11 Ways To Murder Self-Doubt

Self-doubt is paralyzing. It will cripple you and prevent you from taking action or moving forward.

To render someone ineffective, you don’t have to get them to change the core of their beliefs – you just have to get them to doubt the validity of their beliefs. Let me give you an example.

How Doubt Destroys

Suppose you are a great public speaker and you are aware that you are a great public speaker. I’m not talking about arrogance but awareness. The best golfer in the world knows he’s the best golfer in the world. The confidence that comes from knowing that you are great at something allows you to perform at your best on a consistent basis which acts to confirm the existing belief. If you are a great public speaker and are confident in that, you will be more likely to speak well. When you deliver a great speech, that reinforces the belief you have that you are a great public speaker and increases confidence.

Now, suppose I’m nefarious and evil and want to throw you off of your game. In order to do that, do I have to get you to believe you are a terrible public speaker? Nope. The gap between that new idea and what you currently believe is too large. I could walk up to you and say, “You are a terrible public speaker,” and you probably wouldn’t even care.

So how do I throw you off your game? The answer is not to convince you that you suck but to get you to question that you’re that great. The answer is to instill doubt. Because if I can get you to doubt that you’re as good as you once believed, I will set in motion a series of events that will get you to do the work for me. I can get you to self-destruct.

I would be better to say something such as, “You’re usually incredible on stage, but you’ve seemed off lately.” Or, I could tell you that your material has become a little routine. Statements like these are deadlier because they appear plausible. They even seem like they are intended to be helpful.

The Anatomy of Doubt

In order to murder self-doubt, it helps to understand the anatomy of a doubt. Every single doubt has five traits:

  1. Doubts appear plausible – They must get you to question yourself. “Maybe my content is a bit routine. You know, I have been feeling off my game lately.” If it’s too outlandish, your mind won’t accept it.
  2. Doubts carry an element of truth – The best lies are those that are slightly modified truths. Not every presentation you give can be your best performance ever. You’ll have better days than others. However, being able to attach a lie that says “you’re slipping” to one of your off days can have the result of creating more off days. And, if you knew it was an off day, you’ll be more willing to believe the part of the doubt that’s the lie because you can believe the part that’s the truth.
  3. Doubts appear helpful – They come across as you trying to help yourself by “being honest” with yourself. However, they have the opposite effect. If something is truly helpful, it will actually help you. Self-doubts never help you. They hinder you.
  4. Doubts are critical – You’ll never have positive doubts. Instead, your inner critic lights you up and you believe it because he/she uses your own voice against you.
  5. Doubts find their power in your mind – Your ability to defeat self-doubt requires that you either change the arena or learn how to use it to your advantage. I’ll show you how below.

So, now that you understand what doubt is and how it destroys us, let’s look at the …

11 Ways to Murder Self-Doubt

1. Get outside perspective
When you’re stuck in a cycle of self-doubt, it can often help to have someone you can call on who knows you and who can uplift you. This could be a close friend, an adviser, or a coach. Whatever you do, avoid calling people who will allow you to wallow. They need to be somebody who has the courage and the strength to help you snap out of it. They will know that your doubts are nothing more than lies you are telling yourself and believing and they can help you process that.

2. Write out the doubts on paper get them out of your head
Self-doubt is a completely internal (mental) problem. Doubts have the most power inside the echo chamber that is your head where your inner critic can latch onto them and spiral you out of control. So one of the best things you can do is get them out of your head where you can deal with them tangibly and where they feel far less scary.

3. Refute the doubts once you write them out
Self-doubts are lies you’re telling yourself that feel true. They’re not logical, constructive or helpful. So, one of the best things you can do is arm yourself with the truth. If you write them out like I suggest, you can then proceed to write out everything that contradicts and refutes the doubt. Then, if it pops back into your head, you’ll know exactly what to think about to stop the doubt from becoming destructive.

4. Create a bigger why
If you’re consistently paralyzed by self-doubt, it could be that you don’t have a reason that is stronger than the doubts themselves. For example, if self-doubt is keeping you from starting that business you keep talking and dreaming about, it could be that you’re more in love with the idea of starting a business than you are the action of starting a business. Either that, or you haven’t sold yourself on the reasons you’re really doing it. If you’re not passionate about it, self-doubt can eat you up.

5. Use the doubt as a tool for change
Because self-doubt carries with it an element of the truth, you can use that to help you spot and resolve weaknesses. If you wrote out a doubt that reads, “I don’t think I know enough about running a business,” what you may find is that you know more than you think but that there are specific gaps that you could use a little bit more education on (i.e. bookkeeping). Once you know that, it’s easy to take action to change it.

6. Recognize that doubt is a feeling
Every feeling you have is the result of thoughts you have. You must learn to control and change your thoughts. If you want to change your feelings about something, you first need to change your thoughts about it. It’s why the exercises above can help because you are replacing false thought with truth. Truth creates a different emotional response.

7. Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage you
If you have negative friends who don’t know how to lift you up and encourage you, drop them and find new friends. Often, we internalize what our friends say and we take their statements about us, put them into our own voice, and put them on loop in our heads. This is true for both positive and negative statements so it’s better to find friends who encourage you rather than discourage you.

