You're feeling excited about a project and keen to move forward, and then the evil gremlins in your mind rise up and strike a blow that stops you in your tracks. Or perhaps you feel stuck in your tracks unsure even which way to move in the first place. If so, there's a good chance you're being held back by self-doubt.
I know the feeling all too well. The fear of failure, the procrastination, the voice in my head that says “nobody will read that article”, “nobody will come to your gig”, or “you're gonna fuck it up in front of everybody!”. It all comes down to self-doubt and the fear of failure that lurks beneath.
So how do you overcome this evil gremlin?
Here's what I tell myself when self-doubt strikes:
Understand That It's Normal
Pretty much everyone struggles with self-doubt to some degree; unless you're a narcissist or a psychopath, and I don't recommend being either of those. Most people walk around projecting an image of having-it-all-together in order to avoid shame and embarrassment, but the truth is that we all experience self-doubt to some degree.
Do What's Important To You
I've heard many famous and successful people talk about feeling like a fraud; but they became successful because they pursued their goals anyway. So set goals for yourself that align with your values and feel important to you, regardless of whether you think you're up to the task or not. Doing what's important to you is the first step in dealing with self-doubt.
Break Your Challenges Down
When faced with challenges, we live in a dynamic tension between boredom and overwhelm. Too little challenge, and we get bored. Too much challenge and we become overwhelmed. So we're constantly oscillating between these two extremes. When we get the balance right, we experience an optimal state called flow where we're maximally productive and we don't even notice time passing.
But if the challenge is too great, overwhelm and self-doubt hit us big time. The key to handling this is to break your goal down into smaller steps. If you decide to become a musician because you just love the idea of playing music and want to share it with the world, you don't just step out on stage and start playing; self-doubt tells you that the task is too overwhelming. So you go and learn to play music first, get experience playing in front of small groups, and work your way up to rock stardom.
Just Take The Next Step
Once you've broken your goal or challenge down into bite-sized steps, all you have to do is take the next one. It helps to have a clear direction of where you're heading, but once you have that it's important to focus just on the next step. Putting too much attention on future steps that aren't achievable yet will raise up that sense of self-doubt again. So focus on what you need to do right now in order to move forward, and take that next step.
Success is achieved by taking one step each day towards our challenging goals. It doesn't have to be a huge earth-shattering step; it just needs to be a step forward.
Learn To Deal With Uncertainty
Sometimes it's not clear whether the next step is towards our goals or away from them, but it's important to take the step anyway. The reality is that we can never be really sure whether we're moving in the right direction until we arrive at our destination. So we need to learn to deal with uncertainty, at the same time as developing our intuition regarding the best way to move towards our goals.
The way to do this is to take whatever action seems right at the time, and learn from the outcome whether it was the best choice or not. Do this often enough, and you develop the intuition that you need to take confident action even in the face of uncertainty. In the process you'll also learn to see failure as simply a learning experience, which will lessen your sense of self-doubt next time you're faced with a challenge.