Self-doubt is a state of uncertainty about the truth of ourselves. It can arise around our emotions, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, decisions, self-views, or any “truth” we hold in our minds. Overall, we may feel unworthy and unsure, and we may question our self-competence. We may even move into “analysis paralysis.” Drag-ola.
Self-doubt is a crafty bugger, and can derail our plans, dreams and creative inspiration. To make matters worse, self-doubt can also convince us that it’s something more noble, and then…well…all bets are off. Left to run amuck, self-doubt can become a guiding force in our lives. But it’s not our friend!
Let’s explore what this might look like, how it often plays out and what you can do to overcome self-doubt.
The masquerade of self-doubt
We make a myriad of decisions, every day. What to eat, when to wake up and go to bed, what to wear, which projects to work on, what plans to make for the weekend, investing choices, selling or buying a house, moving to a new town-state-country, getting married, getting divorced, starting a family, how to parent, changing jobs, if/when to retire. Our days are full of choices, large and small, and our choices and decisions direct the trajectory of our life experience.
Typically, we make a decision and feel good about it, in the moment. Then, often…at some point…the clouds roll in. The specter of doubt starts gnawing at the edges of our mind. She just nibbles at first. Left unattended? The nibbles expand to noshing and we start to deeply question the very same decision we felt so sure of, just minutes, hours or days ago. In a weird throwback twist, when I get plagued with self-doubt, I often hear the song that was popular in my late teens, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash. The staying power of music never ceases to amaze me.
Soundtrack aside, eventually we often move beyond the subtle questioning of our decision and start to entertain the idea that maybe we don’t know what the bleep we’re doing. That this doubt has arisen in us because it’s a sign that our decision-making was faulty. Self-doubt is crafty because it can show up masquerading as wisdom. And it can keep us painted in a corner and living small, if we let it.
The unfolding of self-doubt
Let’s explore an example of how self-doubt plays out by using a benign example: Getting dressed.
Choosing today’s clothing can have many themes. It can be utilitarian with the view that clothes simply cover the body, protect us from the elements and/or serve a function. For some folks, clothing is a way to display the latest trends, providing a sense that we’re relevant and fit in. Still another take on clothing choices is self-expression, where clothing reflects one’s own unique style or even a mood on a particular morning. Many people flux between these approaches while others have a strong theme that guides their choices.
Let’s say on a particular day, Mary chooses self-expressive clothing. She’s heading to a party with other middle-aged suburbanites and wants to wear an outfit that feel fun. She puts on a pair of flowered jeans, combat boots and a do-rag. She feels GREAT. As she puts the clean dishes away before heading out the door, she catches a view of herself reflected in a window and pauses. Is this what she wants to wear? What will people in her conservative town think?
She continues gathering her things and the doubt starts to grow. “What was I thinking putting this on? I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb.” And then the icing on the cake: “Boy, I sure am glad I had some chores to finish before I left so that my good sense could kick in. I look silly! Thank goodness I have time to change.”
Don’t change Mary. Overcome self-doubt!
I imagine you can see how this rather benign example can play out in most any area of our lives. We have a moment of clarity and then self-doubt comes sweeping in, masquerading as “our good sense” or as the wiser part of ourselves. Uncool.
How to overcome self-doubt
To be clear, we’re not talking about the voice that says, “Hey Mary, that dark alley isn’t the best route to get to the restaurant, even though it’s the shortest and you’re running late.” That’s not self-doubt, that’s self-protection. We like that voice. The trick is that self-doubt PRETENDS to be the self-protection voice.
“No Bob, regardless of how amazing this business plan looks and how committed and inspired you feel, starting your own business is a bad idea. You’re not cut out for it. You’ve never done it before and there’s a good chance you’ll fail.” See how crafty self-doubt is?! She’s posing as the wise, keeping-you-from-getting-mugged voice.
I’d love to tell you that there is some surefire way to overcome self-doubt. There are plenty of guides that claim to help you do just that. “8 Steps to Overcome Self-Doubt Once and for All” and such. They’re well-meaning. But they offer up suggestions like, “change your self-talk” or “don’t compare yourself to others.” Sounds good, but neither of those are “steps,” as they involve deep belief system work and paradigm shifts.
As I mention in Wild World, Joyful Heart, awareness is the first step in most any endeavor, including softening self-doubt. An important first step to overcome self-doubt is to become aware of the difference between self-doubt and inner wisdom. They FEEL very different when they bubble up. It’s hard to put into words, but here goes:
Self-doubt feels more like you’re being badgered by your bossy old uncle who always knows best, never stops drilling you with his unsolicited advice, and he’s also pretty sure you know nothing about your own competence (or lack thereof). Wisdom feels quiet and strong, like the one sentence uttered by a Zen master that drops you into deep understanding in the core of your being. It feels righter than right.
The foundation of navigating self-doubt is to come home to the Truth of yourself and embrace your worth. This is a tall order and is more of a life journey. In truth, you’re so much more than your success, failures, emotional rollercoasters, physical appearance, age, relational abilities or social media presence. You’re here on this planet, therefore you’re inherently a wise and worthwhile creator. You may not be currently expressing all that awesomeness, but it’s there. Like the tiny seed that holds the potential for a whoooole oak tree.
So when that crafty little shape-shifter of self-doubt comes blustering into your plans and dreams, posing as wisdom? Give her a knowing smile and escort her to the door. Over and over again. With patience and practice, her voice will quiet and you’ll move more fully into the mastery of your Being.
To your empowered well-being,