How to Overcome Self-Doubt to Achieve Your Goals

Proverb

If doubt is challenging you and you do not act, doubts will grow. Challenge the doubts with action, and you will grow.


The Evolution of Self-Doubt

At one point or another we have all experienced self-doubt. You know those times when things suddenly don’t go as planned, when life swings you a curveball when you were expecting a fastball? Yes, those are the times when we are faced with uncertainty and we struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That is of course when the critical voice creeps in and we begin to doubt ourselves, our ability, and of course subsequently our self-confidence dwindles down into the deep dark abyss.

Yes, these can certainly be challenging times. Not only are we faced with this tremendous setback, but we also now feel quite incapable of getting through it. Why are we this way? Why do we continue to doubt ourselves when things don’t go as planned, or when they suddenly take a turn in an unexpected and unwelcomed direction?

The evolution of self-doubt in each individual’s life isn’t something that follows the same straight path. Everyone is different, and as a result we have all come to this place of “self-doubt” in a variety of ways.

In general terms, self-doubt often stems from the fear of uncertainty. We just don’t know what’s coming up on the horizon or what our next step will be. This creates uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds fear and hesitation. As a result we begin to doubt ourselves and our critical voice goes into overdrive.

Of course experiencing uncertainty is simply a natural part of life. In fact, without uncertainty life would be rather boring.

Uncertainty brings some excitement to an otherwise mundane existence. However, where there is uncertainty, there is doubt; and where there is doubt there is hesitation, and subsequently we refrain from taking the actions we know we must take in order to achieve a desired goal or objective. However, why is it that we fall into this “uncertainty” trap?

The Evolution of Self-Doubt

Uncertainty is a State of Mind

First of all, it’s important to note that uncertainty is essentially a state-of-mind. Yes, it exists, but it only exists to the level you feel you are unable to control yourself and/or the situation you are dealing with. Therefore the more control you are able to convince yourself that you have at any given moment in time, subsequently the less uncertainty you will experience. However, this can be challenging for many of us because of past memories and experiences that go all the way back to childhood.

In the past people might have criticised or doubted you in various situations. All this criticism has shaped how you feel and what you believe about yourself and about your ability to perform under various conditions. As a result, you may very well have a set of limiting beliefs that are currently driving your behavior. Moreover, these beliefs may now manifest as fear ranging from fear of failure, to the fear of criticism. As such, this creates hesitation in your mind and results in a lack of self-confidence when dealing with various situations.

You just don’t have the self-confidence you need to handle yourself in various situations. Given your past experiences and given the fact that people have criticised or doubted you before, this naturally creates hesitation when uncertainty sits on the horizon. All these self-limiting beliefs flood your subconscious mind and as a result you choose instead to scurry back into your comfort zone rather than make a bold move to go after what it is you want most.

Your Interpretations Matter

Essentially we are nothing more than a biological organism made up of past experiences and memories. These past experiences and memories either uplift us or deter us in the present moment. They can either help us successfully get through a situation, or they can hinder our progress. However, what’s important to note here is that it’s not the actual experiences or memories that matter, it’s rather your interpretation of those memories that makes a world of difference.

Yes, you might have failed at something in the past, and yes other people may have criticised you. However, what is holding you back in the present moment isn’t what happened, but rather your interpretation of what happened. Given this, let’s safely assume that your interpretation of those events and circumstances is what’s creating your self-doubt. Therefore, if you take the time to interpret these memories in a new and more empowering way, then you will immediately begin to feel better about yourself and your current predicament.

The Past Doesn’t Equal the Future

Also, it’s important to note that whatever happened in the past won’t necessarily transpire in exactly the same way in the present moment. The past doesn’t equal the future. In fact, every moment is anew. You are different in this moment than you were in the past, and as a result you can therefore handle yourself in a more optimal way.

The past doesn’t equal the future, unless of course you allow it to be that way.

