We’ve all felt the panic and paralysis of self-doubt at times, especially when the stakes are high. For example, writing an email to a friend is low stress, but writing an important proposal or authoring a book can trigger intense fear and self-doubt. Self-doubt crushes creativity, confidence, and success. And here’s the catch—self-doubt is self-inflicted.
How can we replace self-doubt with self-confidence?
The key is to dig down to the core of the problem and resolve it. Think of something you are attempting that makes you fearful, nervous, or insecure. Then answer these four questions.
Question 1: Do I want to do this? (This also implies—Do I want to keep my job? Do I want to do what’s best for my family?)
Sometimes we force ourselves to do things for the wrong reasons. We want to impress others. We want approval from someone. Or we don’t want to disappoint someone. We want to prove we are smart/talented/worthy. These are all self-defeating reasons. We should spend our time and energy doing things we want to do. They don’t have to be fun things, and they may even be extremely difficult tasks. But we should be motivated to do them because we want to better ourselves, we want to better others, we want our lives to be the best they can be, we want to share our gifts and talents with others.
First check: Make sure you have the right motivation.
Question 2: What do I fear and how can I move past it?
The higher the stakes, the more fear we will experience. Identify the fears you have about this experience, then find a solution for each one. (If you can’t find solutions to your fears, we’ll tackle that next.) By doing this, you can gain enough self-confidence to take action.
Example: I need to write an email to someone about a negative situation. Writing an email is low risk, but my fear is that they might reject or misunderstand me.
Overcoming the fear: I’ll find a trusted person to review my email to be sure it’s written succinctly and clearly. I’ll choose someone who understands the situation and can give me solid advice. Hopefully my email will resolve the situation, but if not, I am prepared to follow up with a trusted confidant by my side.
Second check: Overcome simple fears by finding solutions in advance.
Question 3: Is my investment—mentally, emotionally, physically, financially—worth fighting through my fears?
Maybe you have a long list of fears, and there aren’t obvious or simple solutions to them. The next step is to figure out why you want to do something. Maybe you will discover that the investment is too great at this time. Then you can come up with an alternative way to meet your goal.
Example: I am trying to write a book and self-publish it. I have twenty fears on my list, I also have a full-time job, I’m a parent and a spouse, and I have limited time and money. It’s too much for me to handle, but I feel overwhelmingly driven to write this book.
Core reason 1: I have always dreamed of writing a book. [or] I told everyone I’m writing a book.
Alternative solution: I’ll start by writing a short story, article, or poem. I can always progress from there.
Core reason 2: I want to enlighten everyone about a situation I’m passionate about.
Alternative solution: Instead of writing a book to raise awareness, I can make an impact in other ways. I can donate money or time joining people who are already working toward a solution, use social media to educate people, or ask an organization for specific ways to help.
Core reason 3: I have amazing stories and characters filling my head—I can’t stop thinking of them day and night. I’ve got to write a book or I’ll go crazy!
Alternative solution: I can jot everything down in a journal as it comes to me. Then I’ll be ready for the time when I can make all the sacrifices required to write and publish a book.
Third check: Identify why you are tackling this project and see if there’s an alternate (more manageable) way to handle it.
Question 4: I have the right desire, I want to make the sacrifices, and this project is worth my investment. How do I get past my debilitating fears?
First, realize that you are not a victim of your emotions. You can confront your fears and eliminate them, freeing you to move forward confidently. Here are some common examples:
* I’m afraid of criticism. It’s unavoidable. There is always someone who will have something negative to say, but you should not be open to everyone’s opinions. Have a very short list of people whose approval truly matters. It could even be one person. Make sure they are a person of quality and character who has your best interests at heart. Also, be confident that their critiques and suggestions will make you a better person and improve the quality of your project. With a solid support person or group on your side, you can ignore the criticism that is not designed to help you grow. You can be free to be yourself as well as keep your heart protected from outside negativity.
* I’m afraid of rejection. If someone rejects your performance, your speech, your writing, etc., will that diminish who you are? It shouldn’t. If it will, then you need to discover who you are beyond what you do. You need to be secure in what you believe and what your passion is, so that your job, hobby, and/or activities do not define you. You need to be able to say, “This is what I do, not who I am.”
* I have to work with someone, and I’m afraid they’ll cut me down. Working with others is a legitimate challenge. We are all so unique that we will have differing perspectives and opinions. Working with someone else means you’ll be exposing yourself to their critique or even dismissal of your contribution. At the same time, they are also vulnerable to you. Yet there are tremendous advantages to working with others that makes the risk worth it. The key is to have realistic expectations of the outcome.
If you’re a writer and you work with an editor, expect that they will make changes to your work. That’s their job, and you should welcome another perspective so you can grow as an author. If you’re an editor, expect that a writer will not accept some of your changes. Your job is to give suggestions, but ultimately, it’s their work, not yours. If you’re making a presentation to a group of people, expect that some people will be on board with you and some won’t. Prepare in advance how you will handle the worst outcome in the absolute best way. Look for ways to grow from these situations. We will never improve unless we learn how to handle disappointment and consider other people’s perspectives and ideas.
* I’m afraid that people will think less of me or look down on me—I’m not as good as others. Living your life to achieve a reaction from others is exhausting and fruitless. Accept that some people will approve of you and others will not. There will always be people who are more talented than you in some areas or can do certain things with greater ease than you. Since the world is full of people with an immense variety of skills and talents, there is no “standard” to compare yourself to. There is only one you. You have a unique contribution to make in the world, and some people will love it, some will think it’s OK, and some won’t like it. The beauty of being on this huge planet is that there’s plenty of room for all of us.
* I might fail. Who are you doing this for? There is only one correct answer—yourself. If you think “for my boss” or “to fulfill my contract” or “I’m stuck in this situation” or some other external reason, the truth is you are still doing it for yourself. You could very well choose not to, right? But you’d have to deal with the consequences. Take ownership of the things you believe are worthwhile. If you pour your best into all that you do, no matter the outcome, that makes you a success.
Fourth check: Replace your fears with realistic expectations and look for opportunities to grow as a person.
Savvy Writer Tip:
We all have to “put ourselves out there” in life. The higher the stakes, the more likely we are to experience fear and self-doubt. Self-doubt is paralyzing and debilitating. Self-doubt is always self-inflicted, so you have the power to eliminate it. You have something unique to contribute that no one else can. Evaluate what is driving you. Have realistic expectations. Find a supportive person or people you can trust to be on your side. Replace your fears with reality. Then pour your passion and desire into accomplishing your goals. You can be free of self-doubt and filled with self-confidence in all you do. 🙂