The worst enemy to happiness is self-doubt.
Has self-doubt ever stopped you from doing something you longed to do?
That little voice in your head kept whispering…
“Who are you to even try to accomplish that?”
Whether you wanted to run a marathon, start a business, or go for a promotion, that little voice kept nagging at you that you’re not good enough.
In early 2014, this was the soundtrack that played on repeat in my head.
See, I really, really wanted to start a new business.
But even before giving myself the chance, the soundtrack began to loop, and self-doubt kicked in.
“There’s no way you could be successful. Who are you to even try to do this?”
After my self-doubt monster talked me out of starting my business, I smothered my passion for the topic. I went back to my life, until I came across an article by Michael Hyatt called, “Are Your Beliefs Keeping You Stuck?”
It gave me hope. It made me realize that my self-doubt wasn’t just my rational brain talking me out of doing something impractical. It showed me that my self-doubt was actually just fear.
Like my own experience, self-doubt will try to snuff out your dreams. It will try to hold you back from becoming anything. But don’t you let it! You are capable of achieving what you want to achieve, one step at a time.
Use the following tips to fight back the self-doubt monster and reclaim your confidence (this is what worked for me):
1. Recognize that What You’re Feeling Is Self-Doubt
You can’t get rid of something until you recognize that it’s there.
If you won’t admit that the main reason you’re not making your dreams happen is because you doubt yourself, you’ll struggle to break the habit.
What may seem like an obstacle is most likely your self-doubt monster rearing its ugly head to justify why you can’t or shouldn’t do something. We’ve all said it before, “I don’t have time,” or, “I don’t have the energy,” or, “I don’t know how.” But let’s be honest: those are the things we tell ourselves when we don’t think we have it in us.
I get it. Life can be busy.
You must be mindful of how you feel. You must face the truth. By recognizing that self-doubt is holding you back, not your busy schedule, you’re one step closer to rediscovering your self-confidence.
2. Create a Self-Doubt Response System
Self-doubt is a negative emotion.
Like any emotion, certain actions, ideas or frustrations can trigger it. For many, an idea that requires expertise they don’t yet have can trigger feelings of self-doubt and create a roadblock that seems insurmountable.
When you get overwhelmed or stressed, giving up can be easier than pushing through. For example, when we see people achieve similar goals to our own, we naturally compare our own journey with theirs. If we don’t live up to that exact level of success, self-doubt is triggered, and we’re more likely to accept that we’ve failed, without ever having started.
Setting up a system to deal with self-doubt triggers will help you recognize both the cause and solution to your self-doubt.
And just to be clear, I’m not immune to these triggers either. When I get ideas, I frequently compare my ability or progress with someone else’s. When I do this, I begin to feel overwhelmed by trying to live up to their standards, and I feel anxious about the amount of work I’ll have to do to get there.
Basically, I begin to talk myself out of it.
When I begin to think like this, I turn to my system:
- I think of every action I would need to be successful in my goal and write them down.
- I highlight everything I already know how to do or could learn quickly.
- I start to put a daily habit in place to put the plan into motion.
By creating a way to systematically reduce my self-doubt, I’m more likely to see my idea through.
3. Rewire Your Brain
Old habits die hard, so remaining static is easier than working toward something. That’s why you likely find it easier to accept the negative thoughts that your self-doubt creates.
The good news?
Your brain is a highly programmable organ because of something called neuroplasticity. This means that certain aspects of the brain can rewire even into adulthood.
To turn your self-doubt into a positive force, you must first be aware of your negative thoughts and then redirect them over time.
Consistency is key.
Every time you catch yourself thinking that you can’t do something or that you’re not good enough or smart enough, acknowledge those thoughts, and consciously replace them with the opposite as many times as it takes.
Eventually, your brain will default to positive thinking, turning every “can’t” into a “can” and every “won’t” into a “will.”
4. Show Self-Doubt that It’s Wrong
When we let self-doubt take over, we make excuses for our inability to realize our true potential. We use these excuses to prove our self-doubts right by not even trying to achieve anything worthwhile at all. In other words, we procrastinate and hide from the world until we are forced to take action, and then once we act we struggle to give it our best shot.
So what can be done? The next step to eliminating self-doubt is to prove it wrong.
It’s time to set your plans in motion and work toward small successes.
If you don’t prove to yourself that you can be successful, you are more likely to fall into self-doubting patterns repeatedly in the future.
When you generate small wins for yourself, it helps you gain momentum, which gradually shuts down your self-doubt. Your self-doubt can’t argue with you when you’re proving it wrong with small wins.
