“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!
Join the discussion 31 Comments
Great advice, Carol Lynn. I especially like the bit about playing – not only does it make you happy, but you can get some awesome ideas. And as well as talking to my mom (another good tip), my 10 year old can be pretty inspirational too.
Indeed, kids can trigger some pretty unique ideas! They have a perspective all their own and you never know what will pop out. As for being happy… I’m all for that. So little time to “be happy” when you grow up – so you have to make some!
Love this article, Carol Lynn (and the opportunity to illustrate for it)! In some personal reading I’ve been doing, I found that The Doubt Demon goes by another name in the Transactional Analysis vein of psychiatry: The Critical Parent. This concept resonates with everyone precisely because we’ve all got one. Arguably it evolved for some reasons…may even keep us out of danger from time to time, but FAR more often is just a snorting little bother, keeping us down. Thanks for the concrete (and deliciously simple) tips for quieting the little devil!
Love the demon, Evan, he is going on my wall! I also love the “snorting little brother” analogy. That sounds about perfect. Yes, I suppose some hesitation (look before you leap?) can be helpful but the constant nagging “I’m bad at this” mantra is not. Thanks for the drawing!
The Doubt Demon! Brought to us by the letter P (for Perfectionism)! This post of yours is one of my favorites — and I say that as a totally unbiased bystander. LOL This filthy demon is one of our biggest enemies and we need to collectively talk about it a lot more. You’ve done a fabulous job of getting the conversation off on the right foot, Carolyn. Thanks!
There are so many angles I could take with doubt and then there goes another 3000 words. I have to beat this guy daily, but play-do helps 🙂
So I just read both of your posts back-to-back. And wasn’t sure which one to comment on because I think they are both one-in-the-same more or less. That goes for my post too…about productivity.
Self-doubt arises from trying to make things to perfect. And it kills productivity.
Actually communication goes into that too. The original draft of my post included communication and “the curse of knowledge.”
I actually had a discussion with someone where it never dawned on me that they might not know how to figure out if a domain name is already registered.
To me, that’s common knowledge. But in reality its me downplaying the knowledge I have and not valuing it enough.
So all of these “demons” really come down to one thing: confidence.
The curse of knowledge…. I like it! I guess its good to know we’re all equally neurotic 🙂 And have the common problem of undervaluing ourselves. I suppose I’d rather have a little humility and work with that than be a jerk. Food for thought…
Well you have inspired me once again and truly landed on my head. That lil sucker is standing on EACH shoulder and I needed some advise to knock his azz off! Carol…OMG..the coloring book…my daughter, granddaughter love to color and be a perfectionist at it at the same time. I took a day off recently and had a great time with a friend and that was very helpful..My next and fav way is to work in a coffee shop and soak up some public energy always helps and I suppose I need to do that THIS week. What an excellent timely post that I am sure everyone can relate too!
I love coloring books! Yes, I get a little perfectionist-y with them but its so relaxing. There are few things in life better than a new box of crayons…
I love to work in a coffee shop too. Getting out of the house, getting out of “the usual” and having people around, even if you’re not interacting with them, has an energy that really helps you get out of stuck places. Sometimes I feel like a nomad…. today work here, tomorrow work there. But there’s nothing worse than sitting in one place like you’re punishing yourself or something and you’re not allowed to get up and play or move!
I’m glad you enjoyed this and hopefully I’ll be hearing about your next coloring venture 🙂
Fantastic article! This one is going into my ‘save to read when you need a kick in the ass’ file. Which is a great honor! But you really hit it on all of these points.
Nice, I’m in the ass-kicking column now! Thanks 🙂
Carol Lynn there’s so much goodness in this post I don’t know where to begin! I absolutely have the doubt demon. With an extra helping of perfectionism so it makes it hard for me to admit at times that I have the doubts. You can imagine the downward spiral possible there, right?
The play idea is great. My 4 y.o. loves to color and water paint. I’m not sure who enjoys it more, me or her.
Evan of course did a fantastic job as the illustrator.
I love Evan’s drawings. If I had my way he would do them all. Goodbye stock photography forever!
I love to play. People have been making fun of me all my life for coloring but hey, I’m still sane! True confession: I also have an electronic keyboard and occasionally bang out poor versions of Neil Diamond songs. Don’t tell anyone 🙂
You sound like me – perfectionism plus doubt equals complete neurosis. Being aware of it is half the problem. And just in case…. you’re awesome! You’re organized and smart and you put out very cool products and you have a podcast which makes me jealous. So there.
