One things I've been struggling with lately/all my life is this unwelcome voice in my head.
This voice is insidious, it is incessant.
It's not that I am not "hearing voices" in the unable to distinguish fact from fiction sort of way. No, the voice in my head is very much my own.
The voice is mine, and it says only one thing:
Not good enough.
Has anyone guessed yet?
I am talking about self-doubt.
That niggling, nagging, nefarious creature that lives to make me question not only myself, but everything I do.
That voice is the moment of pause before buying a plane ticket for my next big adventure. That voice is the awkward silence when I considered asking for your number - but didn't. That voice is walking the other way, because I was too afraid to open the door and face the opportunities beyond.
That voice is the bane of my existence.
And it's time to overcome.
Before writing this article, I did a little research.
I wondered: What are other people doing to combat this problem?
A few Google searches later and I realized two things:
1. There are lot of decent writers out there with a lot of decent things to say
2. I have no idea how to accomplish even one of those decent things
Stop worrying about what other people think of me? So sorry, but that's not going to happen.
First of all, considering the way others consider you is important. What if everyone considers you to be a total A-hole? Isn't that something worth looking into? Wouldn't you want to at least know why?
I suppose they did say stop worrying about what people think, which is different from considering.
However, as I've said before - I am a rubrics person. I like knowing exactly what needs to be done. If teachers had told me: Stop worrying about whether this is good or not... I would be terrible! At everything!
But they didn't say that. Instead, they told me what I could do to improve the situation.
And look at me now!
Now, instead of being terrible at everything, I have moved up to being mediocre at most things, slightly better than bad at a few things, and really good at like.. two things..... maybe.
When it comes to overcoming anything - whether it be a mountain of stone or a mountain donuts - I like actionable line items. What specifically do I need to do to make this happen? As in:
Step 1: Pick up a fresh donut
Step 2: Take a bite of the fresh donut
Step 3: Chew
Step 4: Swallow
Step 5: Repeat until donut mountain has been demolished
With that actionable steps perspective in mind, I give you:
5 Strategies You Can Use Right Now
to Overcome self doubt
Strategy #1: Say the word 'stop'
Just say the word 'stop'?
It seems really simple...
That's because it is simple, but it's also hugely effective and definitely worth practicing.
I should qualify this statement: Don't just say it whenever and wherever. Generally speaking, the person walking down the street muttering stop stop stop to themselves is not the person you want to talk with.
Say stop when you catch yourself spiraling into self-doubt.
That's it. Literally just say the word 'Stop'.
This strategy works because it forces you to become aware, not only of your pattern of self-doubt, but of the fact that you have the ability to change that pattern.
Most importantly, it works because it helps you to form a new, more positive pattern.
And don't kid yourself, cognitive patterns are important.
Have you heard the phrase practice makes perfect?
This colloquialism is true because the act of doing something over and over forms and solidifies paths and patterns in the brain, which it turn allows it to execute tasks with decreasing difficulty and increasing efficiency.
Memories, thoughts, and personality traits create pathways in the brain, which all eventually become encoded in a synaptic pattern, or unique configuration of neurons and synapses.
That's why doing something the first time is generally more difficult. You brain doesn't have a path to follow.
Self doubt is a pattern. Actually, I take that back...
Wallowing in self-doubt is a pattern.
When doubt creeps in you have the choice to say:
Yes, you are right. I suck.
Stop! You are wrong. I'm awesome.
[The "you" in this situation being the voice of your self-doubt...]
Just as patterns can be made, they can also be unmade.
Again, the actionable tip here is simply to say: Stop!
This strategy is a good one, but I would also suggest following up with something a little more robust.
Saying 'Stop' allows for a temporary reprieve - it allows you a moment to reflect on the fact that you're falling into a negative cognitive pattern, which in turn gives you time to choose your next move.
Your next move can be one of several things, but I'll continue with suggesting with my all-time-favorite problem solving strategy. It's something I employ for most all personal problems, and that can be done by anyone, anywhere, at almost any time.
Strategy #2: Write about it
I've touched on why writing is awesome for problem solving several times in other posts, and (no surprise) my enthusiasm for the subject extends to the realm of overcoming self doubt as well.
There are two approaches one might take: the freeform and the structured.
Option 1: The Freeform
Grab a piece of paper, and a pen. Sit down. Start writing.
But what do I write about?
Whatever is bothering you.
Admittedly, the source isn't always apparent. Sometimes, getting to the source of the issue takes some time; especially when, like me, you have the tendency to sublimate your emotions.
In that case, my advice is to give yourself a time limit.
Tell yourself you will write for 20 minutes straight, then sit down and do it.
Start with the first thought that comes to your head, and keep going until your time is up. The results might surprise you. Sometimes, I will start writing thinking I know exactly what's wrong, and then end up on another issue entirely.
The point of the exercise is to get the negative thoughts out of your head and into the corporeal world.
Option 2: The Structured
Grab a piece of paper, and a pencil. Sit down. Make a T-chart.
Label the first column: Doubts. Label the other: Why I'm wrong.
The first column should be easy to fill out. Ask yourself: What exactly am I doubting? The more detailed and explicit, the easier the next part will be. If you're thinking: I don't know. I just suck. Think again!
Once you have your Doubts list, move to the next column.
This is the important part of the exercise.
It's also more difficult.
If it is super easy, then you probably don't need to be reading this article.