All of those tiny achievements will add up. You’ll become more confident in your abilities and begin to believe in yourself.
5. Use Other People’s Doubts as Motivational Fuel
It’s hard enough to change the way you think about yourself, let alone change the opinions of those around you too.
When people don’t understand your journey, can’t relate to how you’re feeling, or don’t like your ideas, they may be quick to doubt you. But don’t take it personally. Most people only doubt you when you reflect a specific characteristic that they doubt in themselves. You’re simply a living, breathing reminder of their own self-doubts.
Be kind, but don’t take what they say at face value.
In everything you do, some people will love it and some will hate it.
Doubt from others doesn’t make you less capable of accomplishing your dreams. If a friend or family member says you can’t or shouldn’t start a business or achieve a big goal, they also likely believe that they couldn’t achieve what you want to achieve.
Understand that those who express doubt aren’t always coming from a negative place. Oftentimes, these people are close family and friends who only want what they think is best for you – they want you to take the safest route possible in life.
But you need to do what’s best for you, on your own terms.
And when you know you’ve been letting other’s opinions guide your actions, take it as a sign that you haven’t conquered your own self-doubt, and begin this process back at #1 again.
6. Create a Positive Mantra (And Put it on Repeat)
Everyone needs a pep talk every now and then, so be your own cheerleader when putting your self-doubt to rest.
I have a (somewhat funny) mantra that I use when I recognize that I’m doubting myself: “People dumber than me have done it.”
This isn’t to look down on others, but sometimes I need to remind myself that I’m a capable, intelligent woman, and many people have accomplished great things with less knowledge, opportunity and experience than I have. For example…
If you want to start a business, remember that kids have started businesses – and with less than you have.
If you want to become a freelance writer, remember that tens of thousands of profitable freelancers’ first language isn’t even English.
If you want to start a blog, remember that people who have less to say than you do have built huge audiences.
Create a mantra for yourself that shuts down the self-doubt.
Once you’ve found your mantra, use it liberally. Put this mantra on repeat so while you’re working all you hear is your own pep talk yelling, “You got this!”
Bottom Line: Don’t Give Self-Doubt Your Power
Your self-doubt is only as strong as you allow it to be.
If you continually justify why you can’t do something, you’re giving self-doubt complete control over your emotions, actions, and ultimately, your future.
Don’t let that little voice inside your head stop you in your tracks. Next time, turn down the volume by recognizing it’s there. And follow the steps above. Soon enough, you’ll have rewired your brain to auto-fill positive responses only.
And finally, remember to beware of naysayers whose own self-doubt is threatening to curtail your efforts. Move past their doubt and your own self-doubt triggers by coming up with a system to prove all this self-doubt wrong.
I’m not suggesting that your self-doubt won’t ever creep back in. It’s normal to second-guess yourself sometimes. But I am promising that if you follow these steps, you’ll be prepared to shut out self-doubt and take actionable steps forward in all walks of life.
And you deserve it.
What would you add to the list? What do you do to motivate yourself, find trust in yourself again, and move forward even when you’re overcome with self-doubt? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Author Bio: Sarah Peterson is the author of Unsettle.org, where she helps people who don’t want to live their lives choosing off of the standard menu of options build an income for themselves through online micro-businesses and solopreneurship.
Photo by: Meredith Farmer
Thanks for a great article on self-doubt!
Right off the bat, Marc and Angel’s emails and the amazing book that is “1,000 Little Things” have helped reduce my self-doubt and increase my self-confidence over the past year. Other self-improvement books like “The Untethered Soul” and “The Four Agreements” have been helpful also. I reference these inspiring works when I need them most.
For me it hasn’t been about learning something brand new, but about re-learning to use the intellectual tools I already had. And the best way I’ve found to make this happen is constantly reminding myself that I am competent and able to make great decisions – which I’ve done by reading a page or two of the aforementioned books and emails/articles.
Marc Chernoff says
Excellent perspective, Mara! And again, thank you so much for supporting our work.
Thank you! Thank you!
I love your articles and find the pragmatic approach to “Self Awareness” very helpful.
Thank you for writing with care and truth
Thanks for this timely confidence boosting steps. I’m sensing my self-doubt has risen lately. After having retired, our plans were to live in the Caribbean to enjoy the climate and lower cost of living, however things didn’t work out the way we had expected (it’s a long story). We’re back in our hometown and trying to find a new direction and purpose for the next decade of our lives. These helpful principles are a great place to start. Thank you!
Linda Bauman says
Beverly I feel just like you. I think there are a lot of us out here that are retired and trying to find a new direction! I too am grateful for these principles.
