We all have varying levels of self-doubt. But too much of it can be crippling and destructive, especially when it keeps rearing its head over and over, causing self-sabotage, procrastination, and spiraling negative thoughts.
Have you ever started a project or job excitedly, only to begin doubting yourself shortly after?
Am I qualified enough?
Will I follow through with the most important tasks?
Will they regret hiring me?
Will my colleagues/boss/supervisor/co-collaborators/clients appreciate and value my work?
And these doubts don’t just plague our minds with work. They often happen at home, too, in relationships and with friendships and hobbies and almost everything else.
In this post, we’ll tackle the question of what is self-doubt and I’ll also share strategies (and a meditation) to help overcome it.
So, what is self-doubt, exactly?
Let’s start with a somewhat embarrassing example: When I was 28, I decided to treat myself by planning a destination-unknown trip. I took time off, had a bunch of cash saved, and went to the airport with the plan to buy a ticket (flying out that day or within the next 2 days) to somewhere…anywhere that fit within my ‘finances’. I had saved a good chunk, so I had options.
What I didn’t have was the confidence to make the decision.
See, I’ve pretty much always been wracked with indecision. When cashiers used to ask ‘paper or plastic’, I’d stand there going back and forth in my mind.
And I came to realize much of that indecision was due to self-doubt. I wasn’t so much concerned about things like the weather at the destination, or even my safety, I was more engulfed in mistrust of myself. Like, I was not able to make the right decision. And would regret any decision I made.
And there it is. Self-doubt.
Just one variation of it.
It comes in many sneaky forms.
The fleeting doubts throughout the day.
Those are the little ones. Sometimes meaningless, other times not.
I don’t think I turned off the iron
Maybe I don’t look good in this dress after all
Does this skirt make my hips look humongous
Then there are the bigger, more obvious self-doubts:
Even though I hate this job, it’s the best I can do
Everyone else seems smarter, more confident than me
I can’t shake this feeling that I’m behind on everything in life
People think I’ve got my sh*t together, but inside I feel like a complete fraud
I’m so failing…at everything…at life
How do you overcome chronic self-doubt so it doesn’t cripple you?
I’ve got good news and bad news.
Let’s get the bad news outta the way:
You never quite conquer this completely.
It will always pop back up
Heard of imposter syndrome? Many celebrities have expressed that the more successful they became, the more self-doubt they had. They kept waiting for someone to single them out as a total fraud, and strip away their success because they didn’t ‘really’ deserve it.
Self-doubt never totally goes away.
Now the good news: you can learn how to recognize it and respond to it so it doesn’t cripple you and cause upheaval in your relationships, work, and life.
How do you do that?
1. Recognize it for what it is
There’s a fine line between healthy questioning and unhealthy questioning rooted in low confidence. Because, in essence, that’s the root of chronic self-doubt: low confidence. you don’t know if it’s intuition or self-doubt popping up and then you make decisions based on it
A few ways to see it:
*Is there a pattern?
Is there an identifiable cycle with the same self-doubting thoughts over and over? Maybe you the self-doubt sets in at the same stage of relationships or projects or work?
*Is it paralyzing you?
It completely stops you from moving forward with something, that’s often a clue.
*Is it grounded in limited beliefs?
A lot of our self-doubt comes from limiting beliefs we have about ourselves
I could never do ‘x’
I’m not good at y
I always do ‘z’ wrong
My brother/sister/cousin was always so much better than me at…
Most of this feels real but it is nonsense. It takes looking at it and questioning it.
Question everything. Including, and especially, beliefs that put limits on your life.
Writing can help, too (more on that coming up).
A few signs this is nonsense (aka rooted in false, limiting beliefs): it’s stemming from comparing yourself to someone else. Another sign is that it is totally unfounded.
2. Take action
Again and again. Big scary actions, especially. See, I love meditation and journaling and other tools but I believe we must do these things in conjunction with taking action.
It’s through making decisions and taking action, we build up our confidence, one tiny step at a time. Don’t doubt, do. Take action.
Acknowledging the doubts, recognizing that they’re unfounded, and still taking action despite the doubts.
This is works.
And it also begins diminishing their volume in your life. Not eliminates. But diminishes how loud they are and your reaction to them.
3. Go within
The root of chronic self-doubt is internal and so addressing it needs to be done internally, also. Everything always does, right? Addressing it is vital to your wellbeing.
Doing this work is a life-long process. I have a few tools and practices that have helped me. Hopefully, they help you, too:
* Journal Writing
I find stream of consciousness writing works for this, followed by writing to specific questions/prompts that help me let go of the feeling of self-doubt and move forward. They help get a lot of nonsense thoughts out of the head, where they don’t belong, anyway.
Don’t know how to do it? Here’s a video:
My next favorite tool for going within, clearing the mind of scattered thoughts and limiting beliefs, and deep inner healing is meditation.
Here’s the meditation I promised on Healing Self-Doubt + Building Confidence
Of course, there are other tools you can use. I encourage you to find what works and keep an arsenal ready for the times you feel most affected by self-doubt.
Please know that if some thoughts feel too destructive to heal and work through on your own, seek professional help as needed.
Over the years, I’ve learned to use these tools, do the work, and try my hardest to take action even in the face of my self-doubts.
This combination has helped to start eroding the power limiting beliefs and self-doubts had over my life.
I hope this combination helps for you, too.