Confidence is the bedrock of creativity, and this applies especially to freelancers.
But we all have days when confidence can dip. So here are 10 ‘voodoo’ hacks, from the world of science, psychology and hypnotherapy, to restore confidence when it’s low, and keep it high as standard.
Neurotransmitters set for blast off
Put your feet up on your desk, place your hands on the back of your head and interlock your fingers. Lean back, make yourself big. Let your legs hang loose. Relax. Concentrate on feeling the tension drop out of your muscles. Lean right back and relax some more. Shut your eyes and think relaxing thoughts – put some beach sounds on YouTube if you like.
Research by Harvard Business School found that doing this ‘power pose’ twice daily, for three minutes, increases testosterone levels – which will make you feel "more powerful and willing to take risks".
Such confidence is a keystone of creativity; a regular quick ‘n’ easy top-up of testosterone is a good idea for both men and women. (Don’t worry, it won’t be enough to make you grow a beard.)
Make a cheeky change
Routine is good for creativity, but even better are micro-changes amid that routine.
Research by Dr Simone Ritter, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, shows that doing something you do every day differently can boost creativity by 15%, for hours. Even better, knowing you’ve given yourself that booster shot should be worth an extra 5-10% on top.
So if you’d like to be 20% more creative, shake things up just a Lil’ bit. For example, clean your teeth then shower. Shower then clean your teeth. Clean your teeth in the shower. Make micro-tweaks in the way you create your morning brew – put the water in first, then the bag. That’s the sort of change that should be made to your routine, the whole time because it creates new pathways in your brain, and where there are new synapses, there are fresh ideas.
Give your brain fair warning
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp,” is an oft-repeated adage for writers. It’s what goes on at 8.45 that’s important if you’re going to get your creative body-clock bang on the bell.
A game of Dictionary.com’s Word Dynamo, or maybe shuffling a deck of cards and dealing out a couple of hands of imaginary poker – just to get your brain revved up, assessing what hands are out there and what would have won. Logic-based process stuff like this, used regularly, can give your mind appropriate notice that it’s expected to start churning out ideas in 5,4,3,2,1…GO.
You’re warming up, not procrastinating, so put a time limit on it and stick to it. Then start talking yourself through yesterday’s work to help you get your groove back.
Twenty weddings and five funerals: A tip from Richard Curtis
Richard Curtis – may be the most famous screenwriter in the world, the penman behind Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and, heroically, Blackadder – gave some interesting tips in a lecture to BAFTA. One of them was essentially: Every time you need an idea, force yourself to think of five. Mark out five empty bullet points on a page, and fill them up.
This immediately takes the pressure of off trying to find the perfect idea – you’re now merely looking to fill your empty bullet holes. Bet the ideal idea comes ten times quicker from now on.
What would Sherlock do?
If you’re not feeling confident, don’t be you. Ask yourself, what would Eric Cantona do in this situation? Why, he’d probably puff out his chest and say something philosophical.
What would Lady Gaga do? What would Lizzy Bennett do? What about Edmund Blackadder?
The list goes on forever, and it’s different for everyone. You do have to ‘know’ them pretty well to make this work. I often try and think like Sherlock Holmes: "It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data" has kept me from worrying about the unknown many, many times.
If you can channel the aura of someone you find inspiring, or even a fictional character, you can bypass any lack of confidence by borrowing theirs for a bit. Approach your challenges in their shoes. This should kickstart you back on track, and you’ll be your old creative self in no time.
Cut out distractions and mini-rejections
Avoid rejection – I’m not talking about the big rejections, they cannot be avoided. You’re not playing the game right if you’re not getting rejected every now and again. But mini-rejections are bad for your creative health.
Checking your email is either a complication, because that message you were waiting for arrived, or a rejection because it didn’t. Distractions are bad, but exposing yourself to these mini-rejections is worse, and will dent your self-confidence quietly and insidiously. Much better to check email and Twitter (no notifications?! Dammit) only three times a day. Set the alarm and stick to it.
Prepare for a high-impact morning: Make a Plan to Make a Plan
Your confidence, and thus creativity, will be sky high all day if you’ve had a stormin’ mornin’ – if you know you’ve got a big chunk of your work under your belt by 11am, you’ll feel happy vibes that will power you unto more considerable heights.
To-do lists – with your system of prioritisation – need to be prepared the night before. If you don’t know where to start, go for the prelude – i.e. before you can make the plan, make a ‘plan to make a plan’. Jotting down categories you need to apply some thought to feels instantly proactive, makes you the master of your destiny, which is a thumb in the eye of ‘paralysis of analysis’ and the rest will naturally follow.
Credit where credit’s due – to you
You’re going to find yourself being self-critical at times: that’s how we develop and improve. But instead of keeping the subjective focus on the bad bits, the errors, the must-do-betters, take care to self-aggrandise too. Linger over the good bits, 'big yourself up'. Say it out loud. Remind yourself that you are a professional who gets paid to do excellent work, and does so with aplomb, most days.
Taking this general approach when reviewing work is self-affirming behaviour that will help your subconscious feel more positive, and thus less likely to nag at you, as you try to produce your best stuff under pressure.
Smiling can trick your brain into thinking you’re happy, and research by Santa Clara University – published in 2014 in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition – found that "participants are likely to regularly give creative responses to tests if they are walking".
So combine a burst of kinetic energy with Laird’s ‘facial feedback phenomenon’ (1974), which was updated a couple of years ago by Kraft and Pressman (2012) to find that forcing a genuine, so-called ‘Duchenne’ smile (one that engages the muscles around the eyes as well as the mouth) reduces stress by boosting endorphins – and ergo, increases confidence.
Kraft and Pressman say their research suggests “smiling during brief periods of stress may help reduce the body's stress response, regardless of whether the person feels happy or not".
So if you get a confidence dip, walk around your neighbourhood grinning like an absolute nutter, and your endorphin levels and creative problem-solving will soar. And you never know, someone might smile back.
Worry not about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own
Which is paraphrasing my fave quote from the original self-help book, The Bible. It’s so true. If you can get your head around doing the very best you can with today, not wasting a second, then the future isn’t nearly so scary. Like Albert Einstein said: "‘Life is like a bicycle, it’s hard to keep your balance if you’re standing still" – so don’t stew, attack the day!
And remember, no matter how negative you’re feeling, there’s always a chance that it will all come together just about perfectly – so don’t worry, be happy!