How to Overcome Self-Doubt and Unlock Your Full Potential
Learn to follow your instincts
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” ― William Shakespeare
I’m worried about my friend Jack.
He has an interesting idea he wants to launch next year. Jack has the smarts, passion, and skills to succeed in whatever he wants. Just like you.
The sad truth is that he will fail.
I was so excited to hear about Jack’s plans. But the more he talked, the more he started doubting himself. It hurts to realize my friend won’t succeed. I see this very often in my line of work. Self-doubt is the most common reason why people fail.
When you think, you hesitate.
When you overanalyze your ideas, you doubt yourself. Overthinking deteriorates conviction. That’s why you get stuck. And become part of a startling statistic: 92% of people fail to achieve their goals.
You are the only reason why you fail. When you let self-doubt cast a shadow over your dreams.
Five Ways Self-Doubt Is Holding You Back
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”― Suzy Kassem
When you let go of excuses, you take ownership of your destiny. Stop postponing your life. Learn to overcome self-doubt and be free.
Regardless if you want to turn your side hustle into a full-time gig. Or resume that hobby that kept you on fire when you were younger. Or to launch that project that has been on the back burner forever. Here’s how self-doubt holds you back.
1. You lack clarity on what you want.
When self-doubt casts its shadow over your dreams, everything becomes blurred. What seemed a great idea is now full of flaws. You change your mind constantly feeling confused.
Pause and reconnect with yourself. Deep in your heart, you know what moves you. Stop fooling yourself. You don’t need to do a pros and cons analysis to discover what makes you tick. Grab a piece of paper. Write down what you want to achieve in life. Now.
2. You procrastinate.
Self-doubt is about letting inaction take over. When you are full of doubts, your willpower gets empty.
Writers write, that’s how they improve their craft. One word at a time. When you are busy doing, you stop overthinking. Like David Sedaris said: “Speed eliminates all doubt. Am I smart enough? Will people like me? Do I really look all right in this plastic jumpsuit?”
3. You don’t commit to your best idea.
Brainstorming is good. But if you are always trying to find a better idea, you will never launch any. Lack of choice creates lack of focus.
Choose the idea you are most passionate about. Focusing will help you jump into action. Aim for constant improvement, don’t expect your plan to be perfect from the get-go.
4. Self-doubt erodes self-confidence.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
If you don’t trust yourself, no one else will take you seriously. The only person getting in your way is you. Stop listening to self-doubt and start doing. The more you do something you like, the more confident you’ll feel.
5. Self-doubt creates a vicious cycle.
Low self-confidence drives self-doubt, but the more room you surrender to it, the more it will hurt your self-confidence. Avoid becoming the prey of this vicious cycle. Tackle the real motives that are holding you back.
Why You Doubt Yourself
“You do not need to pay attention to those voices within you that create pain, or make you feel less competent, smart or able.” ― Sanaya Roman
You look outside rather than inside. When you use others as a standard rather than being your own bar, you allow others dictate how you live. When you compare to others, everyone else’s life seems more interesting. Don’t get distracted by picture-perfect stories your “friends” share. Don’t allow other people’s ideals hold your dreams hostage.
You lack courage. You see the life you’ve always dreamt about it. But, at some point, you feel afraid. You think you don’t deserve it. Because you are afraid of being happy, as I wrote here. And you build a list of excuses instead of writing your own destiny. Don’t be frightened. There’s no bigger risk than letting your passion slip through your fingers
You lost touch with yourself. Life is full of distractions; busyness blurs your potential. Trust yourself. No one knows you better than you do. Think about all the challenges you overcame in your life. Use that strength to regain your focus. You can achieve much more than you realize.
You are your worst critic. Being too harsh on yourself won’t get you started. You can’t judge a novice with the bar of a pro. Learn to be compassionate with yourself. Stop pretending to be an expert at everything and embrace a learning mind.
You let overthinking silence the voice of your passion. Stop allowing logic drive your decisions. A life without uncertainty is not a life worth living. Those who are afraid of failing are afraid of living. Let your crazy-self be in the driver’s seat from time to time.
The Science of Overthinking
“It’s good to have a bright, analytical brain, but at the end of the day, the stomach is the smartest organ in the body.” — Shelley Levitt
We revere computers so much that we’ve turned one — our brain —into our master. Thus crippling our ability to pay attention to other organs that are critical to guide our life — listening to our gut feels old-fashioned. That’s why we suffer from overthinking.
The truth is we don’t have one brain but three. Both our gut and heart are as critical as our brain, yet we don’t trust them as much as we used to.
Besides pumping blood, the heart also has an intelligence of its own. According to HeartMath Research, 60 to 65 percent of heart cells are neuron cells, not muscle cells. The heart allows us to feel what is best at an internal level that connects to our intuition.
