If you struggle with self-doubt, you’re not alone. Even the most confident among us can feel insecure from time to time.
But believing we should feel confident all the time – and that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t – is a fallacy. Not only is it unrealistic, it’s not necessary.
No-one is immune from that persistent voice telling us we’re not good enough, smart enough, funny enough, or attractive enough. Because self-doubt, like most “negative” feelings, serves a purpose.
When used effectively, self-doubt can be a catalyst for change, prompt self-improvement, and give insight into the things most important to us. If we let it overwhelm us, though, self-doubt can hamper our enjoyment of life and hinder our ability to grow, learn, and seize opportunities.
The key is to recognize when and why those self-doubt gremlins appear, and use them to your advantage.
The Confidence Conundrum
But before we attack those gremlins, let’s start by exploring self-doubt’s alter ego: confidence.
We view confident people as self-assured, charismatic, and possessing of an inner conviction and a quiet energy. They’re go-getters, they know what they want, they make things happen, and they never put a foot wrong.
We believe that in order to be like those people, we just need more confidence. And if we could get more of it, we could solve our problems.
Unfortunately, confidence is like time. Everyone wants more of it, but creating it can be challenging. The irony is, all the confidence we need is already within us. We just need to tap into it.
For example, it’s commonly accepted that we need confidence before when can start something. i.e. when I’m confident I will: go for that promotion, join a gym, start a yoga practice, wear my swimsuit at the beach, learn to ride a bike, apply for a new job, start dating again, etc.
Despite this commonly accepted view, confidence is actually a result of action. It comes from taking steps forward. It comes from trying, failing, and learning. Even the tiniest step forward will build momentum, and with that momentum comes enhanced feelings of self-worth and self-belief.
In other words, confidence does not simply appear – it comes from taking action. The more we do, the more we prove to ourselves that we’re capable and competent.
So, if confidence is already within us, how do we deal with self-doubt to better harness that confidence?
The Value of Self-Doubt
Self-doubt can be an uncomfortable experience and we usually try to distract ourselves when we feel it. It can be a tight, squirming feeling in your belly or chest, accompanied by a nagging worry that you’re not good enough – whether that relates to your body image, relationships, social standing, ability to communicate, or job skills.
If that “not good enough” thought gets stuck on repeat in your head, you may begin to doubt your abilities, distort your self-view, or avoid engaging with other people. It’s no wonder we try to get rid of self-doubt when we feel it.
However, a crucial first step for dealing with self-doubt is to recognize that it’s not inherently bad. Rather than viewing self-doubt as something to be eradicated, think of it as a useful tool.
Self-doubt can help us to:
- Take stock of our abilities.
- Assess our strengths and weaknesses.
- Figure out what’s important to us (and why).
- Get ready for change.
- Plan ahead.
- Ask for help when required.
- Keep ourselves honest.
Those self-doubt gremlins — whose job it is to keep us safe — serve a purpose. If we can recognize them, tame them, and use them effectively, they can be a positive force. Here are some tips for taming your self-doubt gremlins.
Tip #1: Remember Your Strengths
We often take our strengths for granted. We seem to think that because something comes easily, it’s not noteworthy or highly skilled.
In reality, we’re all primed to be good at certain things. Each of us has naturally evolved skill-sets, whether that’s being creative, detail-oriented, supportive, quick-witted, determined, honest, caring, generous, courageous, knowledgeable, practical, organized, energetic, helpful, consistent, resourceful, or empathetic (to name a few).
When we use our strengths, we feel confident and capable. We’re in the zone, time passes quickly, and things feel effortless. We feel clear, calm, and absorbed.
Unfortunately, when self-doubt surfaces, we tend to forget our strengths and instead focus on our weaknesses.
To remind yourself of these strengths, ask yourself:
- What things are you naturally good at?
- What do you like doing?
- What are the qualities that people admire in you?
- What compliments do you often receive?
- What things have you learned quickly, that came easily to you?
If you’re stuck, ask the people around you what words they’d use to describe you. You could ask your friends, family members, colleagues, customers, neighbors, or teachers.
Try this: Once you have your list, keep it by your bed. Look at it every day when you wake up. This will instantly focus your mind on what you can do, rather than what you can’t.
Tip #2: Just Do You
At the heart of self-doubt is a feeling of not being good enough. When we look a little deeper, we usually discover this feeling of not being good enough is in comparison to someone else.
Comparing our reality to the subjective view of another’s situation can be corrosive to self-esteem. It can chip away until we convince ourselves there’s no point trying because we’ll never be as good as the other person.
Self-doubt feeds on comparison. Comparison fuels the fire and reinforces feelings of hopelessness and indecisiveness.
So, when you find yourself comparing, bring some reality back into the equation. Ask yourself:
- Are you comparing their “end” with your “beginning”?
- How many years have they spent practicing, failing, and learning?
- Are you seeing the whole picture or just the highlight?
- How can you use their experience to improve your own?
Try this: The next time you find yourself comparing, stop and take stock. Consciously compliment and appreciate that person. This switches your mindset from “not enough” to gratitude.
Tip #3: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Our self-doubt gremlins love to point out all the ways we could fail at something and all the things that could go wrong. And because they’re inside our head, we believe them. We let self-doubt stop us from moving forward because something bad might happen.
There’s no denying that fear is a powerful emotion. Many times, the fear of a negative outcome is often worse than the negative outcome itself. Fortunately, fear often loses its power when we recognize and face it.
A simple and effective way to do this is to describe, in detail, the absolute worst possible outcome. Write down all the negative consequences, how you’d feel if it happened, who it would affect, and why it should be avoided.
Then take a mental step back and look at that outcome objectively. Would you survive it? Is it as bad as your mind tells you it is? How likely is it to be that bad?
Writing down these negative thoughts can diffuse their power and give us perspective on the likelihood and intensity of a negative outcome.
Try this: Once you’ve written the worst-case scenario, repeat the process with the best-case scenario. The next time self-doubt surfaces, counter it with your best-case.
A Force for Good
Building confidence — and taming the self-doubt gremlins — takes practice. It’s unrealistic to believe you should always feel confident, just as it’s unrealistic to believe self-doubt is always harmful. Recognizing your strengths and being willing to learn and grow are the keys to developing a level of self-confidence that allows you to live life with quiet assuredness.