My kids, my late husband and I have all shared more in common than a last name and address. It’s affected each of us at different times and to different degrees during those times.
My husband would express doubts to me over whether he had accomplished enough, at a time when he was only 46. He had no way of knowing that he wouldn’t be here for his 47th birthday, but that type of self-doubt was something he expressed on a regular basis over the years from about the time he turned 35.
I routinely experience self-doubt about what I write… Will anybody read my words? Will people connect with what I write? Does any of it matter to anyone? Will anyone connect with any of my social media content? Will people realize that I truly care, and that what I say is authentic, not artificial?
I witness my children experiencing their own self-doubts: Am I choosing the right college? Is my major going to be a good fit for me? Am I considering the best career path for myself? How can I possibly pass Math this semester? Why don’t I have more friends?
Especially in this Covid era, technology is a double-edged sword. It’s allowed us to continue to stay connected even when socially distanced. But those connections are often superficial, and all too easily manipulated with editing, filters and special effects.
Stop comparing your accomplishments to your friends’ and colleagues’ accomplishments. A few days ago, a good friend was talking about how a friend of his was commiserating with him about serious issues in that individual’s marital relationship, and yet that man’s significant other was posting idyllic stories and images on social media. People use social media for different reasons. Some share realities – even the ugly ones. And some people share what they wish was reality. You don’t have to analyze and try to make judgment calls about the lives of others; It’s not very nice to do that anyway. Just know to take everything with ‘ a grain of salt the saying goes, and definitely don’t cast judgment on your life based on what you think you know about the life of somebody else.
Thinking about it, it seems a lot of self-doubt can be put into these 5 categories:
“But I really shouldn’t”
This happens when you feel that you just don’t deserve whatever good thing it is that has you all knotted up inside. You think you’re a fraud, that your achievement or accomplishment was gotten through fortuitous timing or good luck rather than as a result of your ability or hard work. You are convinced that at any moment the people around you are going to discover how undeserving you really are and expose you to the condemnation you really deserve. You just can’t see that you’re worthy of the good things in your life.
“But I can’t”
When self-doubt tells you that you can’t do something – or anything at all – it gives you the perfect excuse to not do anything.
Think about it. When you’re sure you can’t do something, you have no incentive to even try. What would be the point, right? Of course, reality is that when you put in little or no effort, you increase the likelihood of failure. And when you don’t succeed, you reinforce your own negative beliefs.
“But I didn’t”
It’s easy to let self-doubt take over when you’re entering a high-pressure situation. If you’re worried about a presentation at work, a job interview, or passing a test, it can truly be tempting to not prepare at all. Lack of preparation gave you a clear and easy excuse for a lack of success. So, self-doubt is close friends with self-sabotage and procrastination. Don’t let them gang up on you.
“Ugh, I’m terrible”
From everything I’ve read about the subject, people with high levels of self-doubt have a greater need for approval from others, worry more about failures and negative opinions of others, and are harsher in their self-judgments. They tend to isolate themselves whenever possible.
“I can’t make a decision”
It makes perfect sense that when self-doubt takes over, you can second guess yourself and your decisions endlessly. You can definitely get stuck in the cycle of trying to make a choice. As you torturously try to choose between your options, the self-doubt can grow exponentially.
What can you do about it? Brace yourself and just make a decision. As the saying goes, “go with your gut instinct.” Your first reaction is statistically going to be your best. Those reactions usually arise from intuition, before outside opinions clutter your thoughts and get in the way.
No matter what
I don’t think you can magically banish self-doubt or instantly imbue yourself with a powerful surge of self-confidence. Perhaps one of the most manageable ways to combat self-doubt is to stop thinking about what everyone else may be thinking of you. I realize you can’t just stop doing that all at once, permanently. Gift that freedom to yourself in small increments if you need to in order to build the habit. Imagine all the energy you’ll save if you stop worrying about what other people think of you.
Everyone is on his or her own journey. What works for me and what makes me feel good doesn’t have to work for anyone I know. It’s hard to accept that because there are usually people in our lives who have hopes and expectations for us. They are frequently people whose opinions matter to us, and that’s fine … except if striving to meet those expectations keeps burying you in the painful quagmire that is self-doubt.
Never doubt the importance of you.