Our gut instinct isn’t some magical, mystical force, as we used to think. As cognitive psychologist Gary Klein, author of “The Power of Intuition,” says: “It’s the way we translate our experience into judgment and actions.”
Without our gut feelings, we couldn’t survive. “More than 99 percent of the decisions we make every day, we make without deliberation,” says Carl Spetzler, CEO of Strategic Decisions Group.
We were trained to think that emotions can cloud our judgment but it’s the other way around.
“Without our intuitions, we’d be paralyzed,” Klein says. “People with brain damage disconnects the emotional parts of their brains from the decision-making parts of their brains. Their IQ is not affected, but their lives are terribly impaired. They can’t hold down jobs. It can take them 45 minutes to figure out what to order from a menu.”
Stop listening to the voice of self-doubt, don’t just pay attention to your brain.
Overcome Self-Doubt: Bias Towards Action
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle
Self-confidence is the opposite of self-doubt. Unlike what most people think, it’s not a chip that comes implanted into your body. Confidence is a skill you build through action.
Social psychologist Timothy Wilson applies a psychological intervention that dates back to Aristotle: “Do good. Be good.” You become what you do. Start by changing your behaviors first, which in turn will improve your self-perception.
When you start acting, you stop thinking.
If you feel afraid to take the first step, follow the five-second-rule. Instead of staying silent or becoming paralyzed by overthinking, practice everyday courage. Count down 5–4–3–2–1, then act brave. You just need five seconds to make a decision. As you are counting down, use this technique to beat your inner-fear. Take a deep breath and jump into action.
Listen to your gut more often than not. Relearn to trust your instinct and your passion. That doesn’t mean to stop listening to your brain, but rather hear all the voices, not just the logic one.
Operating with either the brain or the heart can lead you into trouble. The brain is afraid to explore beyond the comfort zone. Thus letting self-doubt take over and get you paralyzed. The heart encourages you to pursue unknown and riskier paths. Thus making you feel over-confident and mistake-prone.
Use the logic and intuition in balance to overcome self-doubt.
Let Go of Self-Doubt: a New Mindset
“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ― Vincent van Gogh
Jumping into action is the first step to overcome self-doubt. To build long-term confidence, you need to develop a new mindset. Here’s how.
1. Embrace the discomfort of weirdness.
When you do something for the first time, it feels weird. Even the most experienced artists suffer from the “impostor syndrome.”
It takes more than one act for you to become the part. Rehearsing is what turns an actor into a memorable one. You must become the character before others fall in love with it.
2. Ignore being ridiculed.
Successful people are used to having more critics than fans. The more unique your art, the deeper you’ll connect with some people, the more others will reject you. As Winston Churchill said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
3. Embrace a learning mind.
Adopt the being ignorant mindset. I’m not saying lower your bar. But avoid setting it too high that it can intimidate you. Adjust your bar. Aim to be the best among novices. Don’t try to beat seasoned tennis players when you are just getting started.
4. Silence your inner critic.
Perfectionism is the enemy of change. Hush overthinking. Every time you doubt yourself, just say ‘doubt’ to become aware of what’s going on. And move on. Don’t get caught in self-doubt. That feeling can show up unexpectedly. It happens to me too. But that doesn’t mean doubt deserves a room in your mind. Silence your inner-critic. Make room for the voice of your dreams instead.
5. You don’t need a plan B.
My friend Jack was passionate about one idea. He had every detail figured out. But when I asked him why he hadn’t launched yet, he started sharing other ideas he had. They seemed vaguer than the one that made him tick.
“I need options.” — He told me. That’s why he hasn’t launched yet. Having options is the opposite of focus.
Success requires focusing your energy. Having a Plan B dilutes your commitment when you are in the middle of the river. There’s always time to adjust as you go. As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” Pivot and iterate as a natural progression building on experience rather than on anticipation.
6. Progress is not linear.
When I decided to up my biking game, it felt smooth to increase my average speed and to cycle longer distances. Stretching my goals was encouraging and rewarding. Every week I was reaching a new high. Until one day, I didn’t make any progress. And the week after that, my performance decreased. I felt frustrated. It took me awareness and training to overcome that plateau.
Hitting a wall is a necessary part of progress. When things get hard, it’s because you are ready for the next stretch. If you don’t feel resistance, you are not pushing yourself too hard.
7. Fall in love with your true self.
“In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.” — Anonymous
Loving yourself is anything but naif. If you don’t become your best friend, who else will? If you don’t convey confidence in what you do, don’t expect others to trust you. As C.S. Lewis said: “We are what we believe we are.”
When you embrace your true identity, there’s no room for self-doubt.
The shadow of self-doubt might show up unexpected. It’s up to you to move from darkness to light.
How does self-doubt affect you? Which of these insights and tips will you put in practice?