“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
Self-doubt can be a troubling and persuasive voice that holds you back. It holds you back from seizing your opportunities. It makes getting started or finishing things harder than they need to be. Sure, it can sometimes be useful as it helps you to see your current limitations or simply recognize a half-baked or bad idea. But mostly, it holds you back in life.
So how can you get around that, how can you overcome those times of self-doubt so that you can move forward once again? In this post I’ll explore 13 tips and habits that have helped me to decrease that destructive inner voice.
1. Say stop.
First, when your inner doubts bubble up, be quick. Don’t let them spin out of control or grow from a whisper to a stream of discouraging sentences. Instead, talk back to that doubtful part of yourself. In your mind, say or shout something like: No, no, no, we are not going down that road again. By doing so you can disrupt the thought pattern and stop that inner self-doubter from taking over.
2. Look to the past and awash yourself in the memories.
Be real with yourself and ask yourself:
How many times when I doubted myself or feared something would happen did that negative thing come into reality after I still took action? The answer for me – and probably for you too – is not very often at all. Self-doubts are most often just monsters in your head that your mind may use to keep you from making changes and to keep you within the comfort zone.
If you look to the past and see how well things have gone many times despite those self-doubts then it becomes easier to let go of them or to ignore them and to focus on the more likely positive outcome and to take action.
3. Talk to someone about it.
When you keep your thoughts on the inside they can become distorted, exaggerated and not very much in line with reality or reasonable expectations. This is very much true when it comes to self-doubting thoughts. So let them out into the light. Talk to someone close to you about your self-doubts. Just letting them out and saying them out loud can often help you to hear how exaggerated these thoughts have become. And by talking about those doubts with someone that is supportive you can get a change in perspective.
4. Don’t get stuck in the comparison trap.
If you compare yourself to other people all too often, to their successes and especially to their highlight reels that they share on social media then self-doubt can quickly creep up. A better way to go about things is to compare yourself to yourself. To see how far you have come. To see what you’ve overcome. And to see how you’ve kept going, succeeded and grown as a human being.
5. Start keeping a journal.
Keeping a journal can be a helpful habit for many reasons. When it comes to self-doubts it can help you to:
Keep a realistic record of your life. And help you to remember the positive things, the successes you have had and how you have overcome obstacles if you are prone to remembering things with a negative slant.
Gain clarity more easily. It is often easier to alleviate fears and doubts and to gain clarity if you have an issue laid out on paper or in a computer document rather than if you try to go through it all in your mind. By making lists of pros and cons, going through your thoughts and emotions and similar events from the past and by writing down different perspectives on the issue it becomes easier to find solutions and to see your challenge in a clearer and more level-headed way.
6. Remember: people don't care that much about what you do or say.
When you worry about what others may think or say if you do something then the self-doubt can quickly become stronger and you get stuck in inaction and in fear. When that happens, remind yourself that the truth is that people don't really care that much about what you do or not do. They have their hands full with thinking about themselves, their kids and pets, jobs and upcoming sports matches and with worrying about what people may think of them.
7. What someone said or did might not be about you (or about what you think it is).
When someone criticizes you then it’s easy to start doubting yourself. When someone rejects you and you don’t get a second date after that first one that you think went pretty well then it’s not so strange to get down on yourself.
But what if what he or she said or did isn’t really about you at all? Perhaps your co-worker that verbally lashed out at you is having a bad day, month or marriage. And you might not have gotten that second date because the other person’s mom got sick and he had to focus on that or because he reconnected with his ex-girlfriend and wanted to give their relationship another shot. You don’t know everything that’s going on in another person’s life. And the world doesn’t revolve around you. So be careful so you don’t misinterpret and build blame and doubt within without any reason.
8. Get a boost of optimism.
Let someone else's enthusiasm, motivation and constructive optimism flow over to you.
Spend 20 minutes with an audio book, a podcast or a book that gives you that.
9. See a setback as temporary.
When you have a setback then you may start to see things through a negative and dark lens. You might see this current setback as something that will simply be your new normal. This way of looking at things can trap you in thinking that there's no point in continuing to take action.
Remember: You are not a failure just because you failed. Setbacks happen to everyone who take chances. It is simply a part of living life fully. Sometimes things go well and sometimes they don't. So don't make a failure into this huge thing or into your identity.
Ask yourself: what is one thing I can learn from this setback? Use the mistake or failure to your advantage and to move forward once again in smarter way.
10. Sharpen your skills.
If you, for instance, often get self-doubt before a presentation in school or at work then sharpen your presentation skills. Read a few books about it and practice at home in front of a mirror or in front of a friend. Or join Toastmasters to get the experience or knowledge you need. Then you'll feel more confident, competent and relaxed in such situations.
11. Don't beat yourself up about it.
A common way to handle self-doubt is to get angry at yourself and your lack of motion. To try to beat yourself up as a way to get yourself to move forward. That does not – in my experience – help that much.
I have found that being kind and constructive when feeling self-doubt is a better choice. So I use kind and understanding words towards myself but I also ask myself: What is one very small step I can take to move forward in this situation? Then I take that very small step and start to step by step move towards where I want to go.
12. Celebrate that small step and win.
When you’ve taken one small step forward – for example gone for the first 5 minute run in months or years – and you’re done with it then you have a win. It may be a small one but it’s still a win. So celebrate it. Have a tasty snack or your favorite food for dinner, spend some time on your favorite hobby or buy yourself something you’ve wanted for some time now. This will renew and recharge your motivation and make taking action feel more exciting and fun. And that will push self-doubts aside so that you can keep moving and get more small and bigger wins.
13. Remember: You can course-correct along the way.
Trying to plan every move you will make on a journey towards a goal or dream can become draining and lead to quite a bit of self-doubt. And it usually doesn't work that well anyway since the best laid plans often start to fall apart a bit or need some change when they are confronted with reality. So do a bit of rough planning and then start your journey. And remember that you can always course-correct along the way towards what you want. Empowered by the new knowledge, experience and feedback you will get as you keep going on that path.