How to take charge of your self-doubt
Maybe I should start with a confession.
By nature, I’m actually a fairly nervous, cautious and uncertain person. People who know me well get this, and they also know that:
- I don’t mind people knowing it, because I’m very happy to be messily human and to live with all the flaws and imperfections that come with life; &
- I’m really, really good at managing my nerves, fears and uncertainties.
People who don’t know me that well tend to assume that I’m extremely confident because I choose to trust my instincts, I don’t let anything stop me, and I’ll take appropriately-managed risks in pursuit of what’s important.
But this is all learned behaviour for me.
I’ve written before about imposter-syndrome, about dealing with your gremlins and about other related topics. Explore my blog and you’ll see that this is an important area for me. Not just because it’s something I need to consciously and consistently manage myself but because it comes up again and again in my clients. Often people who are attracted to work with me because of the perceived confidence they see.
Helping people to trust themselves is a core part of my purpose.
I’m especially interested in helping those people to whom others look for inspiration. Call them leaders if you want (they rarely tend to use that term themselves, even when it’s on a nameplate outside their door). It’s just that there’s something extra about the need and responsibility to take charge of your own self-doubts when other people are depending on you. If you don’t do this, people will unconsciously sense it. They’ll be puzzled by inconsistencies in your behaviour, they’ll hesitate when you ask them to do something stretching, and they’ll be less compelling in their interactions with your clients, customers and colleagues.
If I could conjure up some kind of holy-trinity of ways to take charge of your own self-doubt, it would be the three, deceptively simple things I’ve set-out for you below. Of course there are other techniques and tools and ways of dealing with what is a natural part of the human experience, but if you can get on board with these three, nothing need ever hold you back again.
Also, I’ve set these out fairly simply, without much exposition or argument because I really want them to stand out as self-evident truths.
What I’d most like is for you to test them out in real life.
Take a couple of weeks to monitor the level and kind of self-doubt you’re experiencing. Score your self-doubts on a 1-10 scale, keep a simple journal or log, and see if your experience changes once you adopt these ideas.
Rule One: Self-Doubt has an important purpose; it’s meant to keep you safe
Your experience of self-doubt is a perfectly natural part of being human that evolved with us for a very good reason. It’s meant to keep you safe. To stop you from doing stuff that might get you killed or injured; or to stop you being ostracised from the support network of your friends, colleagues and family.
You are not wrong, stupid, weak or inadequate for experiencing self-doubt.
Rule Two: Self-Doubt is largely physiological and your body is the best tool for dealing with it
There are brain chemicals that mediate the functioning of our guts, our perceptions of the resources available to us and our moods – all at the same time. Each element of our mind-body system interacts with the others. The food we’ve eaten (or not eaten), the amount of sleep we’ve had (or not had), the movement of our bodies, the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream. It’s all in a complex and largely self-regulating system. Because of this, very simple physical changes on our part can shift our self-doubts extremely quickly. A brisk walk. A glass of water. Lifting the head. Looking at the sky. A simple meal. A few deep and controlled breaths. A chat with a friend.
If you’re experiencing self-doubt and want it to change, always, always, always start by shifting something physically.
Rule Three: Self-Doubt doesn’t go away, so learn to walk alongside it
I’ve heard people say stuff like: “You have to kill your doubts”, “You have to get rid of them, once and for all”. But if you understand the origins of this process (see Rule One, above), you’ll know that killing your self-doubts or trying to permanently get rid of them is pointless and even counter-productive. I believe it’s much better to treat your self-doubts like a kind of nervous friend. Someone who really has your best interests at heart, but maybe doesn’t quite understand everything that you want to do or achieve in your life and work.
I sometimes imagine I’m out on a hike with this friend and they’ll often point out where we might get lost, or where we might slip over. And because of them I’ll see the bit of tricky navigation, or notice the rough ground when I might not have seen or noticed that before. Then we can choose to carry on with the hike if we want to. Just helping each other out as we go.