Self-doubt can be absolutely crippling. Debilitating. It can leave us in a big helpless pile of despair, unable to move forward, and in fact trying to crawl backwards into our old, negative habits.
Ok, that was a dreary way to start a blog post, I’m sorry. But I’m going to tell it like it is. Self-doubt sucks, there’s no two ways about it.
Here’s the good news. It doesn’t HAVE to suck. You can have a healthy, constructive relationship with self-doubt. I hope that’s made you feel a bit better after that rough intro!
I’ve started off this year’s blogs talking you through how to get to a place where you can feel confident. I explained how you can make a start on the self-confidence journey by deciding to commit to yourself, to be your ally in this journey. I also gave you some tips on developing habits that will get you to love yourself, as you deserve to be loved. And I dedicated a two-part blog to that sticky sticky question of how you can accept yourself, How to Find the Path to Self-Acceptance and The Habits of Self Acceptance. If you’ve missed any of these blogs, I highly encourage you to go read them, and grab the FREE Masterclass while you’re at it!
So, today, let’s talk about navigating self-doubt.
You know what it’s like, you start off doing all the things that make you feel all warm and fuzzy about yourself, like taking care of your emotional needs, giving yourselves mental boosts, reciting mantras and affirmations… all the things. But, as soon as you’re confronted with a difficult situation, that ugly monster that is self-doubt rears its ugly head. When it does, it can devastate the progress you’ve made and undermine your hard work. I don’t want that for you. I want you to be able to accept and love yourself, embrace yourself, and create a solid foundation in the face of self-doubt.
A few weeks ago, we talked about making a decision to commit to yourself. I had raised the point that self-doubt is actually a natural, helpful feeling that crops up. While it does tend to have negative effects on us, those negative effects are not as a result of the doubt, but rather our response to the doubt. When we feel self-doubt, we run to the safe and comfortable zone that we know… the zone where we do not take action, where we turtle up, and we reach out to familiar patterns of behaviour.
Even when we know that the old reaction causes us a whole bunch of heartache and are not supportive to our emotional and mental well-being. They’re usually patterns of self-sabotage, self-betrayal, self-denigration, self-blame, and self-loathing. UGH. When we find ourselves stalling in our progress and going back to old habits, we tell ourselves ‘you’re not going to be able to do this, it’s too big. Why would you think you can do this? You don’t know enough, you’re not that smart, you don’t even have a degree’. Then, well, you don’t take action. You instead get stuck, anxious.. You know what i’m talking about don’t you?
So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
What is self-doubt?
Self-doubt is simply a habit. It is a pattern of thought that you habitually go to when you are uncertain about whether you have the appropriate capabilities and qualities to undertake a specific task or handle a certain situation. Self doubt also occurs when you’ve broken your word to yourself, one too many times. But that’s it. Not to minimise it, but that’s all self-doubt is.
When you look at what it really is, you see it’s our brain doing something very logical, and in fact quite beautiful. Instinctively, our brain wants to protect us from potential harm, by sounding a little alarm bell for us to pay attention, make sure everything’s good to go, and stay safe. It’s our small way of looking out for ourselves. That’s amazing!
Importantly, self-doubt keeps us grounded and stops us from running away too far from reality. It’s a signal to make sure we check that our seat-belt is fastened, the car is in neutral, we’ve got the lights on, and we have a clear view of the road, before we set off on a drive.
And, what’s fascinating about self-doubt is that it’s more common than we’re led to believe. There is so much inspirational messaging about never doubting yourself. And none of it is realistic. Ask anyone who has ever achieved anything great, and then gone to do it over and over again. From amazing performers to writers, innovators and self-made millionaires, they all have stories about overcoming self-doubt. It. Is. Normal. Everyone has it. It’s nothing that’s wrong with you.
But, here’s the thing..
Self-doubt provides you with two opportunities. It gives you an OPPORTUNITY, to touch base with yourself and assess your strengths (and weaknesses) against the task at hand. It gives you an OPPORTUNITY to ask yourself helpful questions like:
Am I prepared enough, or do I need more time to prepare?
What steps can I take to put me in the best position?
What will I learn if things don’t work out how I hope?
That’s only if you recognise self-doubt for what it is, a signal to get you to examine the situation realistically and objectively, against your desired outcome.
