This is what self-doubt sounds like in our heads:
“What if I fail?”
“Am I good enough to do this?”
“What if I’m just wasting my time?”
Now, your self-doubt just doubled and still, the question lingers, “Am I good enough?” You want answers and you want it now, or else you’re gonna go mad.
I’ll answer the question, but first, let’s go back in time and look at a scenario to put things into perspective.
A prehistoric battle
Imagine you’re by yourself back in prehistoric times, you’re in the African savanna and a sabertooth tiger is chasing you as its next meal. While running for your life, you make a wrong turn and suddenly come to an abrupt halt, a dead end. The tiger got you in a corner now and there’s no escape. The tiger knows it as it stops and eyes you menacingly.
What are you going to do? Are you just going to lie there, scream, and just die?
Nope, of course, you’re not going to do that. What you’re going to do is face your opponent, look the beast in the eye, and with all the courage you can muster fight to the death.
You’ll have a fighting chance, of course, you’ll have some kind of tools with you: a spear, a knife, and some rocks in the ground.
The sabertooth is powerful, maybe too powerful for you, but you can’t just sit there and die — you have to give it all you’ve got and fight.
That’s life in a nutshell: it’s a struggle to survive.
“Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.” — Bear Grylls
Back to the present
Now, let’s go back to the present age. You’re here, you’ve got something you want to do with your life. All the tools you need are at your fingertips. It’s not like you’re on the streets begging or something. You’re reading this article, so it means you have means to access the internet and you’re accessing it through a smartphone or a PC.
You’ve got the tools. Now all you need is the courage to fight. Not something tangible like killing a tiger, but something abstract like avoiding the many distractions in this world. Today, the enemy is mostly our mind that’s prone to distraction and subjected to all sorts of misguided programming by the media and by the things that we go through in life.
You’re being programmed to be homogeneous, a pawn, a cog in this mechanical world. And because of that, you’re scared to go out on your own to try your strength.
Your family will also think the same. They’ll want you to be ‘safe’, they don’t want you to stir anything out of the ordinary. For them, it’s easier life to have the familiar. So, the default is to assume there’s going to be a lot of shame if you fail. Your mind will tell you not to do it, it’s not worth t all the trouble. That’s another wind for your self-doubt.
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” — Suzy Kassem
Your enemies to self-realization
I know this because I’ve been through all that shit myself. I’ve been fighting self-doubt almost all my life, but it’s only now that I finally understand the psychology behind it.
Now, although the possibility of being eaten by a tiger is almost zero, this new enemy to our survival is real and equally dangerous. Maybe more so because instead of a tangible beast that you can see, feel, and smell, the enemy is now an abstract idea and it shape-shifts into anything and everything.
The enemy is cunning, and it’s everywhere. It smiles at you as you pass by. It tells you feel-good stories to numb you down and to make you want to settle until you’re fully imprisoned in your own head.
So now whenever you want to do something, the first thing that comes to your mind is the question, “Am I good enough for this?” Of course, you are but you don’t see it because you’ve been programmed to be ordinary, to settle, to be afraid, and to not take risks.
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” — Helen Keller
That’s the textbook concept of how self-doubt works against you. So how do you overcome it? Let’s see the next sections for some clues to this enigma.
Know your enemy
The first step to vanquishing your enemy is to get to know it, so let’s do that first.
Self-doubt is a limiting belief that often stems from ingrained patterns of thinking influenced by our past experiences, societal conditioning, or even evolutionary psyche.
In other words, self-doubt is just an illusion of the mind. Your mind just made it up — it’s not real.
But how did it come about? Here are the four suspects:
- Fear of the unknown: we humans are naturally afraid of the unknown. Embarking on a new endeavor often brings a sense of uncertainty, and this fear can manifest as self-doubt.
- Social conditioning: our society often sets narrow definitions of success and stereotypes, leading us to doubt ourselves if we don’t fit society’s expectations.
- Past experiences: our past failures and the rejections and criticisms we get from others can leave lasting impressions, causing us to question our abilities even when faced with entirely different situations.
