How to Deal with Crippling Self-Doubts

Let me know if this sounds recognizable: you sit in the audience, and up on stage is this 6’5” Adonis with immaculate looks, bulking muscles and a 5k suit – telling you that you can do anything if you “just let go of your self-doubts and go after your dreams.”

And you sit there, staring at your lap and mumble: “Dude if I looked like you I wouldn’t struggle with this either.”

Or you scroll through your Instagram feed with all those motivational messages that tell you to “dance like no-one’s watching!” with a picture of a beach thrown in for good measure.

You make a mental note to do so, and you keep scrolling.

On one side, we have this problem of crippling self-doubt that has the stopping power of a brick wall. On the other side, we have society’s remedy for it: motivational messages telling you that you can be anything you want to, if only you believe in yourself.

Before we get started, let me get one thing out of the way, so we’re on the same page: this article is not going to be an inspirational monologue.

It is a systematic, step-by-step approach to chip away at your self-doubts.

Here’s what’s needed of you:

  1. The ability to think critically – so that we can build the right mindset
  2. Being ready to sit down on your ass and study – so that we can build the knowledge
  3. Lastly, the willingness to leave your comfort zone – so that we can build up the experience

Build the right mindset

“He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right” – Confucius

There is the idea of the fixed mindset and the growth mindset, an area in which Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck has done much work. In short, it states that those who cling to a fixed mindset believe that their character traits, skills, etc. are unchangeable. Those that hold on to a growth mindset, however, believe that these traits are malleable and that both success and failure can lead to growth in any given field.

This is where we need to start.

So what I’d like you to do first is to write down a few things. Look at one of your self-doubts and answer these questions:

Is it true that you always fail at this?

Has there been a time when you were able to have some success – no matter how small?

Take the time to look into this and don’t limit yourself. You want to list as many instances as you can to punch holes into this belief system. Anything, no matter how small, helps!

For example, let’s say you’re held back by the belief that you can’t hold an engaging conversation. Have you never – in your entire life! – held an engaging conversation? Not even with your family? With your best friend?
And what about those conversations that didn’t go perfectly, but where you briefly made the other person smile and ask you a question in return?

We’re only looking at successes here. For the sake of this exercise, all the fails that come to mind go into the trash bin.

What bulletproof, verifiable evidence do you have for your belief?

What other reasons might explain the outcome of a particular situation?

It does not matter how unlikely these reasons seem to you at the moment. Also, no matter how convincing your evidence appears to be – would it hold up in a court of law with a really, really expensive lawyer at your side?

What about that time last weekend, when that person seemed uninterested: could it be that she merely had to catch her bus? That she was exhausted after a stressful day at work and just wanted to go home?
Would every bystander be able to testify in court that “the accused was unable to engage in a conversation, and it was all the fault of the accused, your honor!” – or maybe, not quite?

Acquire the necessary knowledge

In our day and time, it’s a very straightforward process to find all the information you will ever need: books, video courses, online communities, coaching programs, and so on.

No matter the skill – from talking to people to making bonsai trees out of paper mache.

You’re a smart kid and after all, this is the world of Google and every bit of information being at our fingertips.

I will instead warn you about a common pitfall that happens a lot at this stage. What do we all do, when we lack a skill? We read a book about it.

And then we read some more.

And more.

And… you guessed it: just one more.

A year later, we have more knowledge than we can wave a stick at. Moreover, we haven’t done anything with it. In fact, we’ve already forgotten a lot of the stuff that we read!

Sound familiar at all?

We hear this again and again from the people in our Bootcamp Program, “I have read all the books, I know all the stuff… however, I don’t do anything with it!”

Instead, do this: read enough so you can take the first step.

Then take it.

Get some feedback, and see what the next gap in your knowledge is. Then go and read up on that. That’s taking baby steps forward.

Get experience

This is where it comes together – you have that growth mindset, and you have enough knowledge to venture the first step into unchartered territory.

This is also where it gets uncomfortable – but only a little bit.

I’ll tell you why it’s so tempting to get stuck in an endless loop of reading books and watching videos: because it’s not scary at all! You can do all of that from the comfort of your couch while drinking a cup of hot cocoa.

However, developing a skill takes more than just knowledge. It requires us to step out of our comfort zone and to take that first step.

But it doesn’t have to be hard.

Remember, you are only practicing one step. No matter how small that step is, it’s the step that will provide you with those first successes. And if all you did was make eye contact and say “Hi” in passing, that’s already fantastic!

There are many ways in which you can systematically go after these small wins, and we’ll cover that in an article soon.

For now, know that success breeds confidence. It fosters the feeling that we are the master of our actions. If we take action often enough, success is inevitable.

This process is not a strictly linear. You may want to go back to the questions in the first part of this article and answer them again. Also, go back to the notes you took when you acquired the knowledge, and see where you followed through and also where you could do better the next time.

A coach can be a great help here because he/she will always make sure that you’re taking action, hold you accountable and provide feedback.

Now what you need to do is to keep going! You won’t be able to think yourself out of that self-doubt.

You need to act your way out of it.

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Michael Herold - author of 2 posts on The Art of Charm

Michael has coached hundreds of people on confidence and social skills, both through live workshops and online training programs.He is also a public speaker and speaker coach. He has spoken at TEDx, in front of members of parliament, universities, corporations and once a cinema full of 500 kids high on popcorn.

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