Doubt is at the core of every significant decision we make. It shapes our self-perception, determines our behavior, and alters our beliefs about the future. It’s a nigh inescapable emotion, and, yet, we view it as the boogieman of progress. After all, how can we possibly thrive if every decision is fraught with uncertainty?
How does it affect us?
Self-doubt means we won’t take a chance ourselves. We’re pessimistic about our abilities and assume others see us in the same, negative light. Instead of speaking up, we sit on the sidelines, hoping others will notice our skills.
It’s not uncommon for people who experience constant doubt to self-sabotage and procrastinate in their work. The same folks are far more likely to live with Impostor Syndrome, even in the face of success. And, they’re less likely to assume they’ll be successful in the future.
But, this doesn’t mean doubt is wholly negative. There are plenty of circumstances for self-doubt to act as a boon, rather than a detriment. Research by Tim Woodman et al. shows that a bit of doubt can boost athletic performance. It can be the difference between a stupid, rash decision and a deliberate choice. It’s what often saves me from impulse buys at the check-out counter because I always ask myself, “do I need this?”
“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” — Voltaire
What seems to matter most is the frequency or self-doubt and our response to it. If we’re continually undermining our abilities and unable to make progress in our lives, there are a few things we can do.
What can we do?
Doubt your doubt: What if we could turn doubt on itself? Doubt isn’t truth; it’s a moment of uncertainty either in our abilities or the world around us. These moments are drenched in negative bias and dredge up the worst moments from our past. It’s precisely this phenomenon that causes doubt to lead us towards better decisions. If we’re worried about the outcomes of our actions, we’ll take a more conservative approach.
That same attitude can be directed towards our self-doubt. If we remember the times we doubt ourselves but went through with it anyway, we’ll quickly realize the fault in our assumptions. A 2009 study, showed how effective this strategy was for its participants. Individuals were able to utilize metacognition to cast doubt over their doubts, bringing them back to a state of healthy self-confidence.
Understand doubt is natural: We often multiply the impact of our uncertainty because we believe it’s unnatural. We beat ourselves up for letting self-doubt get in our way and end up feeling far worse for it. But, doubt is part of the human experience. It’s meant to keep us safe physically and emotionally by avoiding potentially challenging situations. It’s essential to embrace this understanding as central to overcoming self-doubt. If you can get comfortable experiencing doubt, you’re far more likely to give a measured response to it.
Embrace a Growth Mindset: Doubt can make us feel as if we’re never going to succeed. And, that what we can accomplish is set in stone; our knowledge, ability, and efficacy are fixed, and we can’t change. This fixed mindset feeds into our doubt because it says we can never grow. It stops us from adopting past successes as are our own and causes us to attribute our achievements to chance.
Research shows this couldn’t be further from the truth. We all have the capacity to grow; physically, emotionally, and mentally. Psychologist Carol Dweck suggests using moments of self-doubt to remind yourself that you’re, “not there…yet” but that you do have the ability to do so.
Our inner monologue tries to keep us down because it believes that’s what keeps us safe. Often this is the case, but there are times in life where we want to do more and be more. If that sounds like you, and your brain is holding you back, its time to push past self-doubt. Practicing the exercises above, or others, like self-compassion, will give you the freedom you deserve.
If you’re interested in learning more about mastering your inner dialogue, check out this piece by Dr. Christine Bradstreet 🌴