Finally, when it comes to self-doubt it’s important to remember that it’s all about perspective. When you have a limited perspective of a situation, then self-doubt will always creep in. However, when you expand your perspective and understanding of a situation, then you have more information and variables to work with and can therefore move forward with more self-confidence.


The Advantages of Self-Doubt

It is no secret that successful people successfully manage high levels of risk, fear, discomfort and doubt on a consistent basis. Could this be the reason why they are successful in the first place?

For everyone else who strives to be accomplished and successful in their own life, they see self-doubt and uncertainty as something that must be avoided at all costs. For them they must have certainly; they must have the self-assurance they need in every situation in order to move forward successfully with confidence. However, unfortunately that’s not how life works. There are no guarantees. But what is clear is that no matter what situation you face, there is actually value in experiencing self-doubt. Yes, it’s actually advantageous if you see it in the right context.

For starters, self-doubt alerts you to the presence of fear; and of course where there is fear there is also opportunity for growth and development, which lies outside the confines of your comfort zone.

Secondly, self-doubt alerts you to the fact that you are lacking in something. For instance you may lack resources, knowledge or experience to get a job done. As such, all you effectively need to do is identify what it is you need, and then go out there and acquire those resources, knowledge, or get that experience or support needed to subdue the self-doubt you are currently experiencing.

Thirdly, self-doubt essentially helps discourage complacency. It’s always fun when the journey is “easy going”, however when things are easy we may fail to see problems on the horizon. Self-doubt makes us alert and aware of potential problems and pitfalls that may lie ahead. With this understanding in mind we can make better decisions moving forward. Therefore, it’s perfectly okay to doubt yourself when faced with uncertainty. It’s not the doubt that will hinder you, but rather how you handle that self-doubt that makes all the difference in the end.

Another key advantage of self-doubt is that it helps you gain clarity about what’s most important and/or about what’s required to achieve your desired goal. You see, when you have doubts, you begin to think differently about your circumstances. This process of thinking allows you to see things that you normally would have missed if there was no doubt on your mind. As such, you can potentially save yourself an ample amount of time by diligently exploring your doubts and the resulting consequences before moving forward. Therefore, your self-doubt becomes a “caution mechanism” that prevents you from making potential mistakes or less than optimal decisions moving forward.

Finally, it is also helpful to share your doubts with others. When you share what you’re uncertain about with other people, they will likely provide you with a fresh and unique perspective of the situation. As a result, you may begin to see the situation in a new and more positive light, which can help you make more optimal decisions moving forward.

So given all this, it’s certainly clear that self-doubt isn’t such a bad thing after all. As long as you don’t give-in to your doubts and instead use them in an advantageous way, then you can most certainly make the most of an uncertain situation moving forward.


A Process for Overcoming Self-Doubt

Let’s now break down a nine step process you can use to get through those moments when self-doubts creeps into your mind.

Step 1: Define Your Desired Outcome

Your first objective is to define what it is you want to achieve. This is essentially your desired outcome or goal. Ask yourself:

What is my goal?

What specifically do I want to achieve?

In addition to this, you need to gain some clarity about what specifically you are uncertain about. Ask yourself:

What is it that I am uncertain about?

What specific doubts do I have about this?

The more clarity you have about what it is you are doubtful about, the more certainly you will create moving forward through the remaining steps of this process.

Step 2: Break Down Your Psychological Walls

Your next step is to break down the psychological walls that are preventing you from moving forward through your doubts. Ask yourself:

Why am I uncertain about this?

What specifically triggered this uncertainty?

Does this feeling make any sense at all? Why?

What if this uncertainty is only an illusion that’s of my own making?

What if I was certain and confident about this?

With certainty in mind, what action could I take moving forward?

Taking the time to answer these questions effectively helps you “throw doubt” on your doubts, thereby decreasing the level of uncertainty you feel in this situation. In fact, every step of this process is designed to progressively help you enhance your level of certainty. This is helpful because the more certainly you are able to generate, the less doubt you will experience moving forward.

