“The Doubt Demon”, illustrated by evan austin. Visit graphics (and more!) by evan austin to learn more.
If you’re old enough or kitschy enough, you might remember Don Music of Sesame Street who was convinced he’d never get his song right. Some things stick with you, and the image of the scraggly musician Muppet banging his head against the piano in frustration still amuses me. It’s even become a bit of a joke within my family. When one of us is particularly frustrated we simulate head-against-piano and wail, “I’ll never get it right, never, never, never!”
In honor of this month’s Carnival, with the topic focused squarely on enemies of the small business, I conjured up that image of head-banging Don because he fit perfectly with a nemesis that I’ve met many times before: “I’ll never get it right”, otherwise known as the Doubt Demon.
The Doubt Demon sneaks into the middle of your prospecting meetings and tells you that you’ll never make the sale and that the competition is better/cheaper/smarter than you.
The Doubt Demon keeps you awake at night, whispering that you’re terrible at content marketing, that your email list hates you (or at the least is completely ignoring you), that your website is old, your Facebook page boring, your client list too small.
And this guy is persistent because even if you’ve had a few successes, even if you’ve had a whole bunch of them, he insists you were just lucky and that you’re bound to get it wrong next time.
He wants you to think about quitting your business. He wants you to stop blogging/tweeting/networking because you just don’t know how to do it right. And you never will.
The worst thing about the Doubt Demon is that he can change shape. Sometimes he’s a gigantic looming monster (You want me to speak at what? I’ll stutter! I’ll forget everything!) and others he’s a wisp of smoke, clinging to your sleeve as you reread your blog post for the 47th time and wonder if you should change that one sentence… again…
The Doubt Demon is resilient, so as a business owner you need to be even more so. You can beat this creep down, if you remember these tricks every time he so much as whispers from across the room.
Find Inspiration In Unusual Places
Whenever you get creatively stuck, you can bet that the Doubt Demon is snickering over your shoulder, telling you how boring you are, lurking until you believe that your blog post stinks, your email is a snoozefest, your products are irrelevant.
You can wallow in your lack of inspiration while the demon grows fat on your malaise or you can squash him flat by doing something that gets you out of your head and gives your brain cells a few minutes to breathe and start firing again.
Here are a few things I like to do when I’m stuck:
Leave the room. Banal, right? But you’d be surprised by how picking up your laptop and moving from the kitchen to the living room can help. Go to the park, sit on a rock in the backyard, switch desks with someone nearby.
You don’t need to fly off to Bali (though I wouldn’t stop you if you did!) to get inspired. You just need to change the scenery. I do my best blogging curled up in a chair in a corner of my living room. My knees get stiff, my back kills and I inevitably eat too many Oreos but I repent later because while I’m there, the words flow.
Find your happy place – or just find another place – and leave the doubts in the other room.
Play. I don’t mean figurative play, the grown-up kind that usually means “go for a run” or “throw a Frisbee to your dog”. I mean go back to your childhood when it never crossed your mind to doubt that you could leap off a swing and land on your feet from ten feet up.
Do you know what I love to do? Color. Yes, in a coloring book. With crayons. I also love Play-do and Lego and blocks and pasting stickers all over my books.
If there’s one thing doubt hates it’s joy. And what’s more joyful than being a kid again? Buy yourself a Barbie doll or a Matchbox car or whatever makes you feel giddy. I promise it will change your perspective.
Listen to my mother. I have a series on this very blog that’s inspired by conversations I have with my mother. Sometimes when I’m stuck I call her and say, “Mom, complain about something, ok? I need a blog idea…”
She’s happy to oblige.
But that’s just me. Smack down your doubts by finding someone to talk to, preferably someone who is outside your business sphere. It will bring a whole new perspective to things and can get your gears turning in completely different directions.
Stop Playing The Comparison Game
Doesn’t it seem like some people were born into their awesomeness? They work from the beach in Cabo and tell you how you should do it, too. They travel the world speaking and meeting impressive people. Maybe it’s not even that dramatic and they just seem… well, better than you. They have cool logos and brilliant taglines and always seem to be popping out a new product to rave reviews.
