Struggling With Self Doubt?
For many people, self doubt lies just barely out of awareness, hidden in the back corners of their minds, while others struggle with it on a daily basis. The truth is, everyone has doubts about themselves, their skills, abilities, their potential, even their intentions. Doubts are quite normal, especially in new or challenging situations. Famous leaders, presidents, CEOs, generals and heroes all have experienced self doubt. If we understand intellectually that self doubt is a common human experience, then why are so many people afraid to admit it?
The answer is partly in the question. It’s all about fear, a primal response to a perceived threat, and most people interpret the admission of having self doubt as a threat to their status. People feel like they need to show others they can handle anything that comes their way or that they need to know everything about everything. They feel that if they admit their self doubt, others will see them shrink before their very eyes and see them as small, incapable or inadequate.
The first steps to overcoming self doubt are to admit it and then begin to understand it. For many, just admitting it to someone and sharing their struggle brings a sense of relief and freedom.
Understanding Self Doubt
As mentioned above, self doubt often comes when we are faced with a challenge, something new we’ve never done before (a new role or responsibility, a new business, a new relationship, parenthood, etc.) or something we have done that carries a barrage of negative or limiting beliefs for us.
Aside from being a negative though process, self doubt is not really a thing in itself at all, rather it’s a lack of something vital to our success and happiness, and that is self confidence. Confidence literally means ‘with trust or faith’ (confidere). So, self doubt affects people when they have little or no faith in themselves with respect to the area/s they feel challenged most.
“Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
If we trace self doubt back to its roots, the lack of faith or self trust, all signs point to fear. Fear of what? Failure, embarrassment, criticism, scrutiny, judgment, loss of status, shall I go on? Fear is almost always self imposed and it’s the biggest obstacle we put in our way to achieving, doing or being what we want.
There are varying degrees of self doubt and a variety of different consequences, from affecting our productivity at work to impairing one’s ability to have close, fulfilling relationships. As a result, self doubt slowly siphons away our level of fulfillment in life. The more common effects of self doubt and fear of failure are frustration, stress, worry, anxiety, loneliness and ultimately despair.
The end result of too much self doubt is usually that we give in to fear and give up. When we give up, we chip away at our remaining self confidence and give ourselves another reference point for the future not to believe in ourselves. When that happens, we can begin to avoid challenges altogether. We stop considering our dreams and desires and try to make peace with our lives as they are.
Making peace with our lives sounds like a good thing – after all, acceptance is key to finding inner peace . However, this isn’t actually genuine acceptance, it’s complacence. Complacence isn’t living – it crushes our spirit and takes the passion and joy right out of life.
“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” ~Abraham Lincoln
In order to avoid the pain and frustration of self doubt, we take defensive stances with others, telling them: “I am what I am….I know myself….I can’t do that…I won’t do that…That’s not for me….I’m not a leader….I’m not a public speaker…I’m not cut out for relationships….etc.” We cut ourselves off from doing anything we fear or perceive as a challenge. Yet all along there is a part of us that years for something better but we deny ourselves from even considering it, all because we lacked self confidence.
Overcoming Self Doubt As You Build Self Confidence
A Self Coaching Exercise
Whether self doubt is holding you back from fulfilling a great dream, from being more productive at work or from connecting with others more freely, we could all stand to gain a lot by believing in ourselves more than our doubts and fears. Notice that overcoming is in the present tense, an active verb, not a passive one. Self doubt will most likely never dissolve completely but as you learn ways to manage it more effectively, it will not have you in its grip so much or so often.
Doubts are just hypotheses or possibilities, they’re not real, and they’re not even educated guesses. You may have some instances in your past that remind you why you shouldn’t take risks or how failure can hurt but you’re probably not giving yourself the credit you deserve. Self doubts amplify in intensity when we think about all that could go wrong or about past failures. It’s time to shift your focus from past failures/mistakes/criticisms to who you are today and what you’re truly capable of when you have a little faith.
A little confidence, like a sliver of light in a dark room, can lead the way. I’d like to suggest that you look within you for that sliver of light. Call it your heart, your spirit, your soul or your higher self, it is there. That is where you will find the little bit of faith you need to move past your doubts. All it takes is a shift in focus, from your mind to your heart.
To help you shift your focus and boost your confidence, please get out a journal or a piece of paper and write out you’re your answers to these questions as honestly as you can:
- Describe the last time you took a real chance or faced a new challenge?
- Describe the last time you failed miserably? What did you learn?
- Have you ever failed and then tried again (and maybe again and again) until you got better at something)? What made you keep trying?
- What past failures are you now grateful for?
- What are your strengths? Write down every positive trait or quality you can think of – give yourself credit.
- What makes you truly unique? Don’t be afraid to get silly here, let yourself go.
- What special and/or secret talents, skills or abilities do you possess?
- If you had all the confidence you needed, what would you like to do or become?
- What’s the best thing that could happen if you have a little faith in yourself and try?
After you answer these questions, spend some time reflecting on, imagining and visualizing what you truly want and how good it would feel to finally have it. This time isn’t for being practical, pragmatic or realistic, it’s only about staying focused on what feels good. Give yourself 10 to 20 minutes and then make any additional notes you wish in your journal.
Make a commitment to revisit and review your responses in a week. Over the course of this week, keep your eye out for signs, symbols, quotes or music that inspire you and help you feel more confident and alive. As you review your reflections from the prior week, see if anything new has come up. Do you have anything else you can add to your notes?
Finally, make the commitment to consciously choose to remember your positive qualities when faced with doubt. Focus on things that feel good to you, that raise your level of faith and trust in yourself and self doubt will diminish.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you feel that you have more than just self doubt and notice you have even stronger, more self critical thoughts, please read this article – Managing Your Inner Critic.