can’t move forward with anything else until I figure this situation out. I also start doubting my decision on the first obstacle. So I seek outside advice and start sharing with people I trust. But because I’m already in the doubt spiral, this doesn’t necessarily help either. I start worrying about what they think, about how I’m coming across, about what I’m doing. But I do my best to pull it together and move it on forward. I try to focus on the tasks at hand, not the distractions.

Phase 4: Mountain-Sized Roadblock- Back trying to focus and figure out how to make progress. Still a little distracted. Still not thinking clearly. Focusing on the positive like every good self-help book would tell me to. Feeling more confused than ever and BAM BAM BAM—obstacle number three. You have GOT to be freaking kidding me! REALLY LIFE?! REALLY?! What, was I over-due for a train wreck situation or something? Okay, you win. I give up. I. Just. Can’t.

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Phase 5: Surrender- By this point, I’m emotionally exhausted and thinking clearly about anything is not going to happen. This is when you learn who your true friends are because only the people who really love and respect you will deal with you during this phase. Three things occur next: 1. I vent to the few people still willing to listen. 2. I have a breakdown and an ugly-cry that could rival the best Kim Kardashian meme (see above). 3. I find the nearest bottle of wine and make it mine. It’s not a pretty phase and may require a few days of recovery time.

Phase 6: Rebuild- Once the dust clears, and the chaos settles, a time comes when I know I need to keep going. Because crap happens and it always will. That’s life. I may be passionate and dramatic and over-emotional (to put it nicely), and these things might cause me to occasionally lose my way, but they’re also the things that keep me fighting for what I believe in and want. I like to think they also keep me interesting.

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Maybe you can relate to this, or maybe I’m just crazy and you can’t. Either way, I know we all have times when life hits us with more than what we think we can handle. This is when the tiny voice in our heads starts saying those two horrible words—I can’t. This voice is the worst critic a person can have. I don’t know about you, but my inner critic is relentless and darn right mean. It can be impossible to shake.

But today I read an article (check it out here) that reminded me of a few things. After I read it, I started to feel a little better because it was all very true. Especially this quote:

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I tend to get down on myself about “being a mess” and not having everything together. But being passionate about things, people, or subjects shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing. Wanting to make things the best that I can, although frustrating, is just a sign of how important that thing is to me, and it should be for you too. I’m proud of my ability to always keep fighting for what I want. I’m proud of my ability to care that much.

Times like this also make me very thankful and aware of the importance of having a good support system, for my writing and my life. A friend of mine said something to me this week that speaks volumes, “The people who really love you will see your weaknesses and try to lift you up in these weak places. They won’t use them as ammunition against you or to make you feel lower.” I’m lucky enough to have a small but awesome group of critique partners, friends, and family members who do just that. When I get down, I try to remember who these people are and be thankful for any help they offer.

So, when the obstacles start coming your way, and you start sliding down that “Doubt Spiral,” remember that “this too shall pass.” Eventually, after the ugly-cry and bottle of wine, you’ll see things a bit more clearly and be able to start again. It may take a hard truth from a trusted friend, a complete redo of a project, or a deep analysis of yourself, but you will find a way to rebuild. You have to if you want to achieve your goals. After all, nothing worth having is ever achieved easily.

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