All of us have likely suffered from self- doubt at one time or another. It's normal and can even motivate us to improve and develop ourselves in many circumstances. When it's not severe, some people can shake it off relatively quickly with the help of a friend, a reality- based assessment of their abilities and qualities, or simply as a result of the passage of time. Others, however, seem to experience chronic or persistent threats to a healthy sense of self-efficacy and confidence in themselves that they just can't seem to manage. This could be due to a number of factors, such as negative internal scripts that lead to self-sabotage, stressful life situations, or just being in a rut.
Of course, trying to get to the root of negative thoughts and poor self-concept is an important part of emotional growth and wellness - and this might be best achieved with the help of a counselor. But there are steps that anyone can start to implement on her or his own that will result in greater confidence and a tamer self-doubting mindset. Here are a few that have worked for me personally as well as with many of my therapy clients:
1. Become Friends with Failure: Most clichés about failure are true and time tested. Nothing beats a failure but a try...If at first you don't succeed, try, try again...The only real failure in life is the failure to try. They get at the essence of success. Namely, that it will always be elusive if you hold yourself back because you fear failure. But these sayings are much easier uttered than enacted. Befriending failure is an action, not an abstract notion. You literally have to practice toying with the unfamiliar, dancing with the difficult, pursuing the frightening endeavors you have avoided, and challenging preconceived notions of what you can and cannot do.
There are many places you can start. Apply for a huge grant, enter a prestigious competition, start a new project, approach a group of successful people for mentorship...or any other endeavor that is relevant to your life. All of these initiatives will move you outside of your comfort zone temporarily --but they offer long-term and long-lasting growth potential.
2. Do Something New and Difficult: This goes hand in hand with befriending failure and helps you to expand your horizons. In order to do so, you must be willing to risk failure, embarrassment, disappointment and confusion. It doesn't mean that you WILL experience these things, but you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to entertain that anyone of these outcomes may result. The paradox is that the more you embrace your vulnerability, the stronger and more resilient you become.
3. Examine your Beliefs About Success, Perfection and Judgement: What is your definition of success? Does it mean being perfect and never failing or falling? Do you judge others when they make a mistake while doing something they love or pursing their passion? Does over concern about what " they" will think stop you from stepping outside of your box and pushing your limits? If so, you might be due for a shift in perspective. All successes are built on the foundation of tries, missteps and mistakes. The more you start to believe that success is a process and learn to tune out judgement from others, the closer you move toward diminishing self-doubt. Ask yourself if a new pair of rose-colored glasses are in order to change your outlook on success.
4. Look at your Core Beliefs About Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: What is it that makes a person valuable and worthy - to herself and others? If your core belief is that achievements, material possessions and validation from others are necessary to have self-worth, then you will be extremely vulnerable to life's vicissitudes. You won't always be smart, beautiful, rich or liked by everyone (or you may never be any of those!) What will happen if and when you find yourself less than appealing to those on the outside? However, when you realize that your self-worth comes from the simple fact that you were created and exist, then a whole new world of possibilities, esteem and contentment can open up for you.
5. Learn to Recognize and Challenge Your Negative, Irrational Cognitions and Self-Doubt Narrative: These usually come from core schema and self-narratives that have been ingrained and internalized at an early age. They could be implicit or explicit messages you received from your family, roles you had to assume or beliefs that you developed about yourself based on life experiences. Examples include, " I'm only good at_____" or "people like me don't do things like that" or " if I'm successful, people will be angry, envious...". We often act on these thoughts as if there are the absolute truth. They are either so subtle that they go unnoticed or we're so convinced of their veracity that we don't question or challenge them. Learn to recognize these ideas and ask yourself if they are true or working for you NOW in your life.
6. Counter Your Self-Doubt Trigger Thoughts: Identify the thoughts that seem to swirl around in your head as self-doubt rears its head - thoughts that quickly pop up and lead you to automatic, predictable and usually fear-based reactions. Then create a list of alternative, evidence-based statements about yourself. Make sure they are accurate and valid and that you believe them on some level. Work on countering those negative trigger thoughts so that your alternative, more positive thoughts can become internalized and increasingly automatic for you.
7. Practice Positive Self-Talk: Don't just list your competencies and what you like about yourself, PRACTICE saying these qualities so that doing so becomes a reflex when the negative self-talk strikes and begins to permeate your consciousness.
8. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others:
You are unique and your path is like no one else's. Cherish and honor your destiny and don't confine it to what others have done or are doing. Focus on what is healthy and worthwhile for YOU.
9. Cultivate your Spiritual Center: For many people this translates into their religious beliefs and practice. For others, the vehicle is different - simply an awareness of a greater power and meaning outside of themselves. In either case, it is a vital part of feeling whole and healthy, which leaves less room for severe self-doubt.
10. Surround Yourself with People Who Affirm Themselves and Others: Building community goes hand in hand with spirituality. A supportive community is at the heart of understanding that you as an individual are part of a network and purpose outside of yourself. And a mutually supportive community can be one of the best antidotes to isolation that can be common in our society.
11. Be Mindful and Playful: Practice mindfulness and self-awareness, but also learn how to lose yourself in the moment. Allow yourself - even if just in small doses- to be free, playful, happy and hopeful. These attitudes and behaviors will help to keep negative self-doubt at bay.
12. Make the Decision: One of the most important actions you can take to combat self-doubt actually starts in your mind. It entails making the decision not to give in to the negative thoughts. You see, most of the time the slippery slope to getting stuck in the murky mud of doubting and feeling bad about yourself starts with allowing yourself to indulge the first negative, self-defeating thought. Since you've likely been there before, it feels familiar; not necessarily pleasant, but familiar. And mentally rejecting or combating those thoughts in order to make room for alternative ways of seeing yourself can be scary, uncomfortable and downright unthinkable. You may ask, who am I to feel powerful, at ease and content with who I am? I've never experienced that. Is it even possible? How will people respond to me if I'm not always second guessing myself? For some people, it literally means having to get used to a new physiological feeling deep at the center of their being. I'm not bringing this up to be discouraging, but to warn you that should these feelings arise, they are completely normal given the radical mindset shift you are taking up. It means that choosing the option to switch gears when you feel the first hint of self-doubt is at its core a conscious decision to empower and liberate your mind.
This quote from Marianne Williamson's book Return to Love captures the power of liberating your mind from fear.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Bonus Tip:Travel! Finally, as a passionate global traveler, I feel obliged to speak about how travel fits into this puzzle. Any new experience or adventure provides opportunity to expand your worldview and build confidence. Travel often thrusts you into the unknown and pushes you to use your resourcefulness and resilience to navigate unfamiliar territory. When you step back and think about it, what better remedy for self-doubt can one ask for?
I would love to hear your feedback about what has helped you to deal with self-doubt and how any of the tips I shared have helped. Please share.
Nicole M. Monteiro, Ph.D.