Where does self-doubt come from? As I sat and watched 3 year olds jump without hesitation off of play structures in the kid corral at my local mall, I wondered.
They were so free, so limitless in their play. They had no doubt they could jump off of those plastic structures twice the size of their little toddler selves.
Then I realized. They jump because no one had yet told them they couldn’t.
Are We Born With Self Doubt?
Self-doubt is not innate. It is learned. It is created over time by the people around us who impose their thinking limits upon us. What they cannot imagine, they tell us is not possible. What they cannot accomplish they tell us is a worthless effort. What they are afraid to dream of, they tell us is not practical.
As a result, over time, our once wide-open minds become crippled with limits that others have set for us. And when we aspire to do something those limiting voices try to remind us that we can’t do what we aspire to do.
Even The Best of Us Struggle With Doubt
According to research from Katherine Wintsch of the Mom Complex, the #1 emotion that moms feel is doubt, but if you look around at most moms, looks can be deceiving.
We need to realize that the way we see others is never the entire picture. Take Tim Ferris, author of the 4- hour work week. He is a productivity guru, an amazingly successful entrepreneur and author. But did you know that Tim Ferris almost wasn’t here to help you and I succeed? 25 years ago, burdened with self-doubt it nearly drove him to suicide.
Self-doubt is something all of us face, even the most successful of us.
Can We Overcome Self Doubt?
Karyl Mcbride, Ph.d. did a study of people who took the message of “I’m not good enough” from childhood and said “let me show you I am worthy”. Her findings are so interesting.
Mcbride says: “They’ve learned that when they are told, “You can’t do it,” that it might mean you have to do it, to truly take care of yourself and chase the enemy from your self-doubting head. And then when you do…you can give yourself credit for believing in yourself. In the end, it’s your dream and it belongs to no one but you.”
This was me.
Over the course of my life I was told so many times that I couldn’t do things.
I’ve shared before that my father had schizophrenia and was not able to care for me the way a father should, but I believed I had a Heavenly Father who loved me more than any earthly father ever could. I rooted myself in that identity and chose not to believe what I was told.
I was told I couldn’t’ go to college because I was too poor. I went to Pepperdine University, ranked the 45th most expensive college of the Top 500 Schools in the U.S., on an academic scholarship.
I was told I couldn’t study abroad because I couldn’t get a loan. I studied abroad in Florence and worked my way through that trip as the villa maid.
As I got older people would continue to try to tell me I couldn’t do things.
I was told I shouldn’t marry the man I loved because he was divorced with two teenaged girls and it would never work. I have now been married to that man for 14 years.
I was told I couldn’t be a stepmother because I was too young. I helped to raise my 13-year-old step-daughter to adulthood anyway.
I was told I shouldn’t sell advertising because it was a slut business. I sold advertising anyway and used my commissions to sponsor 10 children around the world out of poverty for the last 10 years.
My whole life, I have had a burning desire in my heart to rise above my circumstances. I refused to let the limiting beliefs of others limit me and my faith in Jesus enabled me to overcome so much doubt.
It was my trust in Jesus that comforted me in those dark days and lead me down the paths I needed to follow. He put the right people in my life at the right times and orchestrated the right opportunities for me to take hold of. It was His reassuring voice that I could do all things through Him that encouraged me.
Irwin McManus, Pastor of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, said it best:
“You have to decide who you are before everyone tells you who you are.
You have allowed yourself to be defined by the voices who have told you that you were less.
Jesus has come to silence the voices that have lied to you about who you are.
He is the God who breaks the chains of all the voices who told us what we were not and what we could not do so we could rise up and be the people God created us to be.” Irwin McManus
3 Mind Tricks For Overcoming Self-Doubt
I still face self-doubt. As a blogger, every time I write something new, I fight with myself about whether or not to publish it. Thoughts like “why are you even writing that? No one wants to read about that. Don’t post that article. That’s stupid” fly through my head.
As a mom, I reassure myself that I’m doing ok because I’ve managed to keep my son alive for 11 years and I couldn’t even keep a plant alive before he came along, but so often I doubt my ability to parent him well.
