Doubt — What It Is and How to Overcome It

“Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s a prowling force that can rob us of joy, confidence and hope, sending us spiraling from a self-assured state of mind to one of worry, self-consciousness and uncertainty. We read and hear a lot about fear and the ways to both combat it and use it to our advantage. We often don’t talk much about doubt. It’s worth opening up the conversation on this pernicious enemy, largely because it’s the secret battle all of us fight — and many of us are (ironically) to fearful to open up about.

According to Merriam-Webster, fear is, “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”

Doubt is, “to call into question the truth of: to be uncertain.” It is also to demonstrate a lack of confidence.

Right there, we’ve identified the distinction — fear is emotionally-based and can overpower our mental faculties purely by virtue of how it influences our emotional life. Doubt is basically the manifestation of self-consciousness, uncertainty and intensive questioning of the truth — all when we’d be best left to take and accept the truth as we know it to be.

Of course, a certain amount of questioning is critical to living a thoughtful, discerning life. All of us should do this. This article from Harvard Business Review assures us of the importance of this questioning:

“All healthy human beings have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings that include criticism, doubt, and fear. That’s just our minds doing the job they were designed to do: trying to anticipate and solve problems and avoid potential pitfalls.” Source: HBR

When it comes to doubt, it’s a matter of recognizing that fine line between following the Socratic method and taking it to the extreme. As Susan David and Christina Congleton point out, it’s a matter of emotional agility:

“The first step in developing emotional agility is to notice when you’ve been hooked by your thoughts and feelings. That’s hard to do, but there are certain telltale signs. One is that your thinking becomes rigid and repetitive... Another is that the story your mind is telling seems old, like a rerun of some past experience.” Source: HBR

We can be riding high emotionally and mentally, believing we’re going in the right direction with our purpose and dreams. Then suddenly, overthinking, too much self-questioning leads to doubt. Those big dreams and goals seem far away. The life we want to live most feels like less of a certainty and much more of a question mark.

It’s absolutely crazy how much doubt can pervade our lives and lead us to question the people, dreams and purpose we believe in.

“You don’t get to moments of breakthrough by accepting failure at face value, believing your self-doubts to be accurate, and quitting altogether.” — Vic Johnson

Here are five ways to confront doubt and put up your best offense in the battle to persevere toward your goals.

  1. Practice self-awareness on a weekly basis, but make a mental/verbal/written promise to accept yourself and not beat yourself up

2. Be willing to change course. We all need to course correct, at times. We should always decide whether our plans, goals and feelings align with our mission and purpose. It’s imperative to change course if what we’re doing isn’t in line with what matters most to us.

But oftentimes, if you’ve done the work, if your intuition tells you that you’re right, and if you’ve received validation and positive feedback from colleagues, friends and loved ones, you should proceed with what you’re doing. To not do so, would be to doubt.

3. As Napoelon Hill says, “Indecision crystalizes into DOUBT, the two blend and become FEAR!”

Think about this — when you sense doubt coming on, do you find yourself sitting still and wondering too long? Doubt is brought on by indecision. That leads to fear. And before you know it, you’ve taken yourself out of the game. Be willing to move forward and know that you won’t always have all the answers. Rely on faith, not doubt. Speaking of which…

4. Dig deep in your faith and in your values structure — find the wins and positives in your life. As you build upon your previous wins, you build “compound interest” and grow. Faith is something which is always there for you, yet it’s strengthened the more you utilize the muscle.

5. Use your experience to self-teach and then help others to overcome their doubt. Experience is the best teacher

I’ve found the best way to overcome the emotions and external forces that challenge us is to remove ourselves as much as possible from the situation both mentally and emotionally. Take a break. Then, spend some clear, deep thinking objectively analyzing things and ask yourself, “How would I advise or help someone else in the same situation?”

So many people are embarrassed and flabbergasted about how to handle doubt and how to make sense of it. They’re less likely to open up to others, because it’s a blow to their ego. They think they’re alone and they struggle, often in silence, yet it’s the playback that occurs in their minds that can be truly destructive.

Be willing to be honest with yourself and open up to others about how you feel. Doubt casts itself upon us like a spell and can rip our happiness away from us if we’re not prepared. Fear is one thing — doubt and overpowering self-consciousness that leads to a a lack of confidence and self-happiness can destroy you if you let it.

Know the signs and be willing to fight back by sticking to your values, morals and past records of achievement that drive you toward happiness.

You Have to Believe

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