Do you suffer from self-doubt?
If I were to tell you that you’re not alone, chances are it wouldn’t be any comfort.
Why? Because, ironically, high-achievers are programmed to simultaneously compare themselves to their peers and believe that their peers are experiencing something different or somehow above the struggle.
I see this in my practice as a coach all the time. We know the phenomenon starts early for leaders...the feelings of fraud, or imposter syndrome, are rooted deep in our psyches. And often our inner critics fan the flames of our self-doubt.
I’m speaking from experience.
Rest assured, there’s nothing unusual or unhealthy about pangs of self-doubt. They’re normal. In fact, you should be worried about not having any doubts at all...it may mean you’re not challenging yourself...or you’re leaning towards arrogance.
But self-doubt doesn’t have to be crippling to your professional career.
Here are ten ways to overcome self-doubt.
10 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt
Self-doubt can show up as the occasional thought that may have you questioning your abilities – this happens to me every time I create a new leadership product or program – or it may have the power to stop you in your tracks.
You can let self-doubt paralyze you…or you can figure out how to manage and leverage it to help you grow in all aspects of your life.
1. Acknowledge self-doubt
This is the vital first step. Realize it exists. Realize everyone suffers from it. And realize you will have to manage it.
Most important: realize that you are enough.
Now, you’re well on your way...
2. Abandon comparisons
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
There’s no greater robber in modern times than social media.
Granted, it affords you connections to people who were inaccessible before...but it’s also comparison on steroids. You’re constantly comparing yourself to the curated version of someone else’s life in pictures and pithy comments…
Take Facebook and Instagram off your phone, so they don’t follow you around all day. And, like your exercise, eating and sleep rituals, budget time for social media. Make an effort to narrow the feed of social comparison.
3. Mix your short- and long-term goals
Set a combination of short-term goals – tackling your inbox, completing your section of an Annual Report, going to the gym three days a week – with long-term goals – learning a new language, earning a promotion, studying for a diploma or second degree.
If all your goals are set against your progress over a year or more, your daily self-doubt index is going to rise.
4. Pay attention to positive feedback
This is hard for humans.
We’re wired to downplay our strengths and focus on our weaknesses. It’s what psychologists call “covering”...hiding our true nature and skills to blend in with the crowd.
I’m not suggesting you become a narcissist and reject constructive criticism. But when someone acknowledges your efforts, take the feedback and run with it. There’s nothing wrong with taking credit where credit is due.
5. Modify the environment
There’s the old saying, “If you can’t modify the behaviour, modify the environment.”
Be more intentional about the people you share time with – at work and in your personal life.
Take the adage about your physical fitness, “You are what you eat,” and apply it to your mental fitness. Build the right community around you…
It will help you cope with professional challenges – designing an effective marketing plan, restructuring your company – and personal challenges like divorce, juggling aging parents, and raising children.
6. Stretch your legs
We all get on work treadmills...task-task-task for days and weeks at a time.
Find time for yourself, break up that pattern. You don’t have to chisel out time for a 2-hour workout at the gym...a 20-minute walk around the block, or 10 minutes on a treadmill, will clear your head and lower your blood pressure.
Take walks, exercise, get out of the loop. Allow yourself to be you for a bit. It will improve your ideation and give you greater focus.
7. Consider the 20-40-60 Rule
Have you ever heard of it? Here’s a primer.
Originally espoused by actress Shirley MacLaine – and adhered to by Silicon Valley legend, entrepreneur, and investor Heidi Roizen – the rule goes something like this:
“At 20, you are constantly worrying about what other people think of you. At 40 you wake up and say, ‘I’m not going to give a damn what other people think anymore.’ And at 60 you realize no one is thinking about you at all.”
"The most important piece of information there, Roizen says: “Nobody is thinking about you from the very beginning.”
So, if others really don’t care that much about your performance, then hyper-comparison can be shelved...and you have license to overcome self-doubt!
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8. Boost your optimism
This tip is surprisingly easy to follow.
Think of a book, movie, song, or podcast you love and appreciate.
When you feel self-doubt creeping in, fall back to that source of joy. Like a brisk walk, immersing yourself in 20 or 30 minutes in something that makes you laugh, fills your heart, or simply distracts you will serve as a reset.
9. Redefine failure
In the best season of his career, Michael Jordan still missed more than half the shots he took.
It took James Dyson over 5000 iterations of the vacuum cleaner to win consumer trust.
Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series before her series was embraced, first by a publisher and then by a lucrative movie studio.
You don’t need celebrity success, though, to find examples of perseverance. Every day, your colleagues and peers are swimming upstream to get their ideas to the surface.
They share a quality in common: persistence. They keep trying, keep pushing, keep fighting. They accepted that their self-doubt and inner critic would never go away. They chose to treat it as a self-imposed, imaginary obstacle and managed the real journey, trusting their expertise, knowledge, and experience.
10. Continue to learn and grow
All of these tips point to a basic task: keep learning.
When you experience self-doubt and hear that inner critic screaming in your ear, ask yourself some blunt questions.
Why? What changed? What can I do differently?
Once you’ve weathered the storm, ask yourself questions to explore your results:
What did I learn? How did I change? What should I do differently next time?
We are all a work in progress. Give yourself permission to make a mistake and learn from it. If you fail and bury the failure, you’re doomed to fail again, given the same circumstances.
You are enough
It’s a difficult concept for leaders – or leaders-in-training – to understand.
You’ve been hard-wired to compare yourself to people who’ve already run the gauntlet. It’s easy to forget that they tripped and fell during their climb to the top.
It’s natural to feel self-doubt, to let that inner critic’s voice reign … but don’t let it hold you back.
Recognize your feelings as a healthy part of your development as a leader, and trust that you already have what it takes to succeed.
Would you like help to navigate self-doubt? Contact me, and we’ll get started on the journey together.
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