Have you noticed how self-doubt often tends to creep in as you try to complete a project, decide on a new direction, or open up to a new relationship?
On good days, I think of self-doubt as a friend. It can test your resolve, strength, and perseverance. Yet, when self-doubt is allowed to go unchecked, it can paralyze you and hold you back.
I know self-doubt well. I can trace my relationship to it back to childhood. I can pinpoint times and events in my life when the seeds of self-doubt were planted and watered regularly.
Hard as you may try, self-doubt cannot be defeated by ignoring it or by wishing it away. You pick a fight with it and it becomes your focus. In the end, you are too exhausted to do anything. You give in.
What to do then?
1. Begin by looking at how and when self-doubt shows up.
- Do you tend to get caught in doing everything perfectly to the degree where nothing is good enough to put out there?
- Do you remember a time when you kept delaying making a decision or taking action because no matter how hard you tried, the voice in your head urged you to try harder?
- Do you tend to compare yourself to others and feel that you don’t measure up to somebody else’s effort, presence, or talent?
That’s your sense of perfectionism right there. It can have you running in circles, delaying, procrastinating, comparing yourself to others, and falling short.
Allowing your perfectionism to go unchecked will leave you feeling anxious, stressed, and even lethargic. Your feelings of inadequacy will then become confirmed and stored in your body’s memory. Unfailingly, they will be dredged up and used against you the next time you try to accomplish something.
2. See self-doubt for what it is – a voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough.
At any given time we grapple with the competing voices in our head. There is the voice of our better angels offering support and encouragement. Then, there is the voice of fear and doubt.
If you want to quiet the voice of doubt in your head, you have to question its truth and validity. Your goal is to replace the voice of self-doubt with a kinder, more realistic, and more truthful voice.
Try talking to it like you would talk to an uninvited guest and set your boundaries straight.
“Here you are again, trying to put me in my place. You are allowed to stay a few minutes and no longer. I’ve heard you and now you can go and let me do my thing.”
When you are in the midst of a project, trying to decide on the best course of action, you want to make sure that you operate from a place of clarity and resolve. You can still experience stress and anxiety at times, but you will get better at navigating these moments. You are practicing feeling strong within yourself.
3. Find the tools that work for you.
You can explore self-doubt’s origins through therapy. Getting to the root of self-doubt will help you understand and free yourself from its grip.
Meditation, journaling, spending time in nature, and physical activity can help you manage your stress and anxiety levels. Creating an action plan and following through with it will help you stay focused on what is important and will increase your sense of accomplishment.
- Use your breath as a way to release tension and strong emotions.
Take 15-20 minutes a day to pause and recharge. Sit down quietly with yourself to practice mindful breathing. No expectations, other than finding an oasis of calm presence in the midst of your day. As you sit and breathe, allow thoughts to come and go. Do not chase after them. Instead, observe them as they pass by.
When feelings come up, acknowledge them and continue to breathe. Notice how your body responds to difficult emotions. Do you feel tightness in your throat, your chest, your lower back, or your stomach? Breathe into the part of your body that feels tight and relax.
Emotions are like waves. Let them wash over you as you breathe. Fighting against emotions is like fighting with the wind. You’ll be left breathless and vulnerable. Your emotions can guide you and show you what you need to do to take care of yourself. Notice them as they come and go.
- Journal your way out of self-doubt.
Think of your journal as a good and trustworthy friend. What do you want to talk to it about? Is there a question pressing down on you? Be curious about your feelings of self-doubt. You can ask:
- Why do I feel that I am not good enough? Where is this coming from? Is it true?
- Why do I compare myself to others?
- How does this habit stop me from doing what I want to do?
- When did I feel like this before? How did it all turn out?
- What can I do when I get anxious and doubt myself?
- Whose idea of perfection do I really strive for?
- What do I want for myself?
- What is important to me?
Write your question on the top of the paper and let the answer bubble up. Don’t edit. Let all that wants to be heard, including your fears and doubts, come into focus. Don’t be afraid to challenge your assumptions. Keep asking questions until you get to your truth.
If strong emotions surface, let them be. Feel your emotions but be gentle with yourself in the process. Your goal is to challenge and gently release the old and outdated beliefs and ideas that hold you back.
- Spend time outside in nature to clear your head and release tension.
Don’t underestimate the value of a long walk. At times, you need to walk away and give your body and mind an outlet. Being in nature, walking, gardening, or simply taking in the view can give you relief and a fresh perspective.
- Create an action plan and focus on what needs to be done at the moment.
Paint a picture of your destination, your hopes, and how you will get there. Write down what you need to do to complete the task and achieve your objectives. Then turn your focus on what is right in front of you instead of getting lost in the big picture. Completing the task on hand can be the greatest remedy for self-doubt.
As you move along, take the time to evaluate your progress. Look at what you have accomplished so far, make corrections if needed, and congratulate yourself. Make it a practice to recognize your own worth, goodness, and skill.