When I was first trying to get this blog off the ground, progress was slow – painfully so, in fact. I had SO many negative thoughts running through my head it was almost embarrassing (particularly for someone writing a self help blog!). These days, I’m super vigilant about the quality of the thoughts I allow to take root in my mind, but when it came to this blog, for some reason, the dastardly ‘negatories’ got the better of me. (Negatories is my code for negative thoughts).
One night I was writing an article (on happiness, ironically) and became so disillusioned with the whole project that I literally stopped writing and began considering just throwing the towel in, once and for all. My boyfriend came in and with his characteristic grace reassured me that I SHOULD keep going and it WOULD be worth it in the end.
But my negatories weren’t buying it.
I began tearfully explaining that I didn’t feel I had it in me to do something like this. I mean, what did I know? And why was it all so hard? Why was I facing IT issues at every turn and why was it taking so damn long to get off the ground? (I didn’t consider that maybe having no prior knowledge of CSS programming or that I was working a full time job with a full social life and myriad of hobbies might have contributed to the last two points. Pfft, reality and good reason, who needs them when you’re feeling sorry for yourself?!)
Sooo…. I threw myself a pity party, invited my boyfriend and left the article to languish where it lay, in no-man’s-land. Instead I focused on accomplishing some other, smaller things that were achievable then and there. I felt a bit better.
The next day, I realised I had to tackle this monster of self doubt, or it would inevitably keep rearing its ugly head and ruin my progress, my project and frankly, my life. So I decided to seek an opportunity in the problem and while I was out for my morning run, I came up with the idea to do a blog post on self doubt. What better way to figure out a problem than to work through it in a post and share it with others in a bid to demolish the doubting demons forever!
What Is Self Doubt?
Basically, it’s that god awful feeling you get when you’re unable to believe in your own abilities or talents. It’s the feeling that you don’t ‘have what it takes’ to get what you want.
Doubt doesn’t always have to be a bad thing though, it’s actually just a natural human response to unfamiliar situations – for example, you might feel doubt when you have to make a decision on something – and like all natural responses, when used for the purposes they were intended, they don’t have to be our downfall.
Use Your Emotions As Signposts To Growth
Our emotions offer valuable clues regarding the best way to react to circumstances we encounter. For example, fear is an emotion that tells us we need to ‘get prepared’ for something. If we feel fear in front of an animal we’re being told, ‘Get prepared to run – fast!’, and if we feel fear about a presentation at work, we’re being advised to ‘prepare’ too – just in a different way – perhaps by rehearsing, going over all our notes thoroughly and pre-empting any questions we may be asked.
Wishing our negative emotions would just disappear isn’t going to help us, because they truly are there for a reason – not feeling fear would be pretty dangerous, right?
If we listen to our emotions, they can be valuable allies, enabling us to grow, expand and be better equipped to deal with similar situations in future (but try getting me to accept that while my pity-party was in full swing!).
If you use doubt in a positive way, for example by asking yourself ‘Do I have all the necessary skills to complete this venture?’, then you’ll see where the gaps in your skill set lie and you can go about filling them. That way, you’ll be giving yourself the best shot at success. However, when used in a negative way, such as when you simply don’t have faith in yourself, doubt isn’t going to have you moving anywhere in a hurry – least of all towards your goals.
Why Do We Need To Beat Self Doubt?
It’s pretty much common sense that when doubt manifests in that negative, ‘lack of faith’ way mentioned above, it’s going to be about as much use to us as an ice cube tray in the desert.
Not only that, but self doubt:
- Wastes your time and energy. Expending energy on negative thoughts is not productive!
- It destroys your confidence!
- If you don’t trust yourself, you’ll find it hard to trust others, which in turn negatively impacts on your relationships and ultimately, the quality of your life.
- It’s no FUN living with a voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough.
- It stops you from taking positive risks.
- It’s the forerunner of procrastination, shame, blame and in extreme cases, even self hatred.
- It’s based on old (and most likely, inaccurate) information. For example, when we made mistakes in the past, we received feedback from people around us. Sometimes that feedback was helpful, sometimes it wasn’t. Living a life that fears a repeat of those situations is a waste of time, particularly if the feedback was wrong to start with!
- If you only have confidence in yourself when other people do, your confidence levels will always be at the whim of the ebb and flow of others’ moods. You will become dependent on them and could potentially start fearing the loss of their approval.
- If you only have confidence in yourself when you succeed or perform well, your confidence will fluctuate according to your varying performance levels. Life has its ups and downs – the troughs are inevitable, as are the peaks – so if you develop a confidence that is based on your own self belief, it will remain steadfast for you to call upon in times of adversity.
- It doesn’t allow society to benefit from the full authentic version of YOU – in other words, we ALL lose out when you doubt yourself.
Strategies For Overcoming Self Doubt
Of course your darling boyfriend, best friend or good old reliable Mum will simply say, “You ARE good enough to do this!” Or, “Don’t let what other people think get to you”, but when you’re gripped by the sinking feeling that maybe you’re not up to the task at hand, you need a little more in your arsenal than a pack of platitudes from well-meaning loved ones who frankly just wish you’d buck your ideas up and get on with it. No. instead, what you REALLY need is some bad ass, heavy artillery strategies that can smash self doubt into smithereens. Kapow bitches.
1. Acknowledge It
I’m a big believer that you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. (As an aside, I believe this was one of the main reasons I sank into depression 3 years ago – I was not acknowledging how I was really feeling and instead constantly criticized myself. Now if I feel something negative, I stop, take stock and say to myself, “How am I really feeling here?” and “What can I think of that is making me feel this way?”).
