How to Overcome Self-Doubt and Flourish
Everyone is plagued by self-doubt from time to time. am i good enough Am I part of this team? Is my work acceptable? Am I worthy of this dating partner? Self-doubt is a natural part of new experiences. Will I be able to learn to climb? Will my new boss like me and/or my work? Can I make friends in this new community? When faced with uncertainty, we naturally doubt our ability to withstand trials, stress, and increased demands.
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Creative people often struggle with self-doubt. When you create something new, the process comes with an inherent uncertainty. There is no guarantee that this new thing will be good, useful, or acceptable to anyone. It takes courage to try something new, start a business, move to a new place or try to create something original. We often need support to carry us through the doubt so that we can continue to pursue our goals and dreams.
One customer, I call her Dee, has grown her small gift shop into a huge international company with a combination of brick-and-mortar stores and online shops. For the last 10 years she had a vision of where and how her business could grow. She made a plan, worked out her plan and saw the fulfillment of that plan. Unfortunately, Dee didn’t see it that way.
When I complimented Dee on her business acumen, she frowned and her spirits sank. “I can not sleep. I always think that anytime someone will point out to me what a scammer I am,” Dee said. “I didn’t deserve that. I don’t have an MBA. I just had the right timing. It’s pure luck that my idea worked. I’m always waiting for my luck to end,” Dee worried.
Imposter syndrome, also known as imposter phenomenon or impostorism, was first described in 1978 by American psychologist Pauline Clance, Ph.D. and Suzanne Imes, Ph.D. (Huecker MR et al., 2023). Those who suffer from impostors often vacillate between perfectionism and procrastination. They over-prepare for any eventuality. They have a great fear of making mistakes or being exposed as a charlatan. This fear inspires them to work harder and longer than everyone else. When they succeed, they deny it and minimize it.
Dee believed her success had been a fluke and that she could always be exposed as a fraud. She found it difficult to give herself credit for a job well done. She often feared for her success while anticipating that she would be embarrassingly disgraced. Doubt and indecision tormented her. I offered Dee three ways to shake off self-doubt and feel happier. The first required Dee to reconsider her assumptions about success and failure.
Your thoughts about success and failure are not unassailable truths. One tends to assume that success is good and failure is bad. But failure is necessary for success. Both success and failure can come in bittersweet combinations of mixed feelings and events. You make a big sale the same day you learn your good friend has been diagnosed with cancer. You will be fired from work the same day your child wins a prestigious award. Author Susan Cain writes, “We were made to live simultaneously in love and loss, bitter and sweet.” And I would add, success and failure. It helps to accept combat as normal and generally human (Cain, p. 2022).
To overcome crippling self-doubt, first untie yourself from your beliefs about success and failure. Instead of looking at success and failure as a measure of your worth, look at success and failure as descriptions of a specific point in time. For example, after a big win, instead of telling yourself, “I’m officially a winner now!” Say, “This is a moment to enjoy.” Money or success don’t define you. You are greater than the sum of your successes or failures.
Could you do the same for failures? Instead of telling yourself, “I’m such an idiot. Of course, this new product would not sell. I’m such a loser.” Instead, say, “It’s good to know which products are selling and which aren’t.”
Failure is just good information. It can help you make a better decision in the next moment. Then there will be another moment and so on. You are watching the moment, but that moment is not your identity. We can count on the certainty of change. Therefore, we must give up the belief that our identity is tied to some momentary measure. Our personality, talents, emotions, intellect and relationships encompass much more.
The second way to overcome self-doubt is to connect to experiences of joy. It’s not enough just to think differently; We must also invite new experiences, especially joyful moments that expand our optimism.
Overcome your joy deficit
Most people with imposters suffer from a joy deficit. Without joy, we plunge headlong into depression and anxiety. Dee desperately needed a break from business to focus on neglected areas of life like relationships, fun, hobbies and health. She hadn’t taken a proper vacation from work for years.
I asked her when was the last time she experienced real joy. “Years ago when my husband and I were in college. We played football together and dreamed about the future. We laughed a lot,” she said. “When was the last time you and your husband played football together?” I asked.
“It’s been years,” she replied.
“Would you like to do that again?” I asked.
“I think it would be great to do that. But maybe you should get away from home and business for a while. Go somewhere else so I don’t feel like I’m being pulled back into work,” she said.
Dee came up with a plan to bring more joy and laughter into her daily life. She made an appointment with her husband to go to a comedy club and planned her first real vacation in years. As Dee discussed their plans, her face broke into a delighted smile. Her mood changed immediately.
“Notice how just talking about planning something fun makes you seem to feel lighter and happier,” I said.
“You’re right. I feel like maybe I can do it. I can enjoy it,” she said.
The third way to overcome self-doubt is to change our behavior. Kindness and gratitude bring vitality and optimism to our relationships. They create a virtuous cycle of uplifting momentum.
Dee learned to counteract her cheating by strengthening her gratitude. She lived in constant fear of humiliation that something might go wrong. It impaired her ability for clear self-reflection. I suggested that she do a gratitude practice.
Numerous studies support the many healing effects of gratitude. It increases well-being, promotes self-improvement, strengthens social connectedness, and increases humility (Armenta, CN, et al. 2017). I recommended some gratitude interventions to Dee (Seligman, MEP et al. 2005). First, I suggested Dee write down three things she is grateful for every day that made this good cause happen. For example, one day Dee wrote:
“I am thankful for my health. “My good health comes from a combination of healthy genes I inherited and my habit of eating healthily and trying to get enough exercise,” she wrote.
In addition to her daily gratitude journal, I recommended that Dee write a letter a week to someone she loved. In this letter she should describe in detail what she likes about this person. I encouraged her to send a letter to a new person each week.
Dee soon reported, “It was difficult to focus on gratitude. Figuring out what caused what I’m grateful for felt difficult. But after a few days it got easier. The hardest part was getting myself to post the letters. It felt so embarrassing. But now I see the value in it. It helps me realize more that my business is not about me. It’s about this community that we’ve built together. I have written letters to six people who work for me and the response has been amazing and unexpected. They started thanking me!” she said.
If you’re plagued by feelings of unworthiness or self-doubt, try these three things:
- Free your identity from success or failure.
- Make joy, fun and play a priority.
- Practice gratitude.
Remember, you are more than your thoughts, feelings, failures and successes. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. You can take the time to enjoy every ride around the sun.