8. Review your successes
Think back to other times you’ve doubted yourself but overcame it. How did it feel? What did you do differently? How much truth was there to the original doubt? When we’re stuck in a cycle of self-doubt, we forget that this isn’t the first time we’ve been there. Chances are good that you have triumphed over it in the past and you can do it again – you just have to remember those previous victories and put the current doubt into perspective. If you did it once, you can do it again.

9. Celebrate your successes
I told you above to review your successes. However, this will be a lot easier if you take time to celebrate your successes as they occur. It will allow you to more easily recall the positive emotions and thoughts that you experienced at the time. Being able to channel those thoughts and emotions can give you incredible power to push through present-day doubts.

10. Get outside of yourself
Doubt is viciously inward-focused. Take the focus off of yourself and put it on someone else. Call up a friend to encourage them. Find a way to serve others and take the immediate focus off of yourself and how you’re feeling. Then, when you return to deal with the doubt, it won’t feel as intense as it did before because you broke the inward focus and defused it.

11. Pray
My faith is fundamental to my life and I regularly take time during the day to pray. I find it directs my thoughts off of myself and provides me with a tremendous amount of peace in my life. If you’re a person of faith, try talking to God about it and see if that doesn’t help put things in perspective.

You have the ability to defeat self-doubt but it’s up to you to fight it. The more you fight it, the better you will get at spotting the lies and putting it to death quickly so you can move forward and achieve what you were put here to do.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What methods and tools have you used to overcome self-doubt cycles in your life?

About the Author

  • I always encourage people to realize that no one gets out of this life alive.  When we truly embrace this perspective, it removes the pressure to be “right” and that helps to wipeout any self-doubt.

    After all – what’s the WORST that can happen – you’ll die. Well, once you realize that you’re going to die anyways, it’s a very liberating feeling. You start to think about what’s the BEST that can happen!

    • Great reminder, Patrick! Death and taxes, right? It’s amazing that we can get so caught up that we lose sight of the larger picture and the fact that our time here is limited and we don’t want to get to the end wondering, “What if?”

  • I always like to look at the big Why, or more practically the goal the action is looking to achieve.
    Without this big why, the vision, self-doubt will eat us up.

    I think in the end the aim is not to destroy self-doubt but to learn to live with it, manage it and thrive.

    My simple approach to fear, which is a physical manifestation of self-doubt is to focus on the following, goal setting, self-talk, mental rehearsal and conscious breathing. 

    Great post Travis, you bring up many ways to deal with this beast.

    • Thanks, John! You’re right in that it never goes away permanently. I love your suggestions. Each of them can add tremendous power to the ability to thrive in spite of the doubt and the fear.

      I’ve found that the scripts I have in my head can be replaced by more positive ones and that can really help refocus me. Breathing properly is something I often forget to do so it’s a great reminder for me – thank you.

  • Daniel Decker

    Great post T Ro.

  • Thank you so much for this. I am traversing the MBA application process and it is so humbling and introspective. Self-doubt has crept up on me several times, but I’m trying to shake it’s cloak. This post helped. With your permission I would like to re-post this on my blog. (Giving you credit of course)

    • Hi Kelliann! I’m so glad you found it helpful. I’d love for you to share it and I’d be honored!

      If you don’t mind, could you simply post an excerpt with a link back to this post? The reason I ask is that if you copy the full post, it will appear as duplicate content to the search engines and that could actually hurt the blog. An excerpt won’t create that problem.

      Thanks so much!

  • Darne Ridgley

    Self doubt seems to always appear right when you are making a big move.  A new business venture, a new goal, or when you are competing for a promotion.  For us this is the time of year we create our business plan and set our goals for the next year.  When we set our bar higher than we ever have for next year it was hard to not let that doubt kick in and it was tempting to set the bar a little lower.  Instead, I enrolled in additional coaching for next year, looked back at what we did well this year, and examined our weak links looking for ways to improve.  
    At my office I am lucky to be surrounded by positive people and that goes a long way too. 
    Thanks Travis for  another great post. 

    • Thanks, Darne! You hit on something that I should have added to the post and that’s this: “Self-doubt seems to always appear right when you are making a big move.” It really is true and, when we understand that, we can be more prepared to accept that it’s coming and stop it the instant it arrives.

  • Jennifer_visser

    Hey Travis,
    I found this via a Steve Farber tweet. I’m a coach who works with people of all stripes and I can tell you the issue of self doubt/inner critic is probably the number one obstacle keeping people from performing at their best. Even the most outwardly confident are plagued by self doubt (the famous imposter syndrome) This post is probably the best piece I’ve seen on addressing the issue–so wise and accurate (love the last bit about giving it up to God for those who have a faith). Thank you and hope you don’t mind me sharing this with my clients.
    Jennifer

    • Thank you so much, Jennifer! I would be honored if you shared it with your clients. I agree that we are our own worst enemies and number one obstacle to performing at our best. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t struggled with self-doubt at various stages of their lives. However, some are better equipped to handle it when it arrives and it’s my hope that this post empowers others to overcome it more quickly as it arises.

      Thanks!

  • Just discovered this post since your Spreecast with John Morgan yesterday. Very timely as, really for the 1st time in my life, I’ve been pretty racked with self doubt. This is probably because for the first time I’m making a serious full on attempt at my own business. Steps 1 and 2 are absolutely the most helpful right now. Thanks Travis!