Are you afraid to fail? Do you worry that you don’t have what it takes? Are you unwilling to put your ideas out there with the fear that others may not like it? Do you feel apprehensive when stepping out of your comfort zone?
Most of us do, including those who are highly successful. People who appear highly confident on the outside often deal with a lot of self-doubt on the inside. They aren’t confident because they were born with it, but because they have learned to embrace their feelings of self-doubt. They are less worried about looking bad in front of others and more about losing an opportunity to contribute. They care less about being criticized and more about not having the feedback they need to move forward.
They are successful not because they don’t have to deal with feelings of self-doubt but because they choose to act despite feeling those feelings. They practice courage to let their guard down, to be seen, to accept what they don’t know, and to acknowledge their mistakes. Most importantly, they lead with the belief that they are not perfect. They are always a work in progress.
Some form of self-doubt is good for our growth and learning. After all, it’s part of being curious. However, left unhandled, self-doubt can lead to:
- Debilitating levels of stress and anxiety
- Analysis paralysis / inaction
- Overthinking leading to mental health issues
Before we jump into strategies to channel your feelings of self-doubt into constructive action, it’s important to understand what’s causing them in the first place.
What’s causing self-doubt?
Self-doubt can come from 3 reasons:
- Doing something new and challenging
It’s natural and healthy to engage in self-doubt when expanding and working outside your boundary of comfort. You may feel like an imposter and worry that others will find out that you are a fraud.
Such feelings are not pleasant, but they inspire you to question your choices, doubt your knowledge and your methods and lead with better solutions.
- Negative self worth
If you have been told in the past that you are not good enough or that you can’t achieve something, these limiting beliefs can become an unconscious truth for your brain. They can turn challenges and setbacks into proof of your incompetence or that you simply don’t have what it takes to achieve something.
Viewing yourself as incompetent or not worthy of achieving something creates the mental barrier to pursue your dreams.
- Fixed mindset
In a fixed mindset, you value talent over effort, determination, and perseverance. You believe that irrespective of how much effort you put, you can never build the skills required to succeed in your goals.
This makes you give up without trying hard enough. Instead of building new skills, you stick with what you know. Instead of trying new strategies, you assume nothing is going to work. The belief that you cannot achieve limits your potential.
Once you have identified what’s causing these feelings of self-doubt, start with wholehearted acceptance that there’s nothing wrong with these feelings. Tell yourself that you want to be someone who can channel these feelings to push you forward instead of letting them pull you down.
9 strategies to turn self-doubt into excellence
- Get rid of labels
What labels do you identify yourself with – smart, not smart, shy, outspoken, introvert, extrovert, not good at public speaking, terrible at problem-solving, etc? List them down.
Getting rid of these labels is the first step to challenging your beliefs. Your beliefs are a creation of your mind and you can change them. Instead of taking certain actions thinking “this is who I am” and resisting others with the notion “this is not me,” getting rid of labels will open you to explore opportunities that didn’t seem possible earlier.
- Shift from negative self-talk to positive self-talk
The language that you use plays a crucial role in how you experience certain things, the emotions you feel and finally, it influences how you act.
As Ryan Holiday writes “You will come across obstacles in life — fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. You will learn that this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming — or possibly thriving because of — them.”
Take a note of your emotions and whenever you sense going down a negative path, reframe it using a more positive tone.
- Practise self-compassion instead of chasing after high self-esteem
Seeking constant approval and external validation to determine your self-worth can be damaging. Instead of working to keep your self-esteem intact, practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the ability to face your mistakes and failures with kindness and understanding instead of judging yourself harshly or acting defensive with the goal to protect your ego. It’s having the same sense of warmth, empathy, and positive regard for yourself as you would have for another person when they are dealing with a difficult circumstance. Acknowledging that life is sometimes messy and imperfect. After all, to err is human.
Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research describes it as “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”
- Put one foot in front of the other
Instead of taking one giant leap towards the goals you wish to achieve, practice taking small steps consistently in the direction of goals.
Small consistent changes turn off your brain’s alarm system that resists and fears change. These small steps may seem trivial at first, but when practiced over long periods of time, they turn into habits. What was once daunting becomes second nature. Soon the new behavior becomes a part of your being, who you are. You will no longer need to put effort into thinking this way. Slowly this is how you will think and act. It will be a habit.
- Adopt long term thinking
Self-doubt can make you apply shortcuts and choose a path with instant gratification without thinking about the consequences of your decision in the future.
When making important decisions, be willing to bear a little pain at the moment for a lot of gain in the future by engaging in long-term planning. Think about how your decisions today will impact your future outcomes.
- Develop a mastery mindset
Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher said “Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.”
Stop comparing yourself to others and start competing with self. Spend less time and energy lamenting about your shortcomings and more time and energy into practices and habits that will get you a little better each day.
Learn useful strategies from others, apply them to yourself, identify your mistakes, and challenge yourself to refine, repeat and keep going. Nothing can stop you when you focus on achieving personal mastery.
- Consciously spend time with others
Jim Rohn said, “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.”
Our brain is highly malleable and every experience impacts the neural connections in our brain. When the same pathway fires multiple times, it becomes strong. Are people around you strengthening the right pathway – are they encouraging or discouraging? Do people around you practice courage or do they give in to self-doubt?
Consciously choose. Who you hang out with is who you become. People close to you can have a significant effect on how you think and the way you act.
- Shape your identity
Finally, the most important thing is to work on your identity. Instead of feeling limited by “who you are,” define “who do you want to be?”
Once you have defined the identity of that person, simply act in line with how that person would act. When you face self-doubt, remind yourself of that identity and ask what that person would do in such a situation. How would they act?
Steven Pressfield wrote, “The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.” Instead of letting your brain determine what you can achieve, feed it with the goals of the person you wish to become.
Self-doubt is a universal experience. The difference between people who only dream big dreams and give up soon after and those who go out and achieve those dreams is their response to self-doubt. Learning to deal with the feeling of self-doubt can turn anxiety, unworthiness into a desire to do better and strive for more.
Vinita Bansal is the founder of TechTello. She has a vast amount of experience in the technology space building large engineering teams from the ground up and leading products with massive scale impacting millions of customers. She is also the author of Upgrade Your Mindset: How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs and Tap Your Potential. Her experience and knowledge have helped her coach and mentor people from diverse backgrounds to build the skills and support required to grow in their careers and feel confident to take on higher-level responsibilities within their organizations. Connect with her on Twitter.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.