“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will” – Suzy Kassem
Whether it’s the night before a job interview, gearing up to give a speech or prepping for an important project, it’s normal to feel doubts and worries. It’s something we all experience and to a certain extent it can be healthy – it helps us to make the right choices and challenges our decisions.
However, self-doubt can hit us like a wave, washing over us with feelings of anxiety, fear and overwhelm. Self-doubt is often the barrier to success, feeding into a cycle of you being unsure of your abilities and, ultimately, standing in your own way. Sometimes, there’s nothing else holding you back except your own doubts. In this blog, we’ll explore why self-doubt is holding you back and what you can do to fight it.
What is self-doubt?
I don’t deserve to do well in this interview, I’m no good, I’m going to fail, I won’t achieve my goals, I can’t achieve anything….
If you recognise these negative thought patterns, chances are that it’s your self-doubt surfacing. Self-doubt is where we can’t see the good qualities in ourselves, like our talents or abilities. And it’s no wonder that if we see the world through this filter, we often lack the motivation to try because we believe we are destined for failure.
Self-doubt is strongly connected with our inner critic and imposter syndrome, which harm our confidence in our capabilities. It’s born out of our fight-or-flight response – and most of the time, we choose to flee and avoid facing the situation or task that our brain perceives as a ‘threat’.
Many people also find it easy to fall into a vicious cycle of comparison to others and a preoccupation with not being good enough, constantly feeding these feelings of self-doubt with what we believe is the ‘truth’. In reality, it’s not an objective view of our abilities – after all, one person’s success doesn’t cancel out the success of anyone else.
Left unchecked, high levels of self-doubt can quickly drain our self-confidence and self-esteem and flood into other areas of our life, including how we feel about our image and worth. It can seep into our relationships with others, leading us to question our partner’s feelings for us, or if our friend really does enjoy spending time with us as much as they say.
There are two common ‘coping strategies’ that have been identified in psychology that inadvertently enable our self-doubt. The first is called self-handicapping, where we manage our uncertainty about our abilities by interfering with our chances of success. Think of it like self-sabotage – you might stay up all night or procrastinate so that you have something to place the blame on when you underperform: I would have done better, but I was tired. This ties the failure to an external factor, rather than our own identity or competence.
The second strategy is overachievement. In much the same way, this way of facing the obstacle tries to avoid failure, but instead of not working hard enough, we make sure that failure is prevented by putting in the extra effort. It’s often not efficient to spend hours upon hours on a job that takes half the time, but it quietens our self-doubt to prepare so much. Despite our achievements from this tactic, it doesn’t extinguish our self-doubt. In fact, it fans the flames by encouraging these feelings as the only way to do well.
The danger of your comfort zone
One study found that our changes in self-esteem are not only down to whether people like us, but whether we expect people to like us. Therefore, we don’t want to do anything that would put us in a position to fail, or our confidence would take a knock, heightening our self-doubt.
Only taking on tasks that you know you’re good at might seem like a great way to avoid defeat, but it means you’re not pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. There’s little chance of doing wrong, but there’s also little chance of challenging yourself and your self-doubt. You may also take fewer risks, instead choosing to stay in the safe lane. But, this only holds you back from opportunities that you’re capable of because you don’t give yourself a chance to jump over the hurdle of self-doubt.
So, what can you do to overcome self-doubt?
Reframe your thoughts
Is this reality? Why do I think this? Am I protecting myself?
Questioning and confronting your thought patterns can help you to rationalise them and positively reframe them. As we’ve seen, self-doubt manifests from anxiety and fear, resulting in avoidance, so ask yourself if your self-doubt is productive in this scenario. Do your worries align with the task at hand?
Through self-compassion, you can counter your negativity with positivity. One way you can do this is through gratefulness, whether it’s reminding yourself of what you’re thankful for or making a note of it when you’re journaling.
Power of affirmations
The more we say something to ourselves, the more we believe it. How we talk to ourselves matters and changing the language we use matters too. With positive affirmations, you are repeating a ‘new truth’ to yourself.
Rather than declaring “I am going to give a great presentation,” you would say: “I give great presentations”. This associates you with the person you already want to be – you are that person who gives great presentations, rather than it being an aspiration.
Visualising a more confident you
Over time, our experiences can chip away at our self-confidence, and leave us with crippling self-doubt. If you think you’re being held back and would like to silence your inner critic, this course is for you.
You’ll learn how top athletes push beyond the pain to achieve their goals and how you can use the same techniques to do the same. You’ll regain your self-belief and the motivation to take action and pursue wonderful opportunities.