How to Overcome Self Doubt
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” ~ Henri Matisse
This article examines self doubt and how it can allow fear to prevail in your life. Sticking, habitually, with an "I can't" attitude only insures that you will never know how much you could achieve if you learn to use fear positively.
Self doubt. It's that feeling that you can't do or accomplish something you feel you either want or need to accomplish. Self doubt is insidious--it's subtle, devious, and sinister. The goal of self doubt is to become a habit, and once it does, it can be difficult to stop telling yourself "I can't do that." Somehow, "I can't" becomes engraved on the brain, and, sadly, it becomes a first response whenever a thought comes to mind about something you want to do that is the least bit challenging. You've become a habitual "self doubter," and just about anything you think you would like to achieve seems way beyond your reach. Is there any way out? Can you overcome this tendency toward self-sabotage?
No one else has to hinder your efforts to achieve, because as a self doubter, you've got that covered. For the chronic self doubter, the words “I can’t” are just waiting for any opportunity to derail a thought or a dream having to do with the desire to achieve. "This is too hard," "I don't think I can do this," and "I don't have what it takes to do this," are just a few of the phrases that habitual self doubters keep handy to assuage feelings of insecurity that arise, naturally, even among the most self-confident among us. Feelings of self doubt can arise in anyone, but it is when we allow these feelings to rule our spirit, that they can become a major hindrance to any type of success.
Crisis in Confidence
Self doubt is related to whether or not someone believes he or she can go after and achieve personal and professional goals, as well as hopes and dreams. It is doubt that puts a dent in one's confidence that he or she can achieve. And make no mistake, no matter how self-confident some seem to be, everyone experiences self doubt at some time or other. But what the habitual self doubter does is to take the doubting of self to a higher level. When self doubt becomes habitual, what we are really dealing with is something that is not rooted in abilities or skills. It is rooted within the mind, and, if left unchallenged, it will guide or dictate behavior for as long as it is allowed to do so.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said it this way: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” When we go through life without delving very deeply into our thoughts, I believe, we illustrate Jung’s observation.
It’s understandable, because every day there are thousands of thoughts running through our heads. If we tried to focus in on each and every one of them, we would not be able to function very well in the very fast and busy world in which we all live. Still, unless we spend at least some time thinking about what we think about, we will always allow unconscious thoughts, which become our beliefs, to direct our lives. Unfortunately, even when we see the unsatisfying outcome of allowing unchallenged and erroneous thoughts and beliefs to rule our lives, just as Jung predicted, we don't give the unsatisfactory results needed examination and attention. We don't apply substantive afterthought to negative thinking, and then, if we ever think about the results, we simply chalk them up to fate.
When you are facing a situation that is causing you to doubt yourself, and if you're fearing that you might fail, find out as much as you can about what it is you want or are being asked to do. For example, if you've been asked to give a speech, and you’re doubting yourself because you're not comfortable speaking in public, read some books on public speaking. If you are a person of faith as I am, ask God to guide you to resources that can help you. Find expert opinions on things that you can do to calm yourself down. And remember to practice in front of the mirror, over and over again. Say your speech in front of your pet, your child, a friend, your parents, or your mirror. Do what you can to overcome your fear. You’ll be glad you did.
What follows is my three-step plan for conquering self doubt, and the fear that lies beneath it.
Step One: Become Aware of Self Doubt
Awareness is the key to changing the damaging effects of a self-doubting mindset. A good way to begin, for overcoming self doubt and for any goal you want to accomplish in life, is to spend some quality time thinking about what you would like for the end result of your efforts to be. It could be that self doubt is the only thing standing between where you are today, and where you want to be in the future.
For example, you might be unhappy in your career, but doubt that you can change course so that you can do something else. The first thing you would need to do, in this scenario, is to give some quality time to thinking about why you have not made any attempts to change what you are doing. Could it be that self doubt is keeping you where you are? What is it that you would like to be doing, instead of what you now do every day?
Even if what you’re thinking of might seem far-fetched, at first, if it truly what you believe you would like to do, then write it down on a sheet of paper, or in a journal, as your goal profession, job, or career. The process for making real the changes you want to see in your life are the same for everyone, and for every goal, whether you are a nurse who wants to be a doctor, or a pet store clerk who would like to become a veterinarian. Acknowledging the desire to change, and becoming aware of any doubts you might have about your ability to make the change, is key.
The first step toward ending self doubt is to examine, in your own mind (and on paper), the reasons why you are doubting yourself. Facing up to what might be behind your seeming inability to believe you can do something is a major step toward conquering self doubt.
The idea that belief is a precursor to our outcome is generously spread throughout the New Testament in biblical scripture, in passages such as the Book of Mark, 9:23, which simply says, “If you canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth,” and Matthew 9:29, which says, “According to your faith, be it unto you.”
The Law of Attraction agrees. It says that you will attract to yourself experiences that match your beliefs. Along these same lines, it is a premise of quantum theory that the observer affects that which is observed. Therefore, as the observer of your own life and your own experiences, through your beliefs, you are the director and the creator of your own reality.