A Process for Overcoming Self-Doubt

Step 3: Recall Your Prior Accomplishments

Now it’s time to raise that level of certainly up another notch. Within this step of the process you will recall any accomplishments you have had in the past in this area of your life. The more details and specifics you are able to recall at this stage, the greater amount of certainly you will effectively generate. Ask yourself:

Do I have a history of self-doubt in this area?

Have I ever overcome self-doubt in this or a related life area?

Have I previously overcome the emotions I am currently trying to work through?

How did I accomplish these things?

What specific steps did I take to accomplish these things and overcome my doubts?

How specifically did I gain more certainly at the time that allowed me to move forward?

What empowering beliefs did I adopt?

How did I tend to think about myself and about the situation?

How did I talk to myself?

What was my attitude like as I moved through this experience?

What specific patterns in my behavior are evident here?

It’s important to be very specific while answering these questions. Specifics will help you to better identify the patterns of behavior that helped you overcome self-doubt. You can then use these patterns to outline a plan of action moving forward in the present moment.

Step 4: Gain Some Clarity

It’s time now to gain some more clarity about what specifically might be required for you to acquire the certainty you need to help you move forward with self-confidence. Ask yourself:

What is required for me to gain certainty in this area?

What support may I need from other people?

What knowledge or skills must I potentially acquire?

What firsthand experience would be valuable to gain in this situation?

How must I shift how I think about this situation to help me see it in a more optimal and helpful way?

The more of these items you are able to check of your list, the greater amount of certainly you will gain about your predicament moving forward.

Because self-doubt typically stems from a lack of understanding about our situation, sometimes all it takes is for you to do a little research to help you gain the certainly you need to take the next step along your journey. In fact, certainty could just be a phone call away. Gain the support and guidance of the right person and they could very well help put this uncertain situation you are dealing with in its proper context.

Step 5: Anticipate Obstacles and Opportunities

Every meaningful goal we pursue will be riddled with obstacles that will raise doubt in the first place. However, the good thing about obstacles is that they are solvable; and if you can identify them in advance, then this will help you to successfully prepare for them before they arise. As a result you will have more self-confidence and certainty moving forward. Ask yourself:

What obstacles could I face along this journey?

What’s the worst case scenario that could transpire?

How will I deal with these dilemmas when they arise?

Now that you have some clarity about the potential obstacles you will face, let’s take a look at what an opportunity looks like. Ask yourself:

What do opportunities look like?

How and where will I find them?

It’s important to recognize that obstacles and the uncertainty that comes with them can also present you with tremendous opportunities. However, in order to recognize these opportunities it’s important to understand what they look like. If you don’t quite understanding what these opportunities look like, then you will be unable to take advantage of them when they arise.

Eliminating Self-Doubt Process

Step 6: Create a Plan of Action

Having gone through all the prior steps of this process, you should now have a huge oversupply of certainly behind you. It is therefore time to draw up a step-by-step plan of action. This is of course an important step because having a plan in place means that you understand what is required of you at each step of the process. Ask yourself:

What’s required to get to my desired outcome?

What’s the first step that I must take?

What’s the next step? And the next?

Do however bear in mind that your plans will not always go as scripted. In fact, you could end up being channelled in a completely different direction. If you expect that this is a possibility and can put contingency plans in place, then you will not succumb to your doubts. However, if you ignore this possibility, then when things don’t go as expected, your doubts could potentially sabotage your progress.

Step 7: Develop a Burning Desire

Having a plan of action in place may not be enough to nullify all your doubts. In such instances it’s important to back that plan with a burning desire that will keep you moving forward despite your doubts. All this of course goes back to the pain and pleasure principle. You must generate enough pain to push you forward, and enough pleasure to pull you forward through the toughest of times.

Let’s first take a look at the losses you are likely to face if you fail to follow through with your plan of action. Ask yourself:

What do I stand to lose if I don’t follow through with my plan of action?

How will that make me feel?

