When I was a little girl, I liked to question the world around me, including my own decisions. After all, the great philosophers taught us that every wise person should know that they know nothing (Socrates) but that we have to dare to know (Kant). Armed with such advice, it is not hard to fall into a circle of doubting everything. However, growing up, I believed that this is a natural path towards enlightment and insight. That being dubious will give me room to grow and learn.
Now that I am older, I would like to believe that I am also wise enough to recognize that too much questioning is good only up to a point. It is a great way to challenge the status quo, of course. But when it turns into a constant self-doubting marry-go-round, it is not a good place to be. It can lead to loss of self-assurance, open up a Pandora box of unwanted thoughts and gradually make us lose control over our lives.
There is a silver lining, though. Self-doubts and insecurities are reversible conditions. And no, we don’t have to empty our bank account to pay a fancy psychiatrist to help us deal with these inner feelings. We do have powers and control over this. The thing that matters most, though, is to recognize the trigger(s)—what led us to the position we are in now. Not surprisingly, identifying correctly what the problem is constitutes a large part of the solution. There are few common causes that can fuel our insecurities.
1.Fear of the Dark—This is the good old “fight or flight response.” We often wrongly identify our gravitation towards the “flight” option as simply “easier to do,” “less effort,” “don’t have enough time,” etc. In fact, the real reason why we often choose this alternative is our fear of failure. I recently had the privilege to attend a great speech by Arianna Huffington where she talked about how the fear of not succeeding can force us to take the wrong decisions and forgo our dreams for good. In her words: “Failure is not the opposite of success but rather—a stepping stone towards success.” Yet, fear of the unknown is quite real and powerful for many of us. According to a Gallup poll done in 2005 on most common causes for anxiety , U.S. teenagers identified the “fear of being a failure and not succeeding in life” at number four. According to a more recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2012, 60% of people feared things that would never take place while 90% feared issues that they considered to be insignificant in the end.
Fear is much more than just a feeling. It causes damage on multiple levels—to our brains, organs and behaviors. Identifying and facing our fears head on can help us become more confident in our own powers which, in turn, is the first step towards dissolving our self-doubts.
2.Overthinking—Overthinking makes us doubt ourselves and our decisions. It makes us vulnerable and exposed. It is an enemy to so many constructive things—including our self-esteem. By no means the above statement is to be interpreted that we should never think twice before we act, or that we should never re-think what we can do differently and improve. The dangers arise when we become overly conscious about how our behaviour is interpreted by others or whether it may lead to social rejection. The tendency to overthink is the root of many of our uncertainties. The issue is not that we often spend too much time to draw mind-maps of all plausible alternatives and solutions, but the fact that we may still be unsure if we have made the right choice afterwards. In other words, we waste large amounts of energy to second-guess ourselves. All this also taps into our levels of self-worth as well. The solution is relatively simple, though. Once we have a good reason to choose a certain path, we should stick with it. Don’t further doubt our choices. Doubt breeds insecurity and insecurity breeds low self-confidence. Focus on only the relevant information when searching for a conclusion. The phrase “to make decisions using the best available information,” not all available data in the world, came to exist for a reason.
3.Self-Image— “I’m not smart/ good-looking/ skinny/ successful enough”—the list can go on indefinitely, describing all our insecurities. Negative self-talk is the fastest track to further undermining of our self-esteem. Even if we don’t look like a model, reminding ourselves of this fact every day will not do anything good for us. On the contrary. Research shows that often perceptions are stronger than reality. What this means is that if we consider our small imperfections to be an insignificant part of the complete picture—of the great person we are as a whole—this is what others will see as well. The world is like a mirror—people will respect us only if we first respect ourselves. Unless we are very good actors, our uncertainties are usually evident to others—through our gestures, posture, tone of voice, eye contact. Believing that we can still have that successful career or the relationship we want, despite the fact that we don’t look like Cindy Crawford or aren’t as smart as Bill Gates, will make all the difference in the world for us.
Finally, while our curiosity about the world around us is what moves us towards progress and innovation, and self-questioning ourselves can help us improve, such inquisitiveness may sometimes come with a hefty price tag. Wise people tell us that everything needs to be practiced in moderation. Otherwise, too much doubt may degrade our psychological immune systems, expose us to all kinds to unwelcome thoughts and behaviors, and leave us unable to realize our lives’ full potentials.