Step Two: Acknowledge Fear, and Keep Moving
Fear is something that we all face at one time or another. It lies underneath self-doubt and underscores any crisis in confidence. But fear can be used in either a negative or a positive way. When used negatively, fear is destructive, and can keep you from even attempting to achieve your goals. When used positively, fear can remind you that you are human, that you are weak, and that you need the comfort, strength, and guidance of your faith and the support and love of other people that you respect, as you attempt to accomplish your goals.
Even when you are afraid, you can still be in control of your actions. When you know you want to accomplish something, it’s normal to feel some fear. And while you may not be able to control the feeling of fear, you can control what you do about it.
- You can make steps toward achieving your goals, in spite of fear.
- You can think about what it is you want to do and about how you want to do it, in spite of fear.
- You can put your plan on paper (this will help to make it more real to you, instead of allowing it to be just a dream), in spite of fear.
- And once you get your plan on paper, you can develop a series of action steps you’ll need to take toward your goal, in spite of fear.
- Finally, you can ask yourself what steps you would begin making toward your goal if you were not overcome by fear, and then, in spite of fear, just do that.
You are the only person who can stop you from doubting yourself. You are the only person who can start replacing the belief that “I can’t” with the belief that “I can.” Every time you think of an “I can’t” statement related to something you would like to achieve, you should write it down. Next to it, you should write any reasons, logical or illogical, why you think you can’t. Then, next to those write what you think it would take for you to believe that you actually can do whatever it is you now think you can’t do.
As a Christian, I believe that all good things come from God, and God has given you and I complete control over how we use fear. The choice is yours. The best way to fight fear, for me—as a Christian, is to become filled with the faith that comes from the Holy Spirit of Jesus. Even Jesus needed the power of the Holy Spirit to fight the devil (Luke 4:1-2,14). My faith teaches me that if I learn to rely on Jesus, I will never lose touch with the comfort that only God can provide. This reliance then comforts and keeps me no matter what kind of fear or challenge I am facing.
Step Three: Replace Negative Thoughts with Positive
it's time to act to change self doubt to the courage to try. What you are doing now is learning to replace negative thinking with positive. By acknowledging your negative thoughts, you are bringing them to the surface so that you can look them in the eye, so to speak. Then, by acknowledging the fear that lies beneath the negative "I can't" belief, you are putting fear on notice that even if it remains inside your mind, you are going to act anyway. By making the unconscious conscious, you are changing your negative affirmations to positive ones, and you are truly on the way to changing your fate. The only way to change “I can’t” to “I can” is to challenge your negative thinking. The indisputable truth about the situation is that you will never know what you can do, until you try.
Why do some people reach their goals, while others don't? Although there may be other things to consider, the ultimate reason is that those who reach their goals stick to their action plans, and those who don’t reach their goals, don’t.
Success is simply a matter of consistently applying efforts that advance you toward your goal. If you allow yourself to become sidetracked, if you give up, or don’t apply your efforts repetitively and consistently, then you will not succeed. A quote, attributed to Robert Strauss, related to the virtue of perseverance says, “It’s like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you are tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired.” Think of your “gorilla” as the habit of self doubt that you are working to defeat. If you keep working, giving it all you’ve got for as long as it takes, it will become tired of resisting your efforts, and achieving your goal of increased self-confidence will be in clear sight.
Persistence: The Ability to Stay, Will Pay
No matter how diligent you are, and no matter how determined you are to reach your goal, there will come a time when your ability to stay with your plan will be tested. Remember the saying: There is no testimony with the test. So yes, you will face moments, hours, or even days when you will feel like giving up, but don’t. Remember, what you are experiencing is a natural test of your vision, your faith and belief that you can make the change, and your ability to continue working to reach your goal. If you stay the course, persistence in your struggle will teach you that when life throws bricks at you, you can find a way to use them to lay a foundation beneath your feet; one that will provide solid ground for your path by challenging you to overcome obstacles. And those bricks will help you to become stronger as you continue moving forward.
For me, prayer is a key ingredient I use to stick to a plan of action to defeat any foe. An avid reader of the Bible, I never hesitate to go to scripture for strength during times when either my will or my faith is being tested. As a strong believer in the power of prayer, I love the way Jesus emphasized to his disciples the importance of praying persistently. In Luke 11:9-10, he said to his disciples “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” After remembering this scripture, I then ask for strength to persevere, and at the same time, I expect to receive it. Then I say a prayer of thanks for now having the strength I will need to overcome feelings of weakness and moments of doubt. In other words, I “call those things that are not, as though they are.” And I’ve learned that that’s the real secret to attracting what I need from the universe to come into my life.
Imagine how your life will be changed as a result of changing your bad habit to a good one. See yourself benefiting from making the changes, and remember, no matter how many material benefits you receive, your greatest benefits will be spiritual. You will gain strength of will and strength of character knowing that you can develop a plan, follow it through, and realize life-changing benefits that will bring great joy for years to come, all because you were able stick to your plan.
Beware of allowing self doubt to creep into your life, encouraging you to accept less from yourself. Use the power of your mind’s eye to create a mental image of yourself overcoming self doubt to accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish. See yourself having the courage and the confidence you need. See yourself acting as though you have no fear. Now. Harness the feelings you felt during the visualization exercise, and use those feelings to go out and give your goal your best try.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD