Dump Your Self-Doubt

Dump your self-doubt

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.
– Suzy Kassem

A common theme I’ve noticed amongst the business owners that come to me for coaching is that while they have built genuinely successful businesses they are held back from reaching the next level, at least in part, by self-doubt. They are superstars in their fields of expertise and loved by their clients and customers, but end up stuck when it comes to where to go next – feeling instead that they are going around in circles or all over the place when it comes to the bigger picture.

A lack of clarity (and the time and space to find it!) prevents them from confidently determining and taking the next steps toward their bigger vision. Confusion and apprehension rule the roost and the result is usually a sort of holding pattern where they remain so busy working in the business to meet the demands of their growing customer base that they continue feeling far too exhausted to even contemplate much else.

Writer and philosopher Suzy Kassem is absolutely right when she says that doubt is responsible for killing more dreams than failure could ever be. It can become a poison when we give it enough power. So much of what we want to do doesn’t happen simply as a result of self-doubt.

Doubt is closely related to uncertainty. It’s not the same, but it can definitely paralyse us in the same ways. Doubt can be helpful when it allows us to be objective about a situation, or to question something we hear rather than taking it as fact, but self-doubt is typically an unresourceful form. Self-doubt is a kind of fear, where we don’t know what to expect, we’re apprehensive, anxious and distrustful of ourselves. But where does it come from?

As small children we rarely doubt ourselves. While he’s a little more tempered these days, when he was younger my now nine year old would often tell me “facts” with great confidence, insisting that I was off-base if I so much as raised an eyebrow. He knew that thing, and he was resolute in his knowledge. Now, this bravado also comes with it’s own set of challenges, but it does show us that doubt is likely a learned behaviour. When we are learning to walk, we never doubt our ability, we fall and we get up, until we work it out. Failure doesn’t stop our pursuit of what we want. At some point though, most of us encounter either a situation or a person that starts us down the path to self doubt.

More often than not, we receive subtle (and not so subtle) messages that, over time, erode our self confidence, teaching us instead how to self-doubt and self-judge. “You can’t be x, you’re not smart enough”, “How did you not know this would happen?”, “Why do you always make the same mistakes?”. Little things, that might seem relatively harmless in the moment, can build up over time, leading a child or adolescent to stop trusting themselves, feeling as though they can’t cope or ‘get it right’, and eventually growing up plagued with self-doubt. We may even start making decisions around what others want because we have become so disconnected from our own brilliance.

How this plays out in adulthood varies from person to person, but it can result in unhealthy codependent relationships, stunted career growth, weight gain and even anxiety or depression. In business it can look like letting clients push you around, setting your prices too low or letting your big vision languish as you stay busy with the day-to-day.

Self-doubt can become one of the greatest hurdles to creating the life and business you truly want but the good news is that what can be learned, can be un-learned – it just takes a bit of time and effort.

Unlearning self-doubt

The first step to unlearning self-doubt is to know that we all share the same universal fears – not belonging, being found out and not being loved. Any or all of these can create self-doubt, nobody is immune, some of us just hide it better than others. So know that you are not alone.

Secondly, as Johann Wolfgang van Goethe pointed out “doubt can only be removed by action”. If we want to trust ourselves, we ultimately have to do the very things we fear. It’s easy to play the victim, blaming our parents, an ex-partner or perhaps a harsh teacher for our lack of self belief, but that won’t get us any closer to overcoming it. The only way to move forward is to take responsibility for ourselves and start taking the necessary action.

Start with something small, and in time, build up to bigger and more important actions. Neuroscience tells us that a shift like this requires neural growth, essentially laying down new pathways in the brain to change what we tell ourselves. Consistently doing something small creates retrievable memories of times we were able to rely on our own judgement and abilities to navigate difficult situations or make things happen. Over time this slowly grows our confidence that we will be able to handle what comes our way.

If, for example, you doubt your ability to say no to unreasonable clients, start by picking just one thing to say no to e.g. out of hours calls. When you can do that consistently, choose another challenge, until you can confidently say no to anything you don’t want to do. When you make even a small decision over and over, you discover not only that you can do it, but that the universe will back you regardless of what you choose – as long as the resolve is there. Just keep moving forward, lest you become at home in that comfort zone of paralysis again!

Learn to Say No Easily with our free e-book!

Start putting healthy boundaries in place and getting comfortable and confident with your “no”. 

For faster change, a coach can help you rebuild your self-belief, reconnecting you to your lost resources – the same ones you called upon as a sassy toddler. When my clients start to examine what lies beneath and we work through it together they begin to reignite their self-belief and huge leaps can happen quite quickly!

Make sure to check out our coaching programs for business owners while you’re here. If you’re keen for some further reading, I love the suggestions in this article by Dr Cynthia Thaik, and this piece by Sirena Bernal.

Until next time,

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