Now build several compelling reasons to help you move forward. Ask yourself:

Why is achieving this goal important for me?

What do I stand to gain if I follow through with this action plan?

How will the results I derive from this improve my life and circumstances?

The higher the level of pain and pleasure you are able to generate in both instances, the more motivation you will have moving forward, and therefore the less likely your doubts are to influence your choices, decisions and actions.

Step 8: Take Decisive Action

It’s now time to take decisive action moving forward toward your goal. This decisive action must be backed by unwavering commitment that you will do whatever it takes to keep persisting up until the moment you are holding your goal firmly in your hands. And it’s exactly this unwavering commitment that will help you to move forward with a greater sense of self-confidence when dealing with uncertainty.

Your biggest challenge while in the pursuit of your goal will of course come in the form of negative self-talk. For instance:

I’ll never succeed…

I might as well quit…

This is just too hard…

I’m not sure about this…

I’m just not good enough…

It’s of course natural for us to have these kinds of thoughts when facing an uncertain future. Even with all the work you put into each of these steps, there could still very well be some uncertainty along your journey. You are therefore likely to experience lapses where you begin doubting yourself. That’s okay, as long as you quickly recognize those moments for what they are: Bumps on the road. These bumps are temporary as long as you don’t indulge in them for too long.

When you do experience one of these bumps, just refocus yourself and get back on track. Accept it for what it is: The fact that you are an imperfect human being. You will make mistakes and you will go through lapses. That’s just a part of life. The key is to learn to control your language patterns and to refocus and recommit yourself to the journey that lies ahead.

The journey toward your goal will likely not be easy, and that’s the whole point. We only grow when facing adversity; when dealing with uncertainty. Within here lies an opportunity to learn and adapt moving forward. In fact, it is your biggest opportunity because every obstacle overcome just adds to your memory bank of successful accomplishments that you can refer back to at a later time to help you overcome a future challenge.

Step 9: Celebrate Your Success

The final step of the process is to celebrate your successes. I don’t necessarily mean to only celebrate once you have accomplished your goal. Celebrate also along your journey as you reach specific checkpoints and hit milestones you had never accomplished before.

In the end, when you look back on all your accomplishments, you will probably think more fondly about the journey rather than the destination. Why? Because it’s along your journey where the growth and development happens. Each obstacle overcome is an accomplishment in itself. In fact, it’s something that you can take away with you for the rest of your life and apply it into other situations. And that is why it’s always the journey that matters above all else. 🙂


Further Suggestions for Overcoming Self-Doubt

No matter how thoroughly we prepare for the journey that lies ahead, there will always be unexpected problems and obstacles that can lay the seeds of doubt in our mind. These things are simply part of a hero’s journey; a part of your journey. But even though they are inevitable, this doesn’t mean that we cannot mentally prepare for these moments in advance. And the great thing about this preparation is that you don’t need to know what’s coming up next. You just need to be mentally ready to handle yourself during challenging circumstances.

Optimize Your Mindset to Embrace Uncertainty

It’s not the challenges you face, but rather the mindset you bring to each challenge that makes all the difference in the end.

Typically people who successfully handle adversity and overcome self-doubt are optimistic, passionate, courageous, persistent, curious and their actions are backed by faith. Faith is at the backbone of all their actions because it is the one thing that keeps them moving forward when they experience self-doubt. And they do experience self-doubt. Everybody, no matter how successful they are always experiences a little self-doubt. However, it’s their faith in their ability to pull through any situation that helps them get through any challenge.

Practice Daily Visualization

Visualization is a daily practice that many successful people partake in. They visualize daily because through their visualization they are able work through scenarios that can help them move through obstacles and setbacks far more effectively.

This is of course not just about visualizing your end goal or desired outcome. Yes, by all means spend time visualizing this goal. However, where the greatest benefit of this process lies is within the visualization of the challenges you might face along your journey; and the subsequent actions you will take to overcome those challenges. That is where the real power of visualization lies.

