“Self-doubt inflict the deepest wounds.” Marty Robin
When I was a little girl, I often questioned 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 must dare to know (Kant).
Armed with such an advice, it is not hard to fall into the trap of doubting everything. However, I firmly believed that this was part of my process of learning and growing up; a natural path toward enlightment and insight.
And that being dubious will make me more open-minded and lead me to roads less travelled.
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, so we can grow as individuals.
But when it turns into a constant self-doubting marry-go-round, it is not a good place to be. It can cause our self-assurance to plummet, can open a Pandora box of unwanted thoughts and may gradually make us feel as we are losing control over our lives.
The good news here, though, is that over-the-top self-doubting can be eased. And no, we don’t have to empty our bank account for a fancy therapist to help us deal with this inner turmoil. We all have few superpowers on our own, which can come of assistance in breaking the incessant-questioning loop.
The thing that matters the most from the outset of this journey is to follow the wise advice of the King of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland: “Begin at the beginning.” That is, firstly, recognize the trigger(s), or what led us to the position we are in now? The best solutions, as wise men tell us, often reveal themselves when we are able to correctly identify the problem.
There are few prevalent prompts—not a stranger to many of us— that can fuel our insecurities.
- Fear of the Dark
This is the good old “fight-or-flight” dilemma. We often wrongly categorize our gravitation toward avoidance as simply “easier to do,” “less effort,” “don’t have enough time to deal with things right now,” etc. In fact, the real reason we frequently choose this alternative is our fear of failure.
A while ago, I had the privilege to attend a great speech by Arianna Huffington where she talked about how the fear of not succeeding could force us to take the wrong decisions and to forgo our dreams for good. But in these gloomy moments, we must recognize that—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 the most common causes of 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 the U.S. 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. Therefore, identifying and facing our inner monsters head-on will give us a new sense of strength and control, will help us become more confident in our own powers which, in turn, is the first step towards dissolving our self-doubts.
The tendency to overthink is the frequent root to many of our uncertainties. It makes us doubt ourselves and our decisions. It leaves us vulnerable and exposed. It is an enemy to so many constructive things—including our self-esteem.
The above statement is by no means to be interpreted that we should never think twice before we act, or that we should never re-assess what we can do differently and to improve. The dangers arise when we become overly conscious about how our behavior is interpreted by others or whether it may lead to social rejection. 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 mental energy and capacity to second-guess ourselves. We feel exhausted, anxious, insecure. Naturally, all this tormenting also drags down our feelings of self-worth.
The solution, however, may be surprisingly simple. Once you have a good reason to choose a certain path, you must stick with it. Don’t further doubt your choices. Doubt breeds insecurity and insecurity breeds low confidence. De-clutter your mind. Hand-pick only the relevant information when searching for a conclusion.
The phrase “to make decisions using the best available (not all available) information” in the world, came to exist for a reason.
“I’m not smart/ good-looking/ fit/ successful enough”—the list can go on indefinitely, describing all of our insecurities. Negative self-talk can further fuel self-doubts. It is damaging to our mental well-being and is the fastest track to further undermining our self-perceptions. We all know that. But we still do it.
Even if you don’t look like a super-model, are not the next wunderkind of the Silicone Valley, or have not put many checkmarks by your things-I-should-achive-by-the-time-I-am-30 list, don’t beat yourself up. Success and achievements can be defined in many ways, and being rich is not only measured in monetary terms.
But most importantly, we have to work on setting the right perceptions and expectations. Obviously, many may want to be in Bill Gates’ place, but do we have what it takes to get there? (Often, opportunity also plays a role). But putting ourselves down because of this fact is similar to setting off on a wild-goose chase. That is, having aspirations is important, but we can only build on our innate personality traits and talents.
Therefore, once we know, firstly—the skill(s) that make us unique and, secondly—of that subset— the ones we want to focus on further refining—then we’d have just found the source of our self-worth as well. As it turns out, the “secret” is not so mystical after all—focus on the qualities we already have and don’t dwell on what we wished we were born with—talents, skills, abilities, or looks. This is simply a dead-end and a waste of time.
Having said that, perceptions—or what we believe about ourselves—are paramount life-shifters within our worlds. What we think, studies tells us, we become. And if we grant our minor flaws more power than they really deserve, they may turn out to control our lives.
And unless we are very good actors, our uncertainties (sometimes resulting from small imperfections) are usually evident to others too—through our gestures, posture, tone of voice, eye contact. Pretending only works for so long, and then we start to break. Hence, to really win the game, we need to reframe our minds and thinking.
If we believe that we are worthy human beings, who can still have a pretty successful career (with the proper knowledge and experience, of course) or the relationship we want, even despite the fact that we don’t look like Cindy Crawford or aren’t as smart as Mark Zuckerberg, this very thought can make all the difference in the world for us.
In the end, while our curiosity about the world around us is what moves us towards progress and innovation, and self-questioning our decisions 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. And this is not the future anyone would want for themselves, is it?