How to Stop Doubting Yourself So You Can Go After Your Dreams

How to Stop Doubting Yourself So You Can Go After Your Dreams

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How Much Of Your Brain Do You Actually Use?
Why Uncertainty Isn’t Always A Bad Thing (And Quotes To Help You)

“The gap between what we do and what we’re capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” ~Gandhi

I have lived most of my life with a challenging contradiction.

I am a hopeless idealist and dreamer. And I have also dealt with high levels of anxiety, worry, and doubt, especially as an adult.

You can probably already see how this can go horribly wrong!

I’d have an idea of something I’d like to do.

An idea that would excite and thrill me. I would feel energized—enthusiastic and excited about the possibility of making a dream a reality. Then I’d hit a challenge or obstacle. And the doubt would come.

Sometimes the result would be so subtle that I wouldn’t even notice its effects—that I was avoiding doing things to make my idea happen.

Like when I decided to relearn piano as an adult, something I’d loved as a child and would lose myself in playing for hours, especially during the challenging times growing up. I had been heartbroken when I had to give it up because we had to return the piano I’d been using to practice on.

As a gift to myself I bought a piano.

I was so excited. It felt so good to be giving attention to part of myself that I felt had been neglected.

But as I practiced I struggled.

And I started to doubt whether I’d be able to master the skills that had seemed to come so easily as a child.

The frustration built and I started putting in less and less effort and time. I eventually gave it up amid excuses about not having the time.

Other times the effects of the doubt were far more obvious and painful—the fear, endless procrastination, frustration, and eventual defeat. Another idea relegated to the dusty pile of unfulfilled potential.

The older I got, the harder this cycle became. I became more and more frustrated and filled with a sense of urgency to try and follow through with my ideas.

It felt like time was running out.

It got to a point where, in hindsight I realize, I was depressed, although I didn’t recognize it at the time. I’d lost my confidence in myself and my ability to do the things that really mattered to me.

I’d love to say that I was able to turn this around in the five easy steps that we’re all craving.

The reality is that it was a long and non-linear journey of self-discovery, voracious learning, experimentation, trial and error, and small successes and failures, until one day I realized that something had profoundly changed at the core of my being.

I trusted myself again.

I had rediscovered something that I knew had always been there. That sense of confident learning and experimentation that small children have, when they push themselves to their limits without the fear of being judged or shamed for making mistakes.

I could take risks again. Small at first to build confidence. It felt so good. I felt alive, filled with hope and possibility.

Now when I have an idea I am able to act on it (well, most of the time anyway!), and sustain the energy and motivation over long time periods in order for the idea to become a reality.

Transforming the Self-Doubt Habit

If anything of my experience resonates with you, then you have it too. The self-doubt habit.

And, in fact, if you’re human, you definitely have it. As Stephen Pressfield wrote in his book Do the Work, “We’re wrong to think we’re the only ones struggling with resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences resistance.” (Resistance is the word he uses to refer to fear/worry/self-doubt—anything that takes you away from doing the thing that matters).

Now that I have recognized this profoundly destructive habit in myself, I see it everywhere and hear it in the way people talk about themselves and their ideas.

“I would love to so this, but I don’t think I can.” “That would be my dream, but it would probably never happen.”

“But what if I am not good enough?”

Sound familiar?

And the outcome? We conclude: “Why even bother trying?” We give up before investing the necessary effort that would lead to a successful outcome.

Two ideas have been key in helping me both recognize this destructive habit and being able to mitigate the effects so that I can build my confidence in my ability to do the things that matter to me.

1. The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later.

Dr Russ Harris, author of The Confidence Gap, describes the confidence gap as the place we get stuck when fear gets in the way of our dreams and ambitions. We believe that we can’t achieve or even work on our goals until we feel more confident.

This, he says, is the wrong rule of confidence.

The first rule of confidence is: “The actions of confidence come first, the feelings come later.”

Lightbulb moment for me.

I realized that I had been putting off some many things, waiting for the day when I would magically feel more confident!

Recognizing that this day would probably never come, I started experimenting with strategies and ideas to help me start taking small steps, which, despite the fear and doubt, helped me build my confidence over time.

2. You can always get better.

The other body of work that profoundly shifted my thinking and helped me to take confident action was the work of Carol Dweck, Ph.D, author of Mindset.

Through her research at Stanford University, she found that people could be generally divided into two categories depending on their beliefs about themselves—either “fixed” or “growth” mindset.

People with fixed mindsets believe that their talents and intelligence are fixed, so they spend their lives trying to prove themselves. Their self-worth is always on the line, and failure is to be avoided at all costs. When they do experience failure, they feel intense shame and see it as proof of not being good enough.

The growth mindset believe that talents and intelligence can be developed through effort and practice, so they take on challenges so they can grow and learn. Challenges are to be embraced as the path to fulfilling potential and learning,

Another huge aha for me.

I realized that I had been operating with a fixed mindset.

When I started to work on an idea, whether I was working on a creative project or trying to develop a new skill, like learning to play the piano, I’d give up as soon as I struggled. Struggle for me equalled “I can’t”; I’m not good enough.”

However, when I could recognize my thinking and see it from a growth mindset perspective, I could catch that thought and say to myself, “I am learning, I can get better with practice,” which allowed me to keep putting in the effort needed to develop my skills and become more confident in the area.

I could reframe struggle as evidence that I was learning rather than a sign of some innate flaw that I needed to be ashamed about.

This one mindset shift has alone had the biggest impact in helping me keep being able to take action.

