3 Things to Do When You Feel Self-Doubt

"Our doubts are traitors,and make use lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." ~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure


Doubt can creep up when you're learning new skills, taking on a new role or when you begin mentoring others, or attempting anything new for the first time -- especially when it's outside your comfort zone. Whenever you're learning something new, it's natural to doubt yourself. This doubt can make you wonder if you know anything at all. As Saron Yitbarek learned while putting on her first conference, how you handle your mindset is essential.

Another time you can experience doubt is when you break a streak. Maybe you broke your streak on Github or fell out of a helpful writing habit. Doubt can make it much harder to find your way back. But as Jim Gay discovered, your helpful habit doesn't have to be lost forever.

While we all experience doubt, that doesn't mean you should spend your days making a list of all the ways you could screw things up. It just means that it's okay, natural even, to experience some self-doubt, as long as it doesn't derail your goals.

How do you make sure doubt doesn't become your downfall?

Three things to keep in mind with self-doubt


1. Embrace your doubt (then let it go)

Doubt may be most present following certain events, like when you miss a deadline, while working with a new technology or taking on a new project. Doubt can even be an indicator that we're pushing ourselves to the edges of comfort zone, and our potential.

It's okay to experience self-doubt. Everyone experiences it from time to time. Everyone experiences self-doubt, even the world's most successful people. Just remember to take a breath and let it go. Remind yourself that everyone has weaknesses and failures. Despite these, it doesn't mean you have to give up.

When you're feeling doubt, don't ignore it. Acknowledging how you're feeling can help you face these uncomfortable feelings.

Rather than trying run away from self-doubt, allow yourself to experience it. Though it might seem counter-intuitive, trying to run away from difficult feelings like self-doubt can actually make them linger longer. The harder you try to push them away, the more stress they can cause.  Becoming more comfortable with your discomfort helps you build resilience.

2. Resist looking for external validation

During low moments, it can be hard not to look to others for a boost in confidence. However, external validation isn't always the answer.

Psychotherapist Rachel Eddins says that over time, self-doubt "can lead to a persistent need for reassurance, leaving you anxious unless other are providing it." She believes that the more leaders rely on external sources of validation, the more paralyzing it can be when it comes to make decisions or express yourself later on.

The problem with relying on others to fuel your confidence is that you will end up focusing on other people's perception of you instead of what you're actually capable of.  You'll go into "reputation management mode" instead of focusing on refining your skills or mindsets.

It's never what others think of you that determines whether or not you succeed. (1).png

You'll be stuck waiting for the retweet or like to prove that you're worth a damn. When you spend your time and energy looking for validation, you'll always find yourself feeling inadequate. There will always be someone who is doing better than you, or getting further, faster. And sometimes, others can even pile on, making your doubt grow.

Software developer and independent event creator Bobbilee Hartman learned this when attempting to create her first conference. When facing naysayers who cautioned her about the risks of her project, she turned inward rather than outward. She side-stepped self-doubt by reminding herself, "That’s not currently happening to me so let’s go forward."

Your success is not predicated on the accomplishments of others. Your success rests solely in your own hands.

So the next time you experience self-doubt, don't go running to others for affirmation. Instead, remind yourself or make a list of your best qualities and achievements to build yourself up during times of discouragement.

3. If you're stuck, ask why

Of course, there will be times when the self-doubt hits hard, and all the deep breaths and positive self-talk in the world just won't be enough. What then?

The most powerful tool against self-doubt is actually self-awareness.

Sometimes self-doubt is a reflection of a deeper mindset that people carry around as the result of past experiences. Maybe on the surface you see yourself as a successful person, but you're always self-sabotaging when it comes time to promoting your work. Persistent or intense self-doubt could be a sign that your subconscious mind isn't fully on board with how awesome and amazing you are.

One way to figure out the root of your self-doubt is by practicing a self-awareness strategy that many business coaches use -- it's called "The Five Whys".

Here's how it works:

1. Write down the specific problem you're facing -- in this case, you would write down your negative thoughts (I'm not good enough, I'll never succeed, etc.).

2. Ask yourself why the problem is happening -- ask yourself why you believe those things about yourself and write down the first thing that comes to mind.

3. Repeat step 2 four more times (a total of five "whys") to go deeper into your belief system and root out the core belief.

Here's an example.

I can't promote my work.

Why don't I believe I'm good enough?

I always thought you had to be an extrovert to market your work, and I'm an introvert.

Why would that stop me?

Because I believe that introverts can't sell themselves.

Why do I believe that?

Because I'm afraid I'm too introverted to handle the people contact and networking required to sell my work.

It may not take you five rounds to get to the root of the issue. Or, it may take you more than five. Speed doesn't matter. The goal is about practicing self-awareness. When you have a better understanding of your own negative thinking, you can expose the problem and find a solution.

For example, if you believed that being an introvert was going to prevent you from marketing your app or book, you could find ways to overcome this with other tools and resources. The blanket statement, I'm not good enough, suddenly becomes, I can handle this by following a way that feels true to who I am.

It may be difficult to do at first, but it's ultimately a practice in confronting self-doubt so that it doesn't stop you from doing your most important work.

Final thoughts

Self-doubt can strike anyone at anytime, but that doesn't mean you have to fall victim to its presence. First, remember that you're not alone -- self-doubt is a natural part of the process and it happens to everyone. Take a breath, tell yourself, "I'm experiencing self-doubt and that's okay," and move on.

If you get stuck, start by making a list of your accomplishments and positive traits that have gotten you to where you are today. Keep in mind that you can ask for help from others, but not to focus too much on their perception. What you believe about yourself will be more valuable in the long run.

If you're still struggling, consider practicing some self-awareness and digging into the root cause of your self-doubt. There may be a practical solution to your self-doubt waiting in the shadow of your subconscious.