- Cognitive biases: our brain is hardwired with certain biases that might have been evolutionarily beneficial but often misguide us in this time and age.
“Self-doubt is an illusion of the mind. Your mind just made it up — it’s not real.”
For example, in prehistoric times if we made a mistake it could easily mean death. If you don’t follow the instructions in the letter, lions might catch you and devour you alive. And if you get caught sleeping with the chieftain’s wife, the tribe may banish you and force you to fend for yourself, which may be a cruel death sentence in itself.
But nowadays, a mistake is rarely life or death. There are no lions or hyenas waiting for you in the corner. And even if you antagonize a group leader for saying your mind, it’s easy to find a new tribe you can fit in — you can even create your own tribe if you want!
The point is that there’s really not that much risk anymore. These doubts are only in your mind — a remnant of our ancestor’s psyche from the prehistoric era.
How to strangle your self-doubt into submission
Now that we know what we’re dealing with, how do we kill it?
Alas, we can’t. It’s not possible to eliminate self-doubt permanently and even if we could, we shouldn’t. Self-doubt is a natural psychological phenomenon and obviously can be quite useful at times (e.g. it forces you to think twice before you go daredevil and jump off a bridge).
Fortunately, we can lessen its influence on us. If you do it right, you’ll find you have the power to override self-doubt effectively whenever it occurs.
Here are some of the most effective ways to do just that:
- Positive affirmations: at first I thought this was cheesy but repeating positive affirmations can help you overwrite negative thought patterns with more empowering ones. Try it first before you say no.
- Set clear goals: break your goals into smaller, manageable tasks to reduce feelings of overwhelm and provide you with a clearer path to success.
- Create your alter ego: create a confident alter ego (like Beyoncé’s “Sasha Fierce”). Embody this persona when faced with challenges — it’s an untapped psychology hack.
- Seek feedback: get constructive feedback from your mentors, peers, or even your parents. Sometimes we’re too close to the problem that we can’t see things clearly. Seeking feedback from 3rd parties gives us fresh perspectives.
- Visualizations: make a hobby out of imagining yourself succeeding. This mental exercise can reinforce your belief in yourself.
- Embrace failure: instead of seeing failure as a setback, view it as a teacher. Progressive companies like Google encourage a “fail fast” approach, understanding that rapid iteration and learning from mistakes lead to innovation.
- Engage in adventure: engage in new activities outside of your comfort zone. Whether it’s traveling to a new place, taking an improv class, or trying an extreme sport, these experiences can reset your understanding of boundaries and build resilience.
- Set tiny milestones: set milestones you can work on and achieve each day. By seeing yourself win each tiny milestone regularly you get a constant dopamine boost which builds your confidence and momentum.
- Limit exposure to naysayers: finally, sometimes it’s critical to distance yourself from perpetual doubters or those who project their insecurities onto you. Instead, surround yourself with people who uplift and understand your vision.
“Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it… that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.” — Dale Carnegie
Even though self-doubt is a natural psychological occurrence and can be useful at times, more often than not it limits us to do the things we want to do in life. So how do we know when to heed it and when not to? Okay, here are some quick guidelines:
- If there’s a danger you’d get killed, you have to listen to it (full stop).
- If it involves the risk of losing your livelihood, you’ll have to think about it very very carefully.
- If the nature of your self-doubt is whether you have what it takes to be successful, then feel free to ignore it.
The answer to that last question by the way is, “Yes, through and through!”
Yes, you’re good enough to do what needs to be done, and yes, you’re good enough to be successful (it takes hard work, yes, but it’s highly possible).
So the next time these questions pop up in your head:
“What if I fail?”
“Am I good enough to do this?”
“What if I’m just wasting my time?”
You can just go ahead and throw your self-doubt out the window and feel good about it.
“Yes, you’re good enough.”
“Don’t let self-doubt hold captive your aspirations. You are worthy of achieving your dreams!” — Cherie Aimée