How to overcome self-doubt

by | Aug 26, 2014 | Leadership

Ironically, this blog almost didn’t get published because of self-doubt. Negative thoughts started popping up like, “Who are you to think people will want to read what you write?” and “It’s not good enough.” My “inner critic” was having a field day!

If you recognise one or more of the following signs, then it’s likely you’ve got a case of self-doubt too :

•    Do you ever hold back what you think because you fear for your reputation or your role?
•    Do you experience stress or anxiety because you’re afraid of what will happen if you relax?
•    Are you worried that you haven’t got what it takes to make it at the next level? Perhaps you’re worried about being “found out”?

If you do, you’re not alone. In my work with managers and executives, I come across many more clients who doubt their abilities and their decisions than who live in glorious self-belief.

Self-doubt has alot to answer for

Self-doubt is often a manifestation of a deeper fear such as a fear of failure or a fear of rejection. The upside is that it wants to keep us safe from what it perceives as “danger”. The downside is that it holds us back from what we’re capable of being and doing.

As Marianne Williamson said, “Your playing small does not serve the world.”

Where does self-doubt come from?

Self-doubt often stems from experiences early in life – perhaps something a parent or teacher has said or someone to whom we’ve given authority.

Even if it’s only a one-off experience, we form an “assessment” about ourselves from it and then start to act as if it’s true. The most popular are variations of “I’m not enough”, “I can’t” or “I’m not worthy” as well as “I can” and “I’m special”.

A bully at school once told me, “You haven’t got an original thought in your head.” That assessment is present for me now as I write this blog even though it was over 25 years ago.

How to overcome self-doubt

Overcoming self-doubt isn’t easy, but it will be worth it. Start with these 5 steps and see where the journey takes you.

1. Go back to the source. Reflect on where your self-doubt has come from. What people, experiences and events have influenced you? Are there beliefs that you are living by that aren’t helpful any more?

2. Ask yourself what’s important. Self-doubt can be a useful check to question whether you are doing the right thing. When you waver, ask yourself, “What’s really important to me here?” For example, it might be a value that you feel is being contravened.

3. It’s all in your head. Self-doubt is a collection of negative thoughts which breed with attention! Choose not to give them power. In Shakespeare’s words, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

4. Have courage. As Brene Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” What do you stand for? Stand tall and speak up for what you believe. What will you regret if you don’t act?

5. If you don’t believe in yourself, find someone who will. If you’re not your own No 1 fan, then find one. It might be a friend, a mentor, a coach – somebody to support you, challenge you and egg you on. If self-doubt is holding you back from asking, then refer to Step 4!

What do you think? Please share your comments below.

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps Directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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