In the column entitled 'Why I'm wrong' your job is to craft the perfect response to all the doubts listed in the first column. If you're feeling especially doubtful, this could take a while. But the point is not necessarily speed, the point is to be effective - so don't tap out if you can't think of something right away.
It wasn't until this year that I started to truly believe all the hype about exercise.
I'm not sure if was finally getting out of the gym, or having the right people to motivate me, but you can now officially call me a believer.
Exercise helps to overcome self-doubt for several reasons:
a. It is distracting - For my part, I enjoy hot yoga, paired with the occasional hot pilates. I don't know about you, but wallowing in a pool of non corporeal self-doubt becomes near impossible when I'm in imminent danger of slipping into a very real pool. The room is 95 degrees, you've been holding a plank for a minute already and the teacher's all: Don't worry everyone! Only 5 more minutes to go! Kill me now, please.
b. It releases endorphins - Back to brain chemistry... I feel like you've probably already heard this, but in case you haven't - endorphins are one of several chemicals in your brain that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. They help to decrease the perception of pain and significantly elevate your mood - making a you generally happier, healthier, and less Eyore-ish human being. Science!
c. It makes you stronger both physically and mentally - This past year has taught me, not only how to flex my body, but also how to flex the part of my brain that regulates my automatic response to a stressful situation.
Mind over matter and all that.
For example, there's this park near my house that I really enjoy running in.
There's a super flat section lower section that goes by the water (SO beautiful), and there's a super flat upper that is very foresty, natural, and also extremely beautiful. I love running on both the lower and upper tracks. The problem is that if I want to run on both the upper and lower track, I must also run up a ridiculously steep hill.
This hill is my greatest foe.
It's so steep it has switchbacks... and it feels like it goes on forever.
It took me a while to notice, but every time I start to scale this hill, I have this moment a minute in where my brain starts to panic. Like actually panic.
It feels the strain in my calves, and worse - the tightening in my lungs.
My panic brain tells me: Morgan, you need to stop. You are tired. You can't breathe.
The thing is, my panic brain is wrong.
Rather than giving into the panic brain, I've slowly forced the habit of reminding myself to tighten up my lower core (which expands the thorasic cavity), and breathe slowly and deeply.
Most days, I have to do this over and over. The panic-brain is incessant.
But I can be incessant too: tighten up, breathe deeper.
And you know what? It works.
I don't have to stop. And I make it to the top of the hill.
In a way, this strategy follows the same guidelines as Strategy #1. Building patterns in your brain that help you to better navigate a stressful situation.
The mental fortitude developed within a regular exercise routine can also be applied to overcoming self-doubt.
4. Develop an arsenal (and don't be afraid to reach into when necessary)
When I say arsenal, I don't mean of guns or other weapons.
I mean develop an arsenal of articles, books, podcasts, pictures, or really whatever.
Though almost any type of item will work, it can't actually be random. Choose items that consistently improve your mood, and not just your mood in regards to the world - they need to improve your mood in regards to yourself.
Examples might include a picture capturing one of your happiest moments, a memento commemorating your greatest accomplishment, or a letter your Mom wrote when you first moved to college - saying she was so proud, she missed you already, and would always love you no matter what.
Your arsenal could include all of those things, or none of those things, but no matter what - it needs to include the type of things that make you think: I definitely did something right here.
Sometimes all it takes to stop a negative pattern in it's tracks is a gentle reminder that your emotional discomfort is temporary, you are fully capable of achieving great things, and that you are loved.
5. Take one step towards your biggest life goal
First, consider your biggest life goal.
You know, the one that makes you cringe, because it's so massive and so amazing and there's no way you could ever actually achieve it because you just aren't that good.
That's the self-doubt talking.
Second, wrack your brain for a small step you can achieve right now.
It might not be apparent at first, but I promise there is something - small or large - you can do right now to get yourself closer to that goal.
Let say your goal is to start a athleisure clothing line that everyone and their mom will want, that gets features in posh magazines right-left-and-center, that brings you fashion fame, and makes you a billion dollars...
Back it up immediately on all those fantastic outcomes.
Those are achievable someday, but they aren't achievable right now.
And thinking about the enormity of the task ahead is just going to psyche you out.
Think about what you can do right now.
- Find the contact information of someone who has already started a successful clothing line. Email that person. Eloquently beg for advice.
- Read an article or two on how to mass produce clothing
- Draft an initial business plan
- Imagine a persona for your ideal customer... Who are they? What do they do for a living? What do they do in their off time? How much money do they make?
- Create a branding board.
- Answer a few questions such as... What is the name of your clothing line? What is your general aesthetic? Who will your line be geared to? What sorts of activities will your brand be geared to?
So what if your goal it's to start a clothing line. This logic can be applied to any enormously overwhelming task.
Not only can any of these activities be accomplished in an hour or less, accomplishing even one will help to muffle the voice that tells you your dream is impossible.
Achieving everything at once is actually impossible.
But achieving a long series of small tasks? Most definitely doable.
If you take this advice, repeat it ten times, one hundred times, or even one thousand times (depending on the scope of your goal), you're not only proving your capability and worth to yourself - you will more than likely succeed.
There you have it, 5 strategies you can use right now to overcome self doubt.
Remember, no one strategy is a panacea for anything. And all strategies bear reminder and repeating. There will never be a day when any of us wake up completely free of self-doubt. But just because it exists in your psyche, doesn't mean you have give in.
When that voice creeps in saying: Not good enough.
You can listen, or you can not, but you always have a choice.