Self-doubt. All of us have it. For some of us it’s an occasional visitor, while for others it’s ever-present.
Sometimes it’s useful. For example, the self-doubt that stops me from swimming outside the flags in rough surf conditions has probably served me well.
Other times self-doubt is much less useful, such as:
- The kind that stops us from speaking up when there’s something important to say
- The kind that stops us from putting a new idea into action at work
- The kind that stops us from making a change when we have come to dislike our job
- The kind that stops us forming connections with new people for fear of rejection
This kind of self-doubt prevents us from doing important, exciting things. It can keep us stuck in a rut, and can limit our success and happiness in midlife. It lessens our impact in the world and it can reduce our chances of living fulfilling lives.
So how can we knock self-doubt down to size and stop it from holding us back?
To answer this question I’ll use a model in Peter Senge’s classic book “The Fifth Discipline”. This book is mostly about “systems thinking” and “learning organisations”, but it also includes a useful section on “personal mastery”. Senge says that we all have 2 rubber bands around us, pulling in opposite directions. The first rubber band, hooked to our feelings of self-doubt, holds us back, while the second, connected to our vision and goals, helps us move forward. To achieve forward movement the goal/vision rubber band needs to be thicker and stronger than the self-doubt rubber band. If it’s a lot stronger we’ll move ahead quickly whereas if it’s just a bit stronger our movement will be slower.
Using this diagram, I have 2 suggestions for stopping self-doubt from holding you back.
SUGGESTION 1 – Reduce self-doubt by making your self-talk more positive.
Some people get into very harmful patterns of inner talk, which can really erode confidence and raise self-doubt. Instead of telling yourself you can’t do something tell yourself that you can. Instead of thinking of what capabilities you don’t have focus on the many you do have. Instead of assuming the worst outcomes in situations think start thinking about the best. Some people manage to change self-talk habits by repeating affirmations every day such as “I am strong, I am smart, I can do anything I want to do”.
SUGGESTION 2 – Set goals that make you excited, and focus intently on these goals.
As the rubber band diagram shows, strong, compelling goals are essential if we’re going to move forward. When we have strong goals and focus on them the voice of self-doubt becomes much more quiet. To set good goals first figure out what’s important, then draft something out to reflect this. Once this is done work on refining it until you have something that makes you feel a pang of excitement. If it doesn’t it’s not the right goal. Once you’re happy with your goal make sure it stays visible so it’s always at the front of your mind.
If you try both of these ideas and I think you’ll be able to reduce the impact of your self-doubt. This will quite likely lead to a positive change in your life and your work. Who knows what you’ll be able to achieve!