The Doubt Demon giggles like a little girl whenever you get all starry-eyed over these people because he knows you’ll eventually start second-guessing everything you do. Your marketing won’t be quite good enough, your talents will fall short. You’ll dredge up every failure and extensively detail your shortcomings as a business owner.
The only thing I can tell you is: stop.
Maybe some people are born awesome but most of them work hard to get there and they might not admit it but I bet it’s not all roses for them either.
Whenever you start to slide into “I’m not good enough-ism”, do a complete reverse-course and start cataloging your successes instead.
Remember the time you closed a big sale, wrote an inspiring email or just got a sincere thank-you call from someone you truly helped.
I have an awesome plot of mint growing in my backyard, and it’s not Cabo but it makes a mean mojito. And it’s mine.
You’re not that other person. And you don’t have to be.
Imagine The Worst Thing That Can Happen
Sometimes the Doubt Demon gets hold of our deep-seated fears and squeezes.
That speaking engagement? You’re going to sound stupid and people will yawn and check Facebook on their phones the whole time.
That important client meeting? You’re going to blow it and lose the sale. Then you’ll lose your house, your dog will run away and nobody will love you ever again.
We all have things that scare us, whether it’s irrational dread or a rational concern for consequences. Then we convince ourselves that failure is inevitable.
Do you hear the Doubt Demon shrieking laughter?
It can be tough to squash him totally, but we can back him into a corner until he’s just a sniveling pest.
Next time you fear something, think of the worst thing that can happen if everything goes utterly and terribly wrong. I bet you’ll discover one of two things…
You’ll realize that your fears are outlandish and you can focus on more realistic outcomes or…
You’ll realize that your fears have some merit and you’ll start thinking of ways to avoid a meltdown.
Another thing the Doubt Demon hates is empowerment, and that’s exactly what you’ll feel when you start treating your fears like a problem with a solution.
If you forget your speech on stage, your dog is probably not going to run off in disdain, but there may very well be a few awkward moments. Recognizing the reality will give you something concrete so you can come up with a plan to deal with challenges. And you know what else you’ll probably realize? That nobody ever died from a few awkward moments.
Tell Someone About It
When the Doubt Demon is nagging in your ear, go on a fishing expedition.
I’m talking about the kind where you tell your spouse, business partner, mastermind group or best friend about what a failure you are and how badly you’re messing up, then sit back and wait for them to contradict you.
I guarantee they’ll point out the amazing things you’ve accomplished, how smart you are, how much you know, and if they know you well enough, they’ll remind you of that one time when you did that one thing that was, like, the best, ever.
They can even help you work through your stuck place and come up with new ideas and solutions.
The Doubt Demon wants to keep you in isolation where your negative script can keep playing itself out in your mind. Don’t do him the honor. Say your doubts out loud and let someone talk you out of them.
A little flattery never hurt anyone.
Own It And Take Action
The Doubt Demon thrives on inertia. And you can only combat inertia with action.
Next time you’re afraid that your email promotion will fall flat, your contest will fizzle, your webinar will only attract two people, grab that doubt by its horns and say, “I may fail. But what’s the worst thing that can happen?”
Don’t let doubt fool you into thinking that the antidote is confidence. It’s not. It’s action. It’s moving forward and making mistakes even though you’re staring the monster in the face as you do it, even as you know full well that the creep may bite you and it may even hurt for a while.
If you never act and never try, you’ll never fail. But you sure won’t succeed either.
How’s that demon looking now, huh? Not so threatening anymore, is he? When you see him for what he really is – a shallow, hollow, chattering nag – you’ll be able to flick him away like an annoying fly.
Try these tricks next time you’re tempted to bang your head against the piano and repeat after me: I will get it right. And even if I don’t… so?
This post is part of the awesome Word Carnival. Read more posts on this month’s theme: Vanquish Your Nemesis: A Guide to Conquering Small Biz Evils
Love the Doubt Demon at the top of the page? Visit artist evan austin to find out how he can bring your creative vision to life!