So, if you’re feeling self doubt, the first and most empowering thing you can do to address it, is face the fact that it exists. I find it’s really helpful to actually get your feelings/thoughts down on paper – somehow distilling the emotions swimming around inside you into words can give you some clarity. This way, they become tangible concepts, rather than just nameless, faceless, ‘bad feelings’. Try it and see if it works for you – next time you feel self doubt, list exactly what you’re feeling and what it is you fear. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to move on to phase two of ‘self doubt smashville’ – where your self doubt is a pinata and you’re the whacking stick of wrath.
2. Examine The Reasons For Your Self Doubt
This builds on point one. You can’t change what you don’t understand. For me, in my working life, I had someone constantly changing my writing (and not for the better either). Over the course of a year, those constant changes had seriously degraded the confidence I had in my writing ability. It felt empowering to realise this was the cause of my self doubt.
Bring that which you fear into the light. Personally, I was afraid of criticism – so much so I became impotent and literally couldn’t write. My mind started coming up with all kinds of excuses to avoid feeling the perceived criticism I felt when someone butchered my work – hence I found reasons not to write. I discovered that I was also doubting whether I would actually follow through with this blog (since I’d started another business not long ago and had decided not to continue on with it). Get all this kind of stuff down on paper too.
3. Go Down The ‘Worst-Case Scenario’ Track
Write down, or imagine in your mind, the very worst thing that could happen if you went ahead with your decision (or continue on your current path towards your goal). Many times crticism, embarrassment or fear of humiliation are the grim bottomfeeders stinking up the well of your self belief.
Imagining the worst case scenario can actually put reality in perspective. So what if someone criticises us? We’ll be able to handle it – we have before, right? What’s more, if we do our best, prepare well and do the right thing by the people we deal with, the worst case really only has a slim likelihood of occurring, so it’s probably not worth worrying about after all.
3. Lean On Me…
Support is a crucial combatant to self doubt, but on it’s own, I’ve found it’s not always powerful enough to overcome the strongest of self doubt attacks. That’s why I believe it’s good to have other tactics up your sleeve, to use in conjunction with your support network.
Most of us have a friend or relative we can trust, who’ll listen to our fears and be our personal cheer squad. So the next step after imagining your worst-case scenario is to seek support, discuss what you’ve uncovered with them and gather positive feedback, information and a different point of view.
If you currently don’t have a large support network, ask yourself, “Who could I talk to about this that I haven’t considered before?” or, “How can I go about building a stronger support network for myself to lean on in future?”
Think outside the box a little here – for example could you speak with a coach, mentor, or therapist regarding why you feel self doubt? Secondly, who in your community could offer support? Are there local interest groups who’ve faced your challenges and overcome them? If not, could you start your own?
If you don’t have a support network now, see this as an opportunity to put one in place so that you can reap the rewards of relying upon it in future, and of course, contributing back to it.
4. Remind Yourself Of Why You Want To Achieve Your Goal
When you remove the focus from ‘you’ and onto the goal, you allow your mind to get excited by your dream or vision again, rather than dwelling on the negative, self-doubting thoughts. Ask yourself – How important is this goal to you? Why do you want to achieve it? What will it bring to your life?
Whether it’s a chance to help others, a deeper spiritual connection or the ability to conduct a fulfilling relationship, you need to keep in touch with WHY you want what you want. Let your mind dwell on these reasons for at least 5 minutes when self doubt creeps in. You might even like to write a list of the top 5 reasons you want to achieve your goal and keep it in your wallet so you can pull it out when the negatories creep in.
5. Remind Yourself Of Why You CAN Do It
Write a list of 5 times when you’ve demonstrated the exact opposite of whatever the self doubting thought is. For me, I thought of 5 times that someone had told me I’m a great writer. I added to that by making the effort to think of 5 things I’ve written that objectively, I think ARE good.
6. Prepare Positive Back-Up, Ahead Of Time
Underline some inspiring quotes in your favourite self-help books (visit here for some of my faves). You can even bookmark the inspirational quotes page on this site for easy reference. Then when self doubt creeps in, you’ll immediately know where to look for extra support to overcome those unhelpful thoughts.
7. Own The Truth That Other Peoples’ Opinions Don’t Really Matter
The only thing that ultimately matters in life is what YOU believe. It’s only YOUR judgment of you that counts. When you decide to own this truth and live it in your life, you’ll be on a path to true authenticity, where your actions and path are not swayed by the whims of others – even if they’re well-meaning. YOU should decide who you are AND, who you are NOT. After all, deciding what defines your character and your heart’s desires is something that only we can do for ourselves.
How To Move Forward And PAST Self Doubt
You’re human. You’re going to make mistakes. Big deal. It’s not going to be the end of the world and if you don’t try, you’ll never have the opportunity of doing anything you consider truly exceptional, nor give yourself the chance to create the profound impact you were born to have. You can’t let self doubt hold you back from that. That really would be a tragedy.
So, moving forward, make it a habit to stop and consciously congratulate yourself when you HAVE done something that demonstrates your abilities. Also, make a mental note of when you’re engaging in negative self talk. In my case, I recognised the negatories when I was throwing my pity-party, I just didn’t know what to do to conquer them! (That’s where I hope this post will come in handy for you).
Also, be prepared for the nay sayers …
Ultimately, YOU’RE In Control
Remember, you are in control of your mind. Don’t let self doubting thoughts run away with themselves. You DO have the power to stop them in their tracks and turn them around, into something that can work for you, rather than against you. Remember, every time you identify and conquer a self doubting thought, you become stronger.
What are your strategies for coping with self doubt? Share them with me and our other readers in the comments section below.
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