Hi Carol Lynn,
This post made my day! I’ve bookmarked it and even shared it with a couple of my friends. I think we all suffer from that doubt demon ever so often — now I know what to do when it shows up again!
Awesome! It’s funny how we all seem to struggle with so many of the same things. And of course we tend to feel like we must be the only crazy ones. I’m telling ya, get some play-do, it’ll change your life 🙂
This piece is teeeeeeming with excellence! “If there’s one thing doubt hates it’s joy” Oh hells to the yea. And playing, and action, and utter and convicted decision that you WILL DO THIS. : ) Thanks carol, this really resonated!
playing is totally underestimated. After writing this I suddenly need a new box of crayons.
The doubt demon is definitely one of the worst nemesis anyone can have. so many great takeaways here — move to a new place (simple yet so powerful!), don’t give in to inertia and my personal favorite — tell someone about it. We so often feel we are facing an uphill business battle alone but we aren’t! Share the doubt and vanquish the demon. Good stuff!
You made a great point – we often feel like “it’s only me” but that’s almost never the case. Being online can feel isolating something because we only get the snippets of people’s lives that they choose to post (and that doesn’t usually include the tough stuff). So it’s good to remember that we’re all in the same boat.
You are so clever Carol, the doubt demon. I’m going to have to use that girl. 😉
Yeah, I’ve had my share of banging my head against the wall comparing myself to all these amazing bloggers online. Thinking to myself that I’ll never reach their level. We all have to find our place here because we do all have our place.
Your tips are great and I like to take the dog for a walk, just clear my head. It works wonders because for some reason when you’re outside in the fresh air it just clears your head.
Thanks for sharing these and glad your carnival gives you different topics to share. That’s really cool.
Enjoy your weekend Carol.
Yes, this month was about “enemies of the small business” so this came to mind immediately. Of course, it takes one to know one, right? I know very well how all of these things feel because I struggle with the same things. I’m not doing this right… it’s not good enough… nobody will like it… So what else can you do but recognize that those thoughts aren’t helping and focus on your goals instead. And I just love the drawing, it makes that guy a little less scary 🙂
This is great for dealing w/ doubt in a lot of areas. Writer’s block, for one. Good stuff! Love the doubt demon image. Good to know what your adversary looks like!!!
Hi Cynthia, I think we should print him out and blow him up to life-size and hang him over our desks. Then we can occasionally throw pencils at him and that will feel so much better 🙂
Such a great post, Carol Lynn. I love the focus on comparative self-analysis. I’ve found with my clients that our first, gut-level emotional reaction to another’s success is just fraught with personal, relevant, and urgent meaning. It’s the key, really, to figuring out just where we want/need to be and how we can get there. If a friend launches a book to a clamoring public tossing five-star reviews her way on Amazon, and my first feelings are “ZOMG WHO’STHEWRITERHERE?!?!” – well, that’s telling me I need to get off my rear end and finish MY book.
You make a most excellent point. Sometimes seeing someone else “being successful” is a reminder that we need to get off center and act. Sitting around pining away isn’t going to help. As long as we’re aligned with our goals, that’s the most important thing. Pining for someone ELSE’S goals is also not helpful! Ok, so where’s your book??? I’m ready to read it!
Eep! It’s in progress, LOL! (No, really!)
Carol Lynn, I just love how you draw these evocative pictures with words like Evan does with his illustrations. You have personified this creature in a way that I think we can all identify now. And put it in its place with joy. What a great concept.
Banish the ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ with play. Have you watched the John Cleese talk on Creativity. He explains how play has been researched and it is defined by going to a particular place for a defined set of time. Just as you describe. It is exactly how I wrote my book. It really works. Thanks for a fabulous post.
I have NOT seen that talk but it sounds right up my alley! Thank you for your kind words, I’m glad you liked my post (and Evan’s awesome drawing, he never ceases to amaze!) I have your book on my reading list, an looking forward to it 🙂
Excellent article as always Carol Lynn. Talking to family or friends about my doubts always works as they put me back on the right track. You do have to pick the right people though, as some are better at it than others. Reminds me of the phrase “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Finding inspiration in unusual places is something I’d not considered. Will definately remember this next time the Doubt Demon calls by. Thanks.
Thanks Julie! Yes, I agree you need the right people. Some are definitely better at helping out than others! Definitely don’t talk to your crabbiest friend 🙂 Love that phrase, so true. Next time the doubt demon creeps up…. pull out a new red crayon. You’ll find the joy all over again!