“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will”
– Suzy Kassem
Self-doubt is what it sounds like. You are doubting yourself. You are doubting your abilities, your skills, your strengths, your qualities – all the amazing things about you.
Self-doubt will come to you most obviously in the form of a feeling (anxiety, worry, sadness, shame), but really it is the words you are telling yourself (“I couldn’t do that”, “why did I say that”, “she doesn’t really like me”).
The words that make up the stories you tell yourself on a daily basis.
The way you doubt your appearance, your ability to deliver at work, your likeability, your parenting skills, your capability to begin something new, your strength to cope and overcome life’s challenges.
You doubt how well you can do this life.
What you don’t doubt, is other people’s abilities to do all of those things. According to you, everyone else has it figured out and they are so much happier than you. These stories only perpetuate your own self-doubt.
It’s normal to doubt yourself in certain areas and not others. However this can cover up the self-doubt. You will tell yourself, “I don’t struggle with self-doubt, I’m fine at work, so that means I must be rubbish in relationships”. Nope, that’s still self-doubt.
If there is one thing you have to begin acknowledging, it is that everyone experiences self-doubt, regularly.
We are not always aware of when it is happening, because it’s a habit and has become the norm. You actually believe the thought and accept it as fact. You don’t notice because you spend most of the day on auto-pilot, letting your unhelpful thoughts run your life.
Some degree of self-doubt is normal; it isn’t going to go anywhere and that’s OK. It can be good to tune in and question whether we will attempt something. We don’t just want to follow every desire, that might see you quit your job and do something completely unrealistic. It can help you to see things logically, but that’s it. It has to be you that fully makes a decision not to do something, not the little voice telling you it’s because you are not good enough.
Just to be clear – mostly, self-doubt is not useful.
If you are someone who frequently lets your self-doubt run the show, you probably already know the problems that come with this.
Most often, I hear it described as anxiety and frustration. Anxiety at the very thought of ignoring your doubt and accepting your decision to be different or facing your fear, and frustration when you can see exactly what is happening but listen to the fear anyway. Yup, it’s a vicous cycle. You won’t be surprised to hear, this can then lead into low mood and feeling stuck.
Ultimately, you know there is more to this life than what you are living. More opportunities, more fun, more love, more happiness. It’s not to say you don’t experience any of those things, you do. Just not to the level you really want and deserve.
Self-doubt is troubling and it can feel heavy, I totally get it. However, it is stopping you from seizing opportunities, it is holding you back from your potential, it is stopping you from enjoying the moment you are in and it might even be forcing you to put all of your time, strength and effort into one thing until you burn out.
Overcoming self-doubt will introduce more happiness, contentment and joy into your life. The sense of calm, achievement and self-acceptance will outweigh the feeling of helplessness that comes from that inner critic of yours.
The more you hush your self-doubt, the stronger you will become and you will take new steps towards being the person you want to be.
As your self-esteem grows and your happiness increases, you will deal with life’s annoyances and cope better with the hard times.
It basically creates a ripple effect – improving relationships, mental health, physical health and creativity.
To be honest, without this step I’m not sure how far you can really get. As I mentioned, we all run around on auto-pilot responding to our thoughts and feelings as they come. You have to develop awareness around your thinking styles and the stories you tell yourself. It’s the only way you can begin to to challenge your self-doubt.
There are several options when it comes to developing this awareness. I started to develop more self-awareness by checking in with myself every day a few times a day. I would simply ask myself how I am feeling and why, I do this every single day.
For best results, you would record a diary of your thoughts – writing down the type of doubt when you notice them.
You need to start collecting information and getting to know your stories. You will realise how critical and unrealistic some of them are straight away.
Client’s often come back to me and tell me they do not like this task because it made them feel worse to observe the thoughts. It’s true, this might be difficult, but it is necessary if you want to feel better in the long run.
If you are serious about over coming self-doubt and intend to have more confidence in yourself, you will have to let go of these three things:
Your self-doubt will link to the above in some way. Here’s the thing – you cannot live a fulfilling life and hold on to these three things. We all have these limiting beliefs in some form. All of us. Do not listen to them.
