Overcoming Self Doubt and Anxiety

Welcome back, everyone! It’s been a while!

I’ve spent the last week or so making the new website look nice and presentable for you guys, and exploring many of the new features that come with paid web hosting and the full WordPress functionality. It’s been a pretty exciting experience, and I’m learning a lot more than I anticipated. Such is the pleasure of trying new things!

The site itself is still something of a work in progress, so you may notice changes over time as I continue doing more construction. On the plus side, there shouldn’t be any major changes any time soon.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been brainstorming for a short e-book on the core philosophy of the Actioneers! I hope that structuring the information into a book will add a lot of value to the material by making it easier to digest. I’ll also be adding practical tips and next steps for becoming more productive. I’m excited to share it with you all as soon as it’s ready!

Finally, though, it’s time to get back to the fun stuff!

The Cause of Self Doubt and Anxiety

Humans have the amazing ability to predict the future. Granted, our predictions aren’t always right, but the ability of foresight is relatively rare among animals. Nevertheless, our cognitive and predictive abilities are good enough that, over time, we’ve managed to build societies and develop technologies that no other animals have even come close to approaching.

We also have the relatively rare ability to view ourselves as others might see us. You are aware of your own existence as an individual, just as I am aware of mine. This basic self awareness is the source of the greatest joys and sorrows of the human experience.

Combined, these two capacities form the framework for all of our greatest successes, both as individuals and as a species. In fact, a lot of what we talk about around here has a lot to do with getting these two abilities in sync. To be ridiculously successful, we write down our goals and missions, analyze the most important activities for meeting those goals, and make a plan to do those activities regularly. Each of these steps involve both foresight and self-awareness.

But what happens when our self-awareness and our predictive abilities align themselves in such a way that, rather than enabling us for success, they stop us before we even begin?

Self doubt and anxiety are the results of poorly aligned predictive and creative abilities. They come from a line of thinking where we imagine ourselves struggling, failing, and unable to find success in what we do. They hold us back from the great things we are capable of doing and from taking the good things that we deserve.

This happens in mundane ways all the time. For example, we’ve all skipped parties when we didn’t know many of the people on the invite list. Why do we do that? Do we assume that we won’t like the new people, or is it because we’re afraid of being unliked by them? (I personally don’t know anyone that really dislikes meeting new people, but hey, maybe they exist.)

Of course, the big ways that self doubt and anxiety manifest themselves are less common but much more profound. Imagine never taking the next step with the man or woman of your dreams because you convinced yourself it wouldn’t go well. Imagine being too fearful to start a business that could improve the world and make you very wealthy because you felt doomed to fail. Imagine never putting pen to paper because you thought you’d be laughed at.

Self doubt traps us into believing that we’re not good enough to earn or deserve success, and anxiety is the natural consequence of that belief. Both can be so damning that we become paralyzed by a lack of confidence.

In fact, pretty much everyone suffers from self doubt to some degree, including the most famous and accomplished among us. Here are four famous people on the subject of self doubt:

“I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.”

– Tennessee Williams

“I feel self doubt whether I’m doing something hard or easy.”

– Sigourney Weaver

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”

– William Shakespeare

“Self doubt is real. Everyone has it. ”

– Venus Williams

One of the differences between wildly successful people and others is the ability to overcome self doubt when it arises. As the relative rarity of very successful people attests, this is no simple task. The challenge is in creating the right mindset. We’ll focus on cultivating the skills to suppress self doubt as often as possible and to minimize our anxieties when self doubt inevitably rears its ugly head.

How to overcome self doubt

Self doubt is the result of a negative inner voice. I chose to write this article because I have been struggling with self doubt recently. As a writer, a scientist, and a husband, I’ve been doubting my ability to meet the challenges that lay ahead. This post is my way of reclaiming control from my negative inner voice and helping you do the same.

One of the key ways to reduce anxiety is by quieting our inner voices and replacing them with positive ones. Another is finding ways to organize our minds and environments so that we’re not bothered by these thoughts as often. Here are tips for doing both.

What to do when you experience negative self-talk

It’s impossible to avoid self doubt all the time. Everyone experiences it. It’s an unfortunate fact of life for a human being.

