5 Ways to Overcome Self Doubt

“One of life’s ironies is that the more honest and vulnerable you are, the more others try to discredit you as a fraud and a fake. Shut them up by not caring.”  Dan Pearce

One of the most difficult parts of change is the fear of how others will perceive us. Whether we decide to switch careers, eat healthier or start a new hobby, there’s a looming fear of “what if others judge me?” Unfortunately, this keeps many of us from taking the initial step towards becoming who we would like to be or ends up discouraging us from following through with our goals.

Since I started this blog, I have made a number of lifestyle choices, one of which is continuing to write and share my experiences. At first, I felt a lot of anxiety after publishing each post. What if people don’t like what I have to say? How will I handle criticism? I imagined people criticizing my motivations, calling me self important, or worse, phony.  Mostly, I feared silence and indifference. As if nothing I say matters.

However, my worst fears never came into fruition. Instead, friends and family have opened up about their own struggles after reading about mine and provided support that I wouldn’t have imagined when I started writing. I realized that my imagined judgements were worse than actual criticism from others.

Whatever aspect of ourselves we are working on, there will be moments of doubt. Change involves risk. When we initiate change, we begin to step outside of our comfort zone and explore areas of ourselves that we’re not so comfortable with. When working with my clients, helping them overcome their fear of  judgement is one of the hardest roadblocks to break through. Fortunately, there are ways to address our doubt without allowing them to control our lives.

Here are 5 Ways to Overcome Self Doubt and use our insecurities to help gain insight through the process of change.

1). Identify your accusers and supporters. Usually when we fear judgement, there are one or two specific individuals whose opinions we dread most. These may be parents, friends, significant others or coworkers. If you have a gnawing feeling that someone may disapprove of how you dress/eat/exercise/etc. identify who that someone is. Better yet, make a list.

I often have clients make a list of helpful and unhelpful people in their lives. This not only identifies whose opinions we fear most, but also who we can turn to for support and guidance. If you don’t have a specific person you fear, create a caricature of the type of person you fear most. List how the look, act, think and talk. Doing this helps us put a face to our fears and allows us to practice how to handle potential criticism.

2). Allow yourself to be vulnerable, even in the face of judgement. Doubt is a bias towards the negative. It overlooks the positive outcomes of change in favor of the negative. We emphasize negative outcomes in order to protect ourselves from being hurt. However, by putting up a wall, we’re actually hurting our case by neglecting our changing needs.

Part of living a life of joy and meaning is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Without vulnerability, we deny ourselves the potential benefits that others have to offer. We have to give of ourselves to receive. While this vulnerability leaves us open to criticism, it also places the control in our hands. If someone takes advantage of our vulnerable state, it’s likely due to their own fears and defenses.

3). Watch for cognitive distortions. As discussed in a previous post, the words we use impact how we understand ourselves in relation to the world. Using rigid words such as should, awful, always or never distorts our understanding of the world. For example, believing “I will always be this way” simply isn’t true 99% of the time. Life is change and we are no exception. We can either learn to be flexible and bend with it or remain rigid and brittle.

Watch for distorting words when analyzing your doubts. If you feel you should behave a certain way or that being judge will be awful then you may not be seeing the big picture. Instead, decide what you would like to do and who you would like to be. We dictate who we are and what’s important to us. No one else has the ability to make us feel devalued or low unless we allow them to.

4). Don’t let others live rent free (in your mind). Human beings are social creatures and we learn our behaviors from our experience of others. This may be our parents, teachers, co-workers, celebrities, and friends whom we may or may not respect. We internalize their voices and behavior and emulate it when interacting with others.

You may have noticed that individuals who are negative or critical usually have parents or friends who are the same way towards them. Sometimes we catch ourselves behaving like one of these people, even if we didn’t like being treated that way in the first place.

I struggled with this for many years, replaying the “tapes” of those I was trying to appease or emulate. In the end, I was allowing them to live “rent-free” in my head. Anytime I would do something that I thought would upset the hypothetical person in my mind, I would doubt myself and become anxious. However, I realized that I was doing this to myself, and that the anger and resentment towards these people was a figment of my imagination used to protect me from perceived judgement.

5). Learn to politely disagree. Even if we do all of these, the moment will come when we face our accuser. Someone will question our motives either out curiosity or to put us down. It’s important to realize that their judgement has little to do with our choices and more to do with their own insecurities and ignorance. For the most part, we don’t pay much attention to how others live their lives unless we perceive a threat to our own way of life.

For example, we are not upset by a bumper sticker unless it challenges our beliefs. It’s the perception of a threat that leads to defensive criticism. So, when someone is critical of your choices, realize that you are merely a canvas for the insecurities of others. If our choices do not hurt others and have the potential to improve our well being, why would someone take issue with them?

Realizing this fact will help gauge your response. If we are constantly on the defensive, we may mistakingly become angry when someone is simply taking interest in our life. However, if we learn to read the underlying intentions of others, we will be able to respond in a polite and calm manner. This is your life, not theirs.

Doubt is Human

If we learn to make decisions without the fear of  judgement from others, we will gain the ability to live our lives however we see fit. Jerks and critics are a fact of life. However, our insecurity gives them power. Instead of asking who will judge us, ask why they are judging in the first place.

Self doubt is part of the human experience. It is essential to our well being by helping us monitor risk. However, many of our doubts are a hinderance rather than benefit. Sometime we are at greater risk remaining the same then if we were to change. So be bold, take chances and pay no mind the to naysayers. Life is too short and too precious to spend worrying about something you have no control over. Instead, be the person who you would want to encourage you through times of doubt and indecision.

Photo from Humans of New York