If you have been following me for a while, you know this is one of my favourite and quickest ways to face any doubt I face.
You have to start noticing your self-doubt and not listening because they cause you so much stress and misery. Your life is too precious to waste on them.
Bronnie Ware did a study on the Five Regrets of The Dying. She found the 5 regrets people had towards the end of their life were:
Self-doubt will contribute to all of those regrets in some way. Make the shift now and don’t let that be you.
As you become more aware of your self-doubt and thinking patterns, it is time to come in with a new balanced, realistic thought. This is not positive thinking. This is realistic thinking. Instead of telling yourself how rubbish you are or giving yourself a hard time over every little thing, start to tell yourself you are trying your best. Begin to insert a new story in place of the old one.
Again, for best results, look at the record you have kept of your negative thoughts, pick out the ones that are occurring frequently and write a replacement story next to it.
For example “I am so awkward during small talk” becomes “many people struggle with small talk, there are two people in the conversation and I had good intentions trying to make conversation”.
Change your story every day. Notice the old habits and replace with the new as soon as you can.
This is really for when your self-doubt is preventing you from doing something; going to a gym class, a presentation at work or telling someone how you feel.
One of the most effective ways to overcome self-doubt is to do the thing anyway. Accept it is challenging and go for it.
The reason this works is because when your self-doubt is catastrophising said event, you will prove it wrong. And you can’t argue with that.
Yes it might not go to plan, but it won’t be as bad as you were anxiously predicting.
Some people will let the feeling of uncertainty drive and confirm their self-doubt. If you experience some anxiety over your decisions, this does not make it wrong or mean you should not do something. Stress and anxiety is natural if something is unfamiliar and that is just the way it is.
If you have put some thought into this and know this is who you are/what you want, do not let the feeling of anxiety stop you. Know the difference between overwhelm and the stress of trying something new, I certainly don’t want to encourage you to burn out.
Marisa Peer (Therapist and author of ‘I am Enough, Mark Your Mirror and Change Your Life’) suggests you switch the story and tell yourself you are excited. It’s the same symptoms.
Read my blog post Anxiety: Understanding It and Taking Back Control to understand what anxiety actually is and why we need it.
As you challenge your self-doubt and take action against it, it will not be so loud and it will start to reduce. However, like I said, it is not going away completely.
I have found it useful to make peace with it, especially when it is a persistent one. I acknowledge it and understand where it is coming from (no worries if I’m not sure). That does not mean I listen to it and make decisions based on the doubt. I do not spend my time trying to fight it or forcing it to leave.
This means I can remain calm without getting worked up and worried. It takes so much power away when you see it as a simple unhelpful thought.
Challenging your self-doubt is not a one off event. If you truly want to see resuly, you are going to have to practice this every single day.
You are breaking old habits and forming new ones, you know that does not happen over night. Do not rush yourself and put high expectations on yourself, it defeats the whole point.
If you try something once and it doesn’t work, don’t just give up. I know you thin that gives you scope for being able to say you tried and so it isn’t your fault you feel the way you do or can’t try something new. It requires effort, pataience and practice.
If you have a day on auto-pilot or your self-doubt wins one day, do not give yourself a hard time. As soon as you notice what is happening, get yourself back on track and keep trying.
It is normal to want to go back to what is familiar.
You are allowed to feel bad, disappointed and regretful. But don’t dwell on it, move on and go again.
Those points above, all contribute to my journey of overcoming self-doubt. I work every day with client’s facing self-doubt and these tools work. We see results and their lives change for the better.
If you really want to see a difference, you need to understand your self-doubt is your responsibility now, wherever it came from, it’s now yours to change – it is OK to need help with this process.
Please remember you are not alone. It is not only you who is flooded with self-doubt. The culture we live in is full of people comparing themselves and fearing failure and judgements.
We all have to push each other, recognize this is a big problem and talk about it more. It will make you feel better and it will make the people around you feel better.
This is all a step towards you becoming more self-compassionate which is necessary for your happiness and self-esteem.
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Carly Ann xx