If used improperly… What it ends up doing is interfering with our attempts to reach for the best possible outcome. Let me give you a concrete example. An athlete who encounters self-doubt right before a race can have one of two outcomes: They either address the self-doubt in a healthy way and run the race as usual, or they let the self-doubt overwhelm them to the point where there thoughts manifest physiologically, creating loss of self-control, causing them to trip over their own foot. Are you feeling like this is a bit far-fetched? Ok, try going for a run when you’re overwhelmed with nerves. See how many times you trip before deciding that going for a run isn’t a good idea while you’re shaking.
The athlete who has been overwhelmed by self-doubt simply hasn’t learned to break or navigate the habit.
Why does self-doubt cripple me?
Ok, let me give you the short and direct answer.
Self-doubt is actually NOT crippling you.
What is crippling you, is the addition of self-doubt on top of a whole other bunch of thoughts, and beliefs that you already hold, which then causes you to have a negative reaction to it.
Self-doubt can feel crippling, especially when you’ve spent years giving a home to your negative self-talk, telling yourself you’re a massive failure, or worse. But you must understand that it isn’t the doubt that is crippling you, it’s your inability to act despite the doubt. Remember, the doubt is just a habitual thought. It is not handcuffs, balls and chains.
Just like fear, self-doubt is a signal… not a stop sign!
When you get this twisted, you give yourself a compelling excuse not to take action. Not to make progress and to stop what you’re doing.
Overcoming the paralysing reaction to self-doubt
You can make self-doubt a helpful tool, instead of a dreaded monster. Don’t think it’s possible? Well, it is, it’s all about mindset. And you know what? You’re in luck. Mindset is my specialty 😉
Let’s get into it!
1. Doubt the doubt. I’ve told you that self-doubt is a signal giving you the opportunity to check that you’re equipped for the task you want to undertake. So, with that said, acknowledge the self-doubt and ask yourself: What is it telling me? How realistic is this self-doubt? If it is telling you that you can’t do something, question it, doubt it!
2. Separate the reasonable concerns from the negative self-talk and fear. The two are not the same. Being underprepared is a reasonable concern but doesn’t have to keep you stuck. You can figure out what action you need to take, if any and still make progress on your goal. Whereas thinking of yourself as a loser or failure falls under the bracket of negative self-talk and fear and can easily keep you stuck in your tracks, despite the fact that it is unfounded and untrue. If you find yourself stuck due to fear and negative self-talk, try to find concrete evidence to support the negative, self-doubting thought. You will see that you won’t be able to find any… negative thoughts are distorted, factless and baseless, and in trying to prove that negative self-talk to yourself, you’ll see exactly how unrealistic they are!
3. Manage the self-talk. Negative self-talk will crop up, especially when you embark on something for the first time. I go through how to manage your negative self-talk in my blog The Habits of Self-Acceptance, so give that a read.
4. Find areas for future action. Remember, self-doubt is a warning sign, so use it as such.
So, if you find yourself unprepared which causes you to feel self-doubt, an action you can take is to develop habits that will help you to better manage your schedule. You might need to acquire new skills, figure out what you need, and take the relevant actions.
The same goes with the negative self-talk and excuses. Make sure to manage the self-talk regularly and proactively, and understand why you are sabotaging your future success. Figure out what the fear or feeling is that you are trying to avoid.
5. Take the time to list and remind yourself of your wins. This is really important, and you’ll want to keep repeating this exercise. Create a list of things you’ve accomplished over the course of your lifetime. The longer the list, the better. Go back to it when you need a boost, and keep populating it. There’s nothing like reminding yourself of what you’ve already been able to accomplish to boost your confidence in your abilities!
6. Become a lifelong student. Even in the face of self-doubt, go ahead and do what it is you were planning on doing. Take action! Tell yourself that in the worst case scenario, if you don’t succeed, you won’t have failed. Remember, my favourite quote by Nelson Mandela, “I never lose, I either Win or Learn”. Take new experiences and opportunities as a chance to learn something new, see it as a trial run or a case study. Be observant of what you learn along the way.
All right Queen, that’s it from me! It’s over to you to do the work now. So get on it.
And if you’re looking to step up your confidence game, the CQA doors are open for a limited time only, so grab your spot now and prepare to courageously embark on the journey to sustainable self-confidence, fulfilment and purpose.
Fix your crown.