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Want to Overcome Self-Doubt? Take These Three Steps

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There is a ratio to most things in life. Your income needs to exceed your expenses or you will go into debt. Your caloric intake needs to be less than your output or you will gain weight. Your immune system defenses need to be stronger than the harmful pathogens in your body or you will become ill. Your pre-frontal cortex needs to be stronger than your limbic system to override your impulses.


And in order to overcome self-doubt, your strengths need to exceed your fears.


The problem with self-doubt is that the ratio is off kilter. Doubters harbor exceptionally exaggerated perceptions of their fears, while also minimizing their strengths. And it works in a vicious cycle, because the more you doubt yourself, the more you avoid the very things that might allow you to explore your strengths. Instead, you remain locked in a bubble of safety, that while predictable, is not really safe at all. Unexplored fears, after all, don’t get smaller through avoidance. Much like the need for praise fans the flames of a narcissist’s superiority complex, fears cause a doubter to pad the walls of the bubble with insulation.


The end result is more self-doubt. (Or in the case or a narcissist, even more arrogance.)


The way we overcome self-doubt is to correct the ratio. It looks something like this:









And of course, there is the middle:





The middle might actually be the most important part, because it is here that we are reminded that the equation can go either way. Self-doubt, after all, is not easy to overcome, and shifting the ratio depends on being able to go through the middle. (That’s the part where it is not safe, and the end result is not guaranteed either). It is here where we are most likely to retreat, because we can’t see the top of the well, and we have let go of the rope. In fact, the only way through is to climb.


So if you don’t mind climbing and you want to overcome self-doubt, here are three steps you can take.



Know Your Fears. If you want to fix the self-doubt ratio, you have to know each side of the equation. So write your fears down. List them, rank them, draw them, tell a story about them, elaborate them, exaggerate them, and quantify them. The idea is to get them from inside your head (where you might not be aware of them) to outside your head (where you can see them clearly).


Know Your Strengths. Doubters have a habit of questioning themselves. In fact, it’s a characteristic of doubt. But knowing your strengths involves identifying the times (however fleeting they may be) when you don’t question yourself. The times when you are confident. The times when you feel like you can take on a challenge. The times when you are not afraid. These are examples of your strengths. And they can be anything from forgiveness to humility. (Yes both of those are strengths.) In case you are unsure of your strengths, here is a list: (circle the ones that apply)

Creativity*Curiosity*Open-mindedness*Love of Learning*Wisdom* Bravery* Perseverance* Honesty*Enthusiasm*Love*Kindness*Social Intelligence*Teamwork*Fairness*Leadership* Forgiveness*Modesty*Prudence*Self-Control*Appreciation of Beauty*Gratitude*Hope* Humor*Spirituality


Take On Calculated Challenges. Once you know both sides of the equation, the way you begin to shift it in your favor is through calculated challenges. These are the challenges you take on that involve both some risk, and some assurance of success. They are a balance between your fears and your strengths, and the calculation is up to you. While safety depends on minimizing risks and avoiding the possibility of failure, overcoming self-doubt is not a blind leap into the abyss of fear either. Instead, it is like letting go of the reins for a split second, to find that the horse didn’t buck you off. And the next time, you feel more confident so you let go of the reins for two seconds. And as you take these small, incremental steps toward confidence, your strengths grow and your fears begin to shrink. And as you step out of the bubble of safety, you might just find you doubt yourself a little less.


Claire Dorotik-Nana is the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards. For more information on Claire or her work, just visit

Photo by Amy Wilbanks

Want to Overcome Self-Doubt? Take These Three Steps

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2015). Want to Overcome Self-Doubt? Take These Three Steps. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Sep 2015
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