What happens when we doubt ourselves (and what to do about it)

I recently delivered a presentation on combating self-doubt and was blown away by how it resonated in the room. I shouldn’t have been surprised—I’ve certainly struggled with feeling confident in my abilities, and it’s a common topic of discussion among my clients. Nevertheless, it can be hard to admit when we’re feeling down on ourselves. And I’ve found we often experience the symptoms without ever really considering the root cause.

I recently delivered a presentation on combating self-doubt and was blown away by how it resonated in the room.

I shouldn’t have been surprised—I’ve certainly struggled with feeling confident in my abilities, and it’s a common topic of discussion among my clients.

Nevertheless, it can be hard to admit when we’re feeling down on ourselves. And I’ve found we often experience the symptoms without ever really considering the root cause.

The thing is: Self-doubt breeds quickly and easily, so we need to nip it in the bud before it takes over.

How, then, do we recognize it? Here are three of the most common behaviors caused by self-doubt—and the resulting consequences.

Behavior: You leap to the worst possible conclusion about yourself when things go awry.

If you’re prone to considering yourself a failure when something isn’t turning out quite right, self-doubt is likely lurking. Self-doubt can paralyze you with fear, leaving no room for learning opportunities. Which, frankly, are the whole point of mistakes and setbacks. How else will you be ready to try again?

Try this instead: Recognize that failure is a shared experience. Don’t isolate yourself by the idea that you’re the worst of the worst. You’re not. We’ve all failed—and will likely fail again. Find comfort in that. And then find your lesson, too, so that you ultimately come out on top.

Behavior: You fall into the comparison trap, worrying about what others have and what that says about you.

Do you spend time sizing up those around you, constantly looking over your shoulder to compare and contrast? Do you end up feeling crappy about your own circumstances? That’s self-doubt, and it’s a vicious circle. It leaves you feeling unsatisfied and envious, which often causes more comparison and relational tension.

Try this instead: Go back to basics: What are your core values? When you know exactly what you want and you spend intentional time going after it, finding contentment is much easier. Narrow in on those life areas that mean the most to you, and stay in your lane.

Behavior: You seek constant validation.

Ever find yourself dropping hints, signaling those around you to offer a compliment or dispute some self-deprecating remark? That’s where self-doubt will get you. I’m sure you’ve been around other people who do this, so you know how exhausting it is. Expecting outside praise to fill in the gap where our confidence should be is fruitless—and a heavy burden for others to bear.

Try this instead: Be kind to yourself. I mean this quite literally. You should be your own cheerleader when you find yourself needing it. Ditch the judgment, and offer yourself a pat on the back, even when you don’t want to. You’ll be surprised how much easier it gets.

If you see yourself in some of these behaviors, you’re certainly not alone. (I’m guilty as charged.) But now that you know your symptoms, I encourage you to try something new when they flare up. Let me know how it goes.

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