Action steps:

1. Do whatever you can to become aware of your thoughts during the day.

What are you saying to yourself? How are you talking about yourself to other people? Meditate, journal, do whatever it takes. It is the most important thing that you can do for yourself.

2. Make a conscious effort to eliminate any thoughts or talk that undermines you.

Change it to a growth mindset. Instead of self-doubt thoughts like “What if I can’t” or “What if I’m not good enough” try thoughts like “I am learning, it is challenging but I with practice and effort I will get better” and ask yourself questions like: “What is one thing I can do today to increase my chances of succeeding?”

Practice this new mindset over and over and over again until it becomes a habit. As Tynan says in Superhuman by Habit, “New habits are things that you do, but old habits are things that you are.”

 

8 COMMENTS

  1. I like this article & really it’s helpful to me & other like me. I had been surfing from panic attack & every day I was getting negative thoughts , irritate, compare my self to other , Fear , Feeling to die , Less confident when doing some thing , Feeling I may do wrong , Feeling to be mad , Always make small meter big , Some time live in Future , Some time live in Past , Overall I was total disturb. I change my life Style , I start living more with my friends , & I try writing, I take mental mediation, read solution from internet & …….

    Now a days I am 99.99% well . Yes I can not say I am 100% well because i accept my illness and always try to be 100% . In other words there is no one in the world who is 100 % mental well . Everyone have small mental tension.

  2. Once I was very successful young man, especially when it comes to online investing…I’ve done many great things for me and my family without ever doubting myself…After I got second kid which was born with cleft lip and palate, I changed….I stopped be myself. I let my daughter’s state to overcome my life, business, relations everything…All I was focused is how to help her…but there was a problem, more I was trying to help – more I’ve been sacrificing my life which i created for us…I’ve started to: looking for sense in everything, compare my results to my friends, READ negative material on daily basis instead of positive, THINK what other people think about me which triggered me to do NOTHING and not get judged instead to DO SOMETHING and risk criticism …..I started to doubt myself which I never allowed before…Once I was able to make decision without hesistations but last few months or even more – I’ve forgot how to do it….. My daughter has now completed her first surgery, she has a few more but I feel it’s now my time to get back my old self, that awesome lifestyle I’ve had with my family and friends (offline and online)

  3. Really great tip, thanks a lot for the article. Confidence is like a muscle, if we exercise it, it will grow. We should allow ourselves time to grow confidence rather than expecting to go from zero to super confident overnight.

  4. I have a slightly more abstract self-doubt problem, I think. I never doubt my talent or ability, or that I’m a good person, I’m very confident about all of that. But I doubt my emotions and thoughts – so I doubt whether or not the emotion/thought I’m having is normal and then I’m worried about letting it affect me or other people finding out about it in case the emotion/thought is “crazy” or it clouds my judgement. I’m much more comfortable relying on total objectivity, but this is difficult because some things just aren’t objective. I don’t doubt things like my opinions when it comes to music, film, politics etc. – I guess what I doubt is my sanity. I’m really ashamed to have had mental health problems and I guess I worry that they’re not gone or that they might still be there and I don’t want to be “one of those people” any more. I know I shouldn’t look at it like that, but I’m finding it impossible to change that thought. Even though I can be compassionate towards friends who have mental health disorders, I don’t actually want to be around them, to be honest, and I notice that the friends I really like – and who are supportive of me – are very judgemental about people who I think are just in a lot of pain. So the shame, I guess, comes from the fact that I know it’s not ok to other people and that I will be judged for it. It feels like I can give myself all the compassion in the world (and I try to) but that won’t change reality – no one wants to hang out with a nutcase. My friends promise me that I’m not crazy at all and the vast majority of people describe me as a very positive, laid back person, very emotionally stable etc. (composed is what I usually get), but it just makes me feel like if they found out, I’d have to move house or something, I’d have to get out of the city and start again until someone else found out.

    I know it’s ridiculous, all this stuff, and the reason I know it’s ridiculous is because it is exactly these thoughts that make me feel bad and make me act “crazy” on the rare occasions that I do get like that (I have to be hit in the “you’re a weirdo” place before I’ll really go crazy, and fortunately that doesn’t happen very often). If I could just forgive myself and start believing my emotions and thoughts are ok and stop judging them – maybe even listen to my emotions sometimes – I’d feel better. But with all the mindfulness and meditation in the world, I’m finding it so hard!

  5. As long as you define success by a personal gauge, the first few points make sense. Unfortunately for a lot of us, personal success is another word for “settling”. Success in reality IS comparison with others and separating yourself from others through superior achievement. If your personal definition of success isn’t to exceed the norm, then what is the point? Success is excelling and accomplishing. Never sell yourself short by saying “this is good enough for me to consider success”.

    I will agree with every other point here though; that you need to reinforce positive thinking and work ethic. It is possible to be positive AND realistic. The average person can be extraordinary with the proper work ethic and state of mind. People who tell you that you will fail are haters and either don’t have the fortitude to strive higher or fear that their achievements will be diminished if more people like you succeed.

    • So are you saying that we have to exceed the norm to consider ourselves ‘successful’? I don’t think so. That’s just what society has drilled into you – you have to constantly compare yourself against others. You don’t! To be a successful human being, it’s about being the best person you can be and putting all your effort in. But you can use yourself as a measuring stick for success – don’t look at how well you’ve done in comparison to others but how far you’ve come because we are all on different journeys in life so we can’t be measured by the same measuring stick. We are too unique and different to be measured by one standard of success. If you have achieved happiness in life, you are successful because what other reason are we here for?

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