Responses to last week’s post “Stop Labeling Yourself an Imposter” showed me I wasn’t alone. Many creatives are caught in that self-destructive loop. It revealed that many of us don’t know how to self-validate. We need a set of self-validation tools for creatives.
Creatives often look for validation from creators we respect or from the consumers of our creations. That is not healthy for our arts or for us as individuals. The list of self-validation for creatives is the same as for any human, but many creatives spend their free time developing tools for their creativity while neglecting themselves.
Neglecting yourself either physically or emotionally will ultimately affect your ability to accomplish what you want to accomplish. You know the physical toll your art takes on you. You know how you can counteract that. Do you know the toll your emotional side takes?
You are your most important asset. Invest in knowing yourself and recognizing unhelpful thought distortions.
Our brains protect us from danger. We survive because our brain is always on alert for signs of danger. It makes connections so that hearing a roaring dinosaur or saber-toothed tiger means danger and signals us to fight or run in an instant. When we live in environments where we are often in immediate physical danger, this ability is vital to our survival.
Unfortunately, our brain still works this way when we don’t live in such physical danger. It continues to make connections between thoughts, ideas, actions, and consequences, whether or not there are actual connections. You come to believe certain things are true when they are irrational or distorted or false. You act on those ideas without thinking about them any further. Psychologists call those kinds of thought, thought distortions.
Thought distortions are when your brain lies to you. What? You say that doesn’t happen to you? Consider these common thought distortions:
- I cannot do this thing all other creatives can do, so I am not creative. (All-or-nothing thinking)
- You miscount your stitches for a dozen rows and give up on that project you’re knitting because you just aren’t good enough. (Overgeneralization)
- Several of your beta readers don’t get their comments back to you, which must mean that they hated your book. (Mind Reading)
There are many other types of thought distortion. Positive Psychology’s article, “Cognitive Distortions: When Your Brain Lies to You,” lists sixteen types.
10 Self-Validation Tools
1. Increase Your Self-Awareness
The more aware you are of your feelings and how other people and your environment affect your feelings, the more likely you will stop thought distortions. How do you increase your self-awareness?
There are many online self-assessment tests to help you learn about yourself. Look for ones by psychologist or mental health specialists. Tests like Myers Briggs personality test may help. Take them, but don’t accept their analysis 100%. Use the results to explore what they mean to you. If you have a strong emotional response to a result, don’t blow it off. Stop and analyze why you respond that way.
Be present. Meditate or do yoga. Practice mindfulness.
Keep a thought journal. Remember, a journal doesn’t have to be a diary, it can be a collage of images, it can be colors—use the ways you best express yourself. Document not only how you feel but what or who affected your emotions.
Read. There are thousands and thousands of self-help books. Find one that appeals to you, one that will help you become more self-aware. Give yourself time to read and think about what it says and how that relates to you.
2. Don’t Over Identify with Your Feelings
There is a difference between saying, I am angry, and saying, I feel angry. Your feelings are not who you are. You may feel angry many times, but you are not anger. Notice how it’s much more likely you will over identify with a negative emotion like anger or fear than a more positive emotion like love. I am love can be just as harmful as I am angry.
Emotional responses are normal. But remember that you are more than one thing. You are many things. You have many feelings. Recognize all your feelings.
3. Practice Acceptance
Notice your feelings without judgment. I feel angry. Sit with your feelings. Allow yourself to be angry or sad, or even happy. Give yourself the time and space to feel that way. Accept your feelings. Comfort yourself the way a kind parent would. It is normal to feel angry in this circumstance. You won’t feel this way forever. It is a feeling. You can feel it and not act on it. It’s okay. You’re okay.
4. Ask Yourself What Do You Need
If you are not used to knowing what you need, this will take practice. Ask yourself, do I need time alone? Often, your first answer isn’t a genuine need. Dig deeper. Do I need to speak kindly to myself? Do I need a hug? Do I need some physical exercise or sunshine and fresh air? Try to recognize your needs without using food, unless you are genuinely hungry. Many of us use food to stuff or not feel our feelings.
5. Turn Shame Into Praise
I didn’t do it perfect, I’m such a loser is hurtful. Why do that to yourself? If you can’t be kind to yourself, you can’t accept anyone else’s kindness. Turn the unkindness, the shame, into praise. Honey, no one gets it perfect the first time. Look at you, you’re learning a new skill. Pretty good for a first try. Look at what you did! You did so much better than your last attempt. You are good enough exactly as you are. With practice sessions like that, you’ll be great in no time.
6. Practice Positive Self-talk
Similar to turning shame into praise, you need to practice positive self-talk. Negative self-talk, like calling yourself names or telling yourself you shouldn’t even try or you’ll never fit in, is more hurtful than someone else saying that to you.
Practice positive self-talk at least once a day. Write three things that empower yourself. Then say those things aloud to yourself at least once a day. Every day. For at least eight weeks, give yourself a dose of positive thoughts every morning. Ideally, you’ll do it every evening, too. Even, or maybe especially, when you don’t feel it. How much better you feel at the end of that eight weeks and how much easier it is to say those things will amaze you. Rinse and repeat with a set of different positive things to say about yourself.
7. Know Your Strengths
Sometimes, it is difficult to know what our strengths are. It may take a lot of self-examination and even then, we rarely see ourselves objectively. Ask a trusted friend to name the strengths they see in you. If this friend is kind and trusted, ask them to name one weakness they see in you.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you perform better. Can help you focus on areas of improvement. Sometimes the best improvements you can make are to your strengths.
8. Celebrate Your Victories
Congratulate yourself for every victory, even the small ones. Find (non-food related) ways to reward yourself for the larger victories. Allow yourself time to watch a new movie or to play a game or walk in your favorite park. Make your celebrations proportional, but give it enough time to sink in.
9. Read Inspirational Things
Inspirational quotes and memes are helpful, but sometimes you need more inspiration. It isn’t always easy to find inspiration. The news rarely reports positive things. You’ll have to look for them. What inspires me and inspires you may be opposite things. That’s okay. Find articles and books (physical, electronic, or audio) that are inspirational to you.
10. Be with Inspirational People
Yes, even in the age of COVID, this is possible. You can practice social distancing and wear a mask at conventions or conferences. Of course, there are many online options like Zoom and Skype. Even reading the biography or the works of inspirational people can count.
If you have clinical depression, are under mental health care treatments, please consult your mental health professional about how these things will work for you. If you are not currently under the care of a mental health professional, please get help. We need you and your unique talents in the world.
Self-Validation Tools for Creatives
There are dozens of more self-validation tools easily available on the internet. Here are links to some of my source material to get you started.
Sharon Martin wrote a helpful article titled Validate Yourself.
Psych Central lists 4 ways to validate yourself.
Thought Catalog also has an article about validating yourself.
You are Not Alone
Everyone suffers from some negative self-talk. Certainly, many creatives need to learn ways to self-validate. Even people who think themselves non-creative suffer from thought distortion. But look at you, awareness is half the battle.
Now that you’re aware, what will be your next step to self-validate?