These are the three simple mind tricks I use to overcome self-doubt and keep going.
#1 Prime Yourself For Action
In Blink, Malcom Gladwell mentions a Dutch research study that asked two groups of students each to answer 42 questions from the game Trivial Pursuit. One group was asked to take 5 minutes beforehand and think about what it would mean to be a professor and write down everything that came to mind. The other group was asked to sit and think about being soccer hooligans and write down everything that came to mind.
When it came time for the Trivial Pursuit questions, the “professor” group got 55% of the questions right vs. 42% accuracy for the soccer hooligans group.
The study showed that associating themselves with the idea of something smart, like a professor, made it a lot easier for the professor group to succeed. They had primed their minds for success ahead of time.
We can take this same power of our subconscious and prime our minds to beat self-doubt whenever it raises its ugly head.
Thinking about what it would look like to be an expert at whatever task we are hoping to accomplish before-hand, visualizing ourselves with that level of expertise and then embracing the task will help us proceed with confidence and a greater level of success.
Half the battle is to keep going when you doubt yourself, so priming your mind to set you up to the task is a helpful trick.
#2 Envision The Worst Case Scenario
Another trick to overcoming self doubt is to imagine the worst. It seems contradictory to the envision advice in #1 but both tactics have proven helpful for me in different scenarios.
I was at Luke’s parent teacher conference last week and he had been doing so well all year long but this quarter he started to have some challenges. As I was hearing the things he was struggling with I began to have thoughts like “this is your fault. “you should have been more involved in holding him accountable” “you are failing at being a mom”. I left the parent teacher conference barely holding back the tears until I could reach my car.
It’s crazy how quickly our thoughts of self-doubt can create a vicious spiral. In times like these, I like to envision the worst- case scenario to talk myself off the ledge.
When I pulled myself together, I asked what is the worst-case scenario?
“Luke fails his classes.” Then I followed up that answer with “ok. Even if that unlikely scenario were to happen, I wouldn’t love him any less. The world will not end. Even if the worst happened, it would not change anything ultimately important to me”.
Then I asked “what am I afraid of?” The answer was “being a failure as a mom”. I followed up that answer with the thought “Ok. That’s not going to happen because I refuse to let it.”
According to Julie Norem, author of the Positive Power of Negative Thinking, negative thinking can transform anxiety into action because imagining the worst-case scenario can motivate you to prepare more and try harder.
Walking through this mental exercise with myself allowed me to drive home and see things in perspective once again, rather than being overwhelmed by doubt.
#3 Rewire Your Brain With Gratitude
According to Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis, when we think about what we appreciate, the parasympathetic calming part of the nervous system is triggered. This could be the reason why stress hormones like cortisol are 23% lower in grateful people.
When doubt starts to creep in, find something to be grateful for and the fear will subside. If I start to feel like I am not good enough I often turn the direction of my thoughts toward my son. I think,” Luke loves me no matter what. I am grateful for him”. Redirecting my thoughts this way always brings a smile to my face and calms me down and gives me the willpower to continue on.
Some people start their day by writing down 3 things they’re grateful for. Others make a list at the end of the day of all the things they’re grateful for that happened that day. I make mental notes of what I’m grateful for as I go along in my day as a way of keeping myself on track and not letting negative thoughts derail me.
Whatever your method of choice, turning your thoughts toward gratitude is a great mind trick for overcoming doubt.
In summary, self-doubt is caused by the people around us who have imposed their limited thinking upon us. The good news is we can overcome self-doubt.
For those of us who dare to dream and dare to accomplish and dare to choose guts over fear, we can take back our God-given right to imagine a greater tomorrow for ourselves and when we lean on Jesus to empower us, we can become more than conquerors.
3 Mind Tricks For Overcoming Self-Doubt
Now go and do the thing they said you could not do.
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Welcome to Honey & Figs! I’m Lisa. I love helping people with practical ways to live more abundant lives based on my own experience. You can click here to find out more about me.
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