Self-doubt is a normal part of human life. At some point, even the most confident people experience waves of doubt. But some experience it in such a way that it lowers their self esteem, stops them from acting on what’s important to them and even drags them into depression.
While some self-doubt is normal, toxic self-doubt must be combatted.
In episode one of my brand new podcast, Mentally Stronger, I explore what toxic self-doubt is, why we experience it, and three tactics for overcoming it.
With Mentally Stronger, I’ll be exploring topics related to mental strength and mindfulness by sharing practical tools to train your mind to be stronger, so you can unlock your potential and live a happier life.
Keep reading to learn more, or listen to the full episode above.
What is toxic self-doubt?
We all have these moments where the voice in our heads starts to say things like…
This isn’t going to work.
You’re not good enough.
What if you fail?
Don’t try it. You’ll only get rejected.
Sound familiar? This is the voice of self-doubt, and that voice can be pretty harsh at times.
When we experience self-doubt, it can crush our confidence, lower our self-worth, and hold us back from doing the things we care about. It can even pull us into cycles of anxiety and depression.
Why do we experience it?
Unfortunately, self-doubt is a part of being human. If you think this way, there’s nothing wrong or abnormal with you, and it’s not your fault.
The human mind has evolved over the last 200,000 years in such a way that it’s natural for us to experience self-doubt.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in difficult and dangerous times. In order to survive, they needed to be constantly on the lookout for potential threats and dangers. If they weren’t, they didn’t survive for very long.
The default setting of the human mind is to survive and prioritize safety above all else. This means that your mind tends to spend more time thinking about things that could go wrong rather than what could go right. And that means our mind will give more airtime to our doubts and worries and will think about them more than it will to envisaging our success.
Of course, we live in a very different world to our ancestors, but our mind still operates in much the same way. Except that now Instead of worrying about sabre-tooth tiger attacks, we’re worried about our business failing, our relationships falling apart, humiliating ourselves in front of others, and so on.
While these issues may not truly be life or death, they can certainly feel that way at times.
When we focus too much on self-doubt, it leads to a distorted way of perceiving the world, and sometimes these doubts can be completely debilitating.
Another thing we’ve inherited from our hunter-gatherer ancestors is the need for approval from others. Back then, humans only survived in a tribe. You didn’t survive long if you got kicked out of the pack. Usually a predator, hostile tribe or starvation would get you. So your survival literally depended on having the approval and acceptance of others in the group.
How did the mind ensure you would get survival? It would constantly compare you to other members in the tribe and assess, am I fitting in? Am I attractive enough? Am I contributing enough? Am I doing anything that could get me rejected? Am I successful enough? Am I good enough?
These days our mind is still operating in much the same way, but now we have a big problem to contend with.
Instead of comparing ourselves to just a few dozen people in a tribe we are now comparing ourselves, through social media, marketing messages, and tv to enormous amounts of people with almost impossible standards to live up to.
Every day, we scroll and surf through glossy, polished images of other people’s lives – images designed to be aspirational. So we see people who appear to be more attractive, more successful, more fit, more happy, more wealthy and naturally, the mind compares ourselves to that impossible standard and then concludes we are not measuring up. We’re feel inadequate. We feel like there’s something wrong with us.
This is probably one of the main reasons for the huge surge in depression all over the world over the past decade.
How can we overcome self-doubt?
Now we’ve established that it’s totally normal and understandable to experience self-doubt in the modern world, what can we do about it? I have three tactics for overcoming self-doubt.
1.Thank your mind
Whenever you notice self-doubt start to arise, start by thanking your mind. So just saying to yourself mentally “Thanks mind!”.
You might be thinking, wait, why would I thank my mind for this?!
It might seem a little odd since your mind is responsible for the self-doubt, but another way to look at it is to picture your mind as a guard dog. It’s your mind’s job to protect and keep you safe. It’ll bark and point out all the potentially scary things it sees and prepare you for a worst-case scenario.
But this is all in an attempt to keep you safe (as misguided as it might sometimes be).
So, by thanking the mind, you let it know that you have heard its warning and that it can calm down now. Its much like petting a barking guard dog for letting you know about potential dangers. Once it knows its been heard it can settle down and know that it has done its job.
By doing taking just two seconds to do this simple practice, you can bring forth a sense of equanimity, calmness, and wisdom rather than trying to fight against your mind.
2. Focus on your values and vision
The second step is to make your values and vision bigger than your fears and doubts. Your values may be things like kindness, courage, determination, playfulness, or creativity.
Your vision might look like going for a promotion, spending quality time with your family, or asking someone on a date.
In those moments of self-doubt, remember to connect with your vision and your values to bring them to the forefront of your mind. Let the doubts fade into the background as you connect with what matters most to you deep in your heart. Doing things that reflect your values and vision is far too important to let those doubts win.
3. Take meaningful action on what matters to you
The third step is to take meaningful action despite what the voice in your head says.
Vincent Van Gogh reportedly once said:
“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Just imagine if he had listened to that voice and given up! We would have missed out on all the beauty and creativity that he brought into the world. The same goes for all of us.
Remember, that voice in your head is just that. It’s just bits of language that your mind makes out of habit. It cannot stop you from acting unless you let it.
So go ahead and taking action towards the things that you care about no matter what that inner voice says. Whether it’s painting, writing, asking someone out or applying for that dream job, don’t let the inner voice hold your back. Sometimes its scary to go for your dreams but the best way to overcome that fear is to do it anyway and see what happens.
The next time you experience self-doubt, think back to these three steps. Thank your mind for trying to protect you, make your values and vision bigger than the fear, and take action despite your doubts.
These steps won’t eradicate self-doubt, since it’s a normal part of the human mind. But they can help you deal with it when it arises so that it doesn’t define you or hold you back and you can live a rich, full and meaningful life.
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