Visualize daily the action steps you need to take to accomplish your goal. Moreover, visualize the plethora of obstacles and setbacks that are likely to derail your efforts; then visualize how you will successfully overcome them.

The more you work through the visualization process in this way, the greater sense of self-confidence you will have and the less uncertainty you are likely to deal with moving forward. And of course, as a result self-doubt is less likely to come into the equation.

You can of course also couple together visualization with powerful incantations to help give you a deeper sense of certainty and self-confidence moving forward. Incantations are empowering statements you say to yourself while visualizing or simply as you go about your day. For example:

I believe I can make this happen…

There is strength behind all my actions…

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger…

The incantations you choose are completely up to you. Come up with something that can help empower you during difficult moments along your journey.

Connect with Like-minded People

Remind yourself that under most circumstances, a great many people have already accomplished or failed to accomplish what you are currently pursuing. They have gone through The School of Hard Knocks and have learned a great deal of lessons along the way.

Your objective is to connect with these people; to hear their stories; to learn from their experiences of success and failure. Only in this way will you gain the clarity you need to make more optimal decisions moving forward along your own personal journey. Ask yourself:

Who has successfully achieved what I want to achieve?

What can I learn from this person about their successes?

Who has failed time and again pursuing this goal?

What lessons can I learn from their failures and mistakes?

It can also be helpful to find a mentor: Someone who has been there before and can therefore guide you along your journey. You mentor will not only guide you through stories of their own experiences, they can also provide you with valuable feedback for course correction when you hit a snag on the road to your goal. Moreover, having someone to talk to about your experiences will effectively help allay any doubts you might have moving forward.

Guidelines for Overcoming Self-Doubt

Seek Out Alternate Perspectives

There is always an alternative point of view; another perspective you have not considered. So even though the situation might look grim and uncertain in your eyes, there are always people you could talk to that can help you see the situation from another vantage point. In fact, you might not even need to talk to them. Just think of a person you admire and ask yourself:

How does this person see this situation?

What is their perspective of these events?

Subsequently how would they approach this situation?

How is this approach advantageous in my situation?

See Everything as an Opportunity

Every uncertainty you face is an opportunity for you to learn and explore. It’s an opportunity to express yourself creatively; to challenge yourself in a new way. However, this of course requires a perspective shift. It requires you shift how you see the events and circumstances of your life.

One way to do this is to cultivate a little curiosity. Curiosity will challenge you to question absolutely everything. It will encourage you to view your circumstances from a number of vantage points that you previously may not have considered. What looks like a problem may in fact be a tremendous opportunity; what looks like a failure can become an unforgettable learning experience. This is of course all well and good, however you will never see things this way unless you make an effort to curiously look at the situation. Ask yourself:

How is this problem of value?

Where is the opportunity here?

How can I use this to help move myself forward?

What are some key insights from this mistake?

How can I grow from this failed attempt?

Unlocking opportunities in this way will help allay all your self-doubts. And when there are no self-doubts there is little chance you will fall prey to the fear of uncertainty.

Start Small But Think Big

You have taken the time to prepare yourself thoroughly for the journey that lies ahead. So far you have done all the right things, however one simple mistake could suddenly derail all your efforts. And that simple mistake comes down to an overzealous heart that starts off too big for its own good.

With all the excitement you have generated moving through this process, it’s very easy to get caught up enthusiastically chasing your goal. This is all well and good, up until the moment you take on more than you can handle. In such instances, it’s just too easy to get overwhelmed; and with overwhelm comes resistance and forward progress turns to backward steps.

In order to avoid this trap, it’s important to curb your enthusiasm; in the beginning at least. Don’t burn yourself out too early, because you simply won’t have enough energy left to complete your journey.

The key is therefore to start small but think big. Start by taking small baby steps until you reach your first milestone. Then reassess your journey and make adjustments moving forward. The more control you have at the beginning the more self-confidence you will be able to muster up moving forward.


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Six Steps for Overcoming Self-Doubt

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam's story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.