Everyone struggles with self-doubt occasionally. It’s not only normal to experience self-doubt, it’s actually healthy and a sign that you’re open minded and questioning your choices, abilities and behaviors. A little self-doubt is humbling, keeping our self-confidence in check and reminding us that we’re still mortals who make mistakes and have short-comings. The key is not to let self-doubt derail you and keep you from moving forward both personally and professionally.
Most of us have experienced self-doubt in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. We wonder if we’re pretty or handsome enough, thin enough, tall enough, smart enough, funny enough, and the list goes on. And when we don’t feel “enough” we tend to retreat and avoid situations that trigger inadequacy and self-doubt.
Research confirms that self-doubt can significantly impair our work performance. When we doubt ourselves, we may be afraid to take action or try something new. We may procrastinate on tasks we need to accomplish in an attempt to avoid failure and shame. And we may pass on opportunities for growth and change because we fear that we are not ready for them, for example, we may pass on asking for a raise, doubting our ability to handle more responsibility.
When we allow self-doubt to erode our confidence, we begin what I call a “self-doubt spiral.” Something, perhaps a critical comment from someone, or a thought about our abilities, triggers our self-doubt. We then recycle a series of self-defeating thoughts, in rapid succession, such as “I’ll never be good enough at this job;” “I knew this wasn’t the right career path for me;” “I should have stayed at my old job; at least I knew what I was doing there;” “I’m just a failure and I’ll never amount to anything.” Or, we might engage in a self-doubt spiral over our body-image, recycling thoughts such as “I’m sure that guy rejected me because I’m too heavy.” “I’ll never find anyone to love me.” “I’ll grow old and die alone.” These thoughts can quickly lead to unpleasant emotional states like anxiety, frustration, anger, hopelessness, sadness, shame and depression. And if you’re lacking the skill to handle self-doubt in a more constructive way, you may find yourself diving into a large bag of chips or a whole carton of ice cream in an attempt to self-medicate and numb out the pain.
The trick is to learn to use your self-doubt in a constructive way and move beyond it. The following eight steps will help you avoid those self-doubt spirals:
1. Remind yourself that everyone experiences self-doubt. Many situations can trigger it. Remember that you’re not alone in experiencing these feelings. Even CEO’s, top managers, and presidents admit to experiencing self-doubt.
2. Be mindful of when you’re experiencing self-doubt. Awareness is the first step in changing habits. Take note of the times when you experience self-doubt. Is it usually generated by comments made by others or does it surface most often when you compare yourself to others or when you make mistakes? Do you tend to doubt yourself when you step out of your comfort zone? Try keeping a Self-Doubt Journal and jot down when you experience self-doubt and what triggered it.
3. Take note of how self-doubt makes you feel. Do you tend to get sad and hopeless or depressed and ashamed? Do you get frustrated and overwhelmed ? Some people even get angry and lash out when they experience self-doubt. Write down your feelings in your journal.
4. Catch and Reframe your self-doubting thoughts. It’s important to learn to question your self-doubt. Cognitive Behavior Therapy suggests that our critical, self-defeating thoughts can predispose us to unnecessary levels of painful emotions. A major technique of Cognitive Therapy is to make our thoughts explicit (we are often unaware of them) and then determine if they are realistic or if we are overreacting. In your Self-Doubt Journal, see if you can catch your self-doubting thoughts, write them down, and come up with a realistic or uplifting reframe. Take a little time to challenge and dispute these thoughts. Very often, our self-doubting thoughts represent a sort of black-or-white thinking and we’ll need to find the gray area.
5. Seek out positive support from others. Often, when we can’t find that gray area, we can alleviate our self-doubt by soliciting the advice or mentorship from warm, supportive, nurturing others. When you just can’t shake your self-doubt, see if someone close to you can help you reframe your thoughts. If you don’t have someone who can help, consider the professional assistance of a coach or therapist.
6. Practice using your Inner Nurturer voice to reassure and comfort yourself and help in meeting your needs. If you can’t find within yourself a nurturing voice, see if you can model the voice of a kind, caring relative, mentor, coach, therapist or compassionate friend. Most of us access a supportive voice within when we speak to small children or animals. This voice may not be well developed if you haven’t practiced it very often, but it’s there. This voice will remind you that you’re beautiful, just as you are and that you have many strengths. This voice will help you meet your goals. This voice will help put an end to your self-doubt spirals. And to your emotional eating.
7. Practice daily self-affirming commentary. Self-affirming commentary consists of statements you make to yourself that are unconditionally supportive and positive. No matter what the situation entails, you always support and encourage yourself. Self-compassion is critical to putting self-doubt in it’s place. You can practice this step by praising yourself every day for small accomplishments (“I’m proud of myself for making that phone call I didn’t want to make”) and speaking to yourself with kindness when you’re disappointed in yourself (“I’m disappointed that I gained back the weight I lost but I know I’ve been under a lot of stress and I can get back to healthier eating starting tomorrow.”)
8. Use imagery to help you face your fears. Many athletes use imagery to improve their performance. Imagine yourself asking for that raise and handling any difficult questions or reactions. Imagine yourself on that date, feeling confident, whether the other person is in to you or not. Imagine what success would look like in a particular situation. Then, take a chance and go for it!
Self-doubt can be your fiercest enemy, at home and in the workplace and it can be a constant trigger for emotional eating. If handled correctly, however, it can also offer the greatest opportunities for improved confidence and personal growth.
Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual: A Practical Mind-Body-Spirit Guide for putting an End to Overeating and Dieting. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to http://overeatingrecovery.com.
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