Self doubt can be debilitating and make our worlds seem smaller and more frightening. One of the things that makes it dangerous is that it can become so familiar that we stop noticing it. It can have the effect of holding us back, and so often we aren’t aware that self doubt is like driving with the handbreak on.
Slippery and devious, self doubt is often sown early in life, whether through negative feedback from parents, friends or teachers and is therefore a tricky nut to crack in adulthood. Ultimately it feeds a fear that in some way we aren’t capable of doing that which we want to or is asked of us. It can weave itself in to our identity such that we believe the stories that we tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough at something, can’t achieve that which we could strive for and consequently keeps us ‘safe’ in a restricted place. Humans are storytellers, it is our way of making sense of our experiences both internally and to others, but stories become entrenched and language that we use so familiar that we don’t question it.
Courage is often seen opposite to self doubt. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the ability to acknowledge fear and move forward in its face. As a child I was always told that I was brave on a horse, but in fact I was fearless – my sisters, who were more cautious than me, were in fact much braver as they were tackling something that scared them. This is this muscle that we can start to develop in tackling self doubt – courage. Courage and belief together is a potent combination to, step by step, knock down the bricks that form the wall of self doubt that keeps us from moving forward.
The key to being able to do this is accepting that these long held behaviours and beliefs, that often run through us like tiny threads that we can’t see, is accepting that change takes time. It rarely occurs as a result of a flash of insight – real change most often is the rest of slow but consistent and patient action. So when reading through what you can do, try not to be disheartened if you feel as though you’re taking a step back for every two forward. Perseverance will reward you as the muscle of both noticing and challenging self-doubt becomes stronger and more familiar to you. Here's what you can do:
1. Acknowledge Your Self Doubt
Be honest with yourself about what you’re not achieving or doing, and what lies behind that. What is it that is holding you back. Is it fear?
2. Notice Your Internal Language
Keep track of how many times a day you say to yourself, "I can’t", or back away from things that you’d like to be able to pursue.
3. Challenge Your Fears
When you’re noticing the above (what you’re holding yourself back from and the language that you are using internally), ask yourself, "Is this real?". By challenging what is real and what is imagined, your conscious mind will feed in to your subconscious that it is making assumptions about your abilities.
4. Ask For Support
We all need cheerleaders in our lives and these can come in many forms. Ask for help from a friend, family member or mentor at work. They can help you to challenge your negative thinking and celebrate small successes when you challenge your self doubt.
5. Fist-Pump Acts of Courage
Acknowledge when you have been brave – it is likely to be more often that you give yourself credit for! Scribble 10 times that you did something that scared you – it could be something as seemingly simple as going out of your depth, even for a moment, in the sea. Keep that list visible on your desk or in your wallet, and refer to it often as a reminder that you do have in you what you believe you lack.
The mind cannot tell the difference between real and imagined events, so the power of visualisation to create pathways that it assumes are real, are huge. If you have something coming up where you feel riddled by self doubt, take 5 minutes to visualise how you would like to be in that situation.
7. Professional Support
Get some coaching – this can help you develop practices of observing and correcting behaviours that you know hold you back or feel stuck on.
Always one of my key recommendations! Self doubt can feel debilitating and slowing the heart rate helps take the intensity out of the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed or crippled.
Remember, you can regain control of yourself by embracing all the self love within yourself!
Read next: 5 Simple Ways To Shut Down Your Anxiety