Marc and angel… just thank you for every thing you two are doing to empower us.
Jay Jones says
This post reminded me of a question Marc asked in one of his emails about a year ago:
“If you were able to maintain a level of self-confidence that no circumstance could shake, what would you be doing differently?”
I wrote the question down on my home office whiteboard and it’s still there. I reference it whenever I feel like my self-doubt is getting the best of me.
Yagmur Aydogan says
I really like that question and will print it out too! Thank you for this!
Marc Chernoff says
I’m so glad that question continues to resonate with you, Jay. I actually reference that question on a regular basis too.
Charlotte Buckle says
This is such a great post! I have been struggling with self-doubt pretty much since I graduated high school (seven years ago). I still have not found my “calling(s)” at almost 25 but I am the one to blame. I hold myself back, subconsciously, because I am scared. But this past year, I found yoga and it has helped me to grow and find a path that suits me at this point in my life. It has taught me to be happy with my life and appreciate the successes that have come to me and the lessons learned from failures!
I remind myself each morning to “rock it out” and then I am ready to accomplish the day before me!
Thank you so much for sharing this post!
C | atlantic-c.blogspot.ca
Marc Chernoff says
Rock it out, Charlotte!
I love it!
Akanksha Srivastava says
Once again, a wonderful post on the M&A blog.
Whenever i have a self doubt i tell my self: “Akanksha, if you can’t do it, no one can do it.” And it motivates me to keep going, and gradually works.
Wow what perfect timing! I want to start a new business and have started doing a few bits and pieces but due to fear I haven’t really progressed. I feel like I don’t know enough to be an authority figure in my industry and hence I’m scared of not delivering enough quality information.
I’m going to reflect on this some more now.
helen marie says
My first thought on reading this is that every single word has been written for me as this is exactly what I am going thru with self doubt. I was a very successful career woman, had money in the bank, bought my own home, had investments, then stayed married twenty years to an abusive alcoholic but I stayed thinking I did the right things for my kids by having a dad in the house,. I watched my credit, my savings my investments and most importantly my self esteem wash down the drain, while I finally, after twenty years divorced him. I am slowly picking up the pieces. I am trying to get back to the person I was before I married him,, but I realize that all the devastation I have experienced has amped up my self doubt. Thanks for sharing.,,….. spot on, I am going to print this article and leave it on my desk so I can read it daily……
Ayush Bahuguna says
I would like to add an another step to your lists, this is something I personally do and it has helped me a lot.
I wake up in the morning and say to myself, “Good things are supposed to happen to me”.
It makes me feel really good about myself because I had started to believe that only bad things are supposed to happen to me.
Saying these words help me to keep a positive mindset.
Let me know if it works for you too.
Honestly, this is perfect. I’m a first year med student and it feels like every day is a struggle. Not enough sleep, not enough exercise, and no matter how I try to balance those things into my schedule, my academics aren’t where I want them to be (but they’re least awful when I get 5-6 hours of sleep each night during the week, and exercise on weekends only). For the first half of the year I kept telling myself that if I just kept at it, things would get better. But they haven’t been. And the self-doubt has been creeping in more and more. So this article is exactly what I need. And yes, while I have no illusions of grandeur regarding my geniusness, dumber people than I have become doctors. So I can do this too.
Donna Homan says
I really relate to Helen Marie. I wasn’t that successful financially but a bad abusive relationship has taken its toll on me. I pray for her and I and any others who may be in this boat, to find dry land to rest on and grow. It is so difficult, but having Marc and Angels articles really help.
Once again you’ve done it….the right article at just the right time!! After reading your last article, my comments were directed towards this very topic…. becoming that happy guy I once was. I have begun taking the steps necessary to accomplish this goal, the first major step taken just yesterday! Naturally, almost immediately upon completing that first step, my brain went into “self doubt” mode. The negative questions and thoughts monster reared it ugly head asking questions like”Why are you wasting your time?” and “You know that you will never follow through all the way to the end!” and amoung a few others the real hit “You know that no one will support or encourage your goal and actions because it is an unnecessary thing to try to do, you should be satisified with where you are right now in your life.”
These 6 steps that you have shared will certainly be put into practice immediately and I’m sure help me overcome any doubts or fear and will beat back that ugly monster every time it decides to attempt to rear its head. “You are a happy guy….trust and believe that is true.” is now my mantra and I know I can do this REGARDLESS!
Thank you once again for a timely fantastic article that I’m sure you wrote just for me once again, lol, or so it seems…..