However, you don’t have to be subject to the negativity of your inner voice. These practices will help you quiet that voice and make it more positive.

Take time to quiet your mind. For some people this means meditation, but it could be as simple as sitting quietly at the kitchen table. Don’t let your mind wander from one item on your to-do list to another. If you’re a busy person, this often turns into rumination about not having finished everything and, consequently, into more doubt. “Man, if I can’t even keep up with my own schedule, how am I ever going to…” You see my point.

Instead, center your thoughts on something that causes no stress. You may choose your breath, the sensation of the chair on your back, or something entirely different. Just make sure that whatever you focus on brings you only peace. The point is to take a moment to completely pause your worries. Forget about everything outside of the space of the moment.

Recognize your past successes. This step is powerful because we don’t often take time to appreciate the difficulty of our past victories. It doesn’t matter at all how similar they were to the challenges you face now, or if they were big or small. Avoid judging these victories as unimportant, insignificant, or irrelevant. Find the ones that you are most proud of, and savor them. Recognize the effort you’ve put into your past endeavors and how your efforts led to success, and know that you can repeat that process in the future.

Offer yourself praise instead of judgment. When negativity begins to cloud your mind, rebut your inner voice with a positive one. Take the time to deliberately offer counterpoints to each of your self criticisms. Praise yourself for the progress that you’ve already made toward overcoming your challenges. Recall things about yourself that you are proud of, grateful for, or happy about. Refuse to allow the negative inner voice to dominate.

How to avoid self doubt in the future

Negative self talk is pernicious. It can affect you even when you don’t realize it, and it eats away at your productivity if you let it. The best solution, then, is to avoid it altogether as often as possible. Here’s how:

Write down what needs to be done. If you’re facing a specific task or set of tasks that are causing you self doubt and anxiety, write them down. This exercise is so simple, and yet many people never do it. But it’s amazing in its simplicity.

The act of writing down what you need to do is cathartic. The anxiety that comes with balancing a dozen things is dramatically reduced when you put it all in black and white. It removes the stress of balancing them in your consciousness, and instead lets you focus fully on the task at hand.

Be goal-focused. Once you’ve purged your mind of the need to balance all of its responsibilities, pick the one activity — just one! — that creates the most anxiety, and do it. Just start chipping away at it. Forget about anything else except making progress, and don’t let anything stop or distract you.

A single-minded focus makes it difficult for negative thoughts to arise. They are simply not loud enough to break through the roaring thunder of creativity and progress at full tilt. When you focus only on the task at hand, you’ll forget about your impulse to judge yourself or measure yourself against the successes of others. The voice will be silent.

Accept imperfection. Perfect doesn’t exist in the real world. Not only does it not exist, but it would be a waste of your time to pursue it if it did. We’re all told that we should do our best at everything we do, but that’s just not true. The fact of the matter is that many of the decisions and tasks you encounter don’t deserve your full energy. In many, if not most, cases, “good” is good enough.

Please don’t get me wrong. Doing quality work is certainly important. Just don’t waste your emotional energy on doing everything perfectly, and release yourself from the need to improve upon things that aren’t under your control. Let go of the need to be perfect.

Seek affirmation from people who support you. These are the people who will outwardly offer you the support that quiets the negativity of self doubt. It’s life-affirming to talk with them, and self doubt becomes irrelevant when they’re around because they believe in you, and that’s enough.

Seek this affirmation as often as you need it, and then a bit more. Don’t fear vulnerability. Share your insecurities openly, and watch them be squashed in short order. There is nothing that can boost your confidence more than receiving unconditional support from the people whose opinions you care about most.

Conclusion

Self doubt is ubiquitous. We all feel it, and if we want to find success and happiness, we all have to find a way through it. I hope that some of the techniques I’ve shared here are as useful for getting through your mental blocks as they have been for me.

What techniques do you use to combat self doubt and anxiety? Leave a comment below!

Right and Again

When I was in high school, I was a percussionist in the marching band. Though I don’t play music much anymore, except for the occasional bit of piano, my role in the band was a huge part of my identity back then. I prided myself on being a good musician and leader, and I took those roles very seriously.

Continue reading “Right and Again”