Growing Designers

The Illusion of Creative Confidence

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If you follow my Instagram, you might know that in between snapshots of my working practices and pictures of design work, I sometimes post up bits about creative confidence.

I do this because this is something dear to my heart – I’m acutely aware of all the times that I look at people’s Instagrams, blogs and feeds and although I find it inspirational, I also find myself thinking:

“How are you so perfect and amazing at everything you do?!”

Especially when I was earlier in my career, this presentation of unerring confidence and unwavering self-belief by others made me think that this is what needed to achieve; that once I got to that point, I would truly feel like I knew what I was doing and everything would be brilliant.

Of course, I now realise that this is complete bullshit.

The Illusion of Creative Confidence

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this:

Everybody, and I mean everybody, has self-doubts, anxieties, and low self-confidence about something. Some people are just better at performing deception, misdirection and camouflage. 

These are three strategies that I’ve noticed that people can deploy to bolster their creative confidence:

Deception is straight up lying about your self doubt, to both yourself and to others. I do this when I’m trying to psyche myself up and bully my mind into believing that “I AM AMAZING AT PRESENTATIONS AND I’VE GOT THIS!” even when I actually know that I’m about to pass out. Or, when I tell my boss that yes of course I’d love to run that workshop, when actually my brain is telling me to run as fast as possible in the other direction.

Misdirection is when you emphasise the parts of yourself that you are really confident about so that people will focus on that rather than the other stuff that you aren’t at all confident about. Look over here at my amazing skills at X so you don’t notice that I hate doing Y.

Camouflage is when you mask your low confidence or anxiety with another feeling. I do this all the time when I’m nervous about something. I’ll try and act happy or excited in the hope that this masks the nervous tension I’m feeling.

Deploying and combining these three strategies gives you a powerful tool: the illusion of creative confidence.

It’s an illusion because you know on the inside that its all a big fat lie. However, the best thing about this illusion is that after deploying it for a while, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The more you act with creative confidence, the more you’ll actually start to feel creatively confident. It’s weird but your brain seems to just start to forget that its all a big fat lie and ends up rewriting the anxious and doubting parts of your brain with this new and more confident you.

Now, I’ve made it sound easy, and of course, as with anything worthwhile, it’s not easy at all.

It can be really difficult to not let yourself slide back into those well-worn neural pathways of self doubt and low confidence. It can be even more difficult to do this in the face of real life, where maybe you’re getting messages that reinforce that self-doubt.

To this end, I’ve experimented with ways to help me quickly kickstart my illusion of creative confidence when I find myself sliding back like this. And I’ve found that just simply running through the three strategies in my mind on a regular basis helps to reinforce their behaviours.

In trying to remember the three strategies, I’ve helpfully utilised… Run-D.M.C!

As you may have spotted, Run-D.M.C includes an acronym that corresponds to the three strategies of the illusion of creative confidence:

  • Deception
  • Misdirection
  • Camouflage

Using Run-D.M.C., I’ve found it a lot easier to remember these three strategies and to deploy them quickly in different scenarios. Just muttering “Run DMC!” to myself can sometimes do the trick to remind me quickly of three things that can help me act with more creative confidence.

So if your creative confidence is flagging, give it a go! Have a think about which of the three strategies – deception, misdirection and camouflage – might be effective in helping you in that situation.

The path is never straight or easy. We can only keep moving forward. Hopefully something in here can make that a little easier for you, as it has done so many times for me.

Design lead, watermelon addict, Leuchtterm notebook obsessive. I just enjoy designing great experiences for people that just work, writing about my craft and connecting with designers everywhere. Find me on Instagram, Twitter and Google+.

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