This must be companion to everybody that chooses to be successful in anything. It’s real, true, straightforward and understandable. Thanks indeed.
Jan Ramsey Brick says
Like everyone else, I feel like this post was written especially for me!
Thanks so much Sarah, Angel and Marc. I love the positive mantra idea.
I’ve always told my kids that confidence is 9/10ths of the game. It’s good to have some actionable steps to help get there.
Two things I am writing out and hanging in my office today…
“Dumber people than I have done this.”
“If you were able to maintain a level of self confidence that no one could shake, what would you be doing differently?”
Gail Y. Bennett says
I’m so glad that you’ve posted this! Regardless of the time of year, I think we need these words of encouragement at least weekly. Two of the things that remind me to not self doubt are, think about how I motivate others when they are self doubting. The other is to use my past successes as a blueprint for reminding myself that I’ve done it before and that it’s possible. It is hard when someone who appears from all accounts to have their stuff together, tells you that your stuff isn’t good enough – this happened to me. The funny thing is that I never asked them for their advice. They kept asking me to share something I was working at. I didn’t listen to that little voice in my head that said no. They tore my project apart as if I’d asked them for help or their opinion. I must say, my self doubt really kicked in. But, that’s when I began to think about and use my past successes as one of my mantras.
Dwight L. Carter Sr. says
Thank you, perfect article for my day today. The last 2 years have required dramatic change in my and my family’s lives. A successful career suddenly ended and the resulting self doubt has been frustrating and sometimes overwhelming. At 59 I am at a place I can look back from and see where I have missed my purpose and true calling. My true passion is writing and speaking with a motivational and spiritual bent. Reading your blog, getting back to happy as well as the challenges and comments of others strengthens my resolve. What a blessing to have found you site!
Muzikababa David Gumede says
Thanks for your encouraging words. My mantra says ‘you will nener know what lies ahead until you reach there’
Andy Sillars says
In the summer of last year I changed my performance on the golf course dramatically by reading about the psychology of golf. Self-doubt on the golf course is the biggest reason we don’t progress. If you see a tree/bunker/water and doubt you can avoid it, you are more likely to hit it there. Self-doubt applies to us all in one area of another.. I hope to take on some of your points with me into other areas. thank you.
Thanks for this article!
Helps me figure out why I am like this.
Even if someone recognizes my work, I still think that someone is always better than me. It’s not wrong to think like that, right?
Wow! I needed this, m&a.
Although there was a time when my self-confidence was unshakeable; recent extreme difficulties have knocked me down a few pegs.
I laughed out loud at “…people dumber than me have done it…” and confess that’s been my inner mantra as well.
I’m about to embark on a new career/adventure where I’ll be learning a whole new skill set and applying it in a completely unfamiliar environment.
At age 53, after searching for 2 years, I couldn’t land a job in my chosen field (after raising my 2 children) so I decided it was time to step away and change direction.
I’m grateful to you both for being my “pocket cheerleaders” in the last few years! I truly could not have gotten through the trauma, loss, and countless humiliations without the warm, nurturing resource you provide.
Angel Chernoff says
You are welcome, Teri. We are cheering for you!
I look at my self-doubt inner talk as trash. It doesn’t serve me one bit. So, I visualize it as either written down on a piece of paper, a photo, junk in a box, etc. I see myself throw this object which represents trash thoughts, i.e., inner doubt right into my trash can. Then, I take the trash can out to the dumpster and throw it in. I see the garbage truck come and take it away. Then it goes into the landfill. There is is buried. Far away from me and my thoughts. And, I’ll do it as often as necessary. Great thing is, I find that I’m needed to so this visualization less and less as time goes on.
Angel Chernoff says
Love your sentiment and view on this, Kimberly.
So true, so real and always thought provoking, it hit the nail right on its head…I needed this! Thank you
I enjoyed reading this. It gave me a lot to think about. The part that sticks with me the most is “Don’t give self-doubt your power”. Thats a very interesting way of putting it. Sometimes I feel as though I am powerless and struggle to gain control over my life. I like the concept that I already have power. Its up to me not to give it away. Thank you for writing this piece.
Scott Jasper says
I totally agree. I think that those that fire together wire together. You need to recognise when you are doubting yourself so that you can turn it around and focus on the positive.
Dante Eversley says
A phenomenal post guys. I’m just getting caught up with your new content and this was so timely a post. I deem it a post you can go to daily for reinforcement. I’m in love with the mantra “People dumber than me have done it.” It’s so true SO TRUE. If you don’t mind I plan to use that as part of my new mantras for 2016. Great post.