Coach and counselor Stephanie Kang’s clients experience self-doubt in all sorts of ways. For instance, they’re hesitant to speak up and feel like their work isn’t good enough. They shoot down their own ideas, dismissing them as unrealistic or something they’re not capable of executing anyway. They procrastinate on projects, because they’re convinced they’ll fail anyway. They have a hard time making decisions. They don’t trust themselves to make a good choice.
Maybe you do the same. Or maybe your self-doubt manifests in second-guessing yourself as a parent. Maybe it manifests in second-guessing your art, assuming you don’t have what it takes to be a writer or painter or photographer. Maybe your self-doubt is tied to your weight or the shape of your thighs. Maybe it’s tied to your thinning hair or blemished skin.
Self-doubt isn’t something we eliminate. As Kang said, it’s something we develop a healthier relationship with. It’s something we get better at managing, she added.
Plus, self-doubt often naturally appears when we’re challenging ourselves, when we’re taking risks to build more meaning in our lives, when we’re focusing on growing and flourishing. As bestselling author Dani Shapiro writes in this piece, “Sometimes I wish I could feel less uncertainty, less raging self-doubt about my work. Shouldn’t it stop, after a while? The questioning, the internal nagging feeling that I’ll never get it quite right? Seven books into this life, and I still sit down to write with a flutter of dread in my heart. You can’t do this, a little voice whispers. What makes you think you can do this?”
But Shapiro still writes. She keeps writing. She keeps creating books, on topics that are not easy to explore (like her marriage). She keeps challenging herself.
Which means that self-doubt isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Sometimes, it’s an opportunity—it’s up to us to use it wisely.
Below, Kang shared five suggestions for navigating self-doubt.
- Identify your doubts. Name them. Spell them out. Write them down in great detail. Figure out exactly what you’re doubting and why you’re doubting it. “Simply looking more closely at the feelings often takes away some of their power,” Kang said.
- Talk to someone who’s understanding and empathic. This is someone who won’t focus on fixing, but instead will fully listen (like a loved one or mental health professional).
- Take action anyway. “It’s important to acknowledge your fears, but not be completely controlled by them,” Kang said. In other words, write that short story anyway. Submit your photography to that contest anyway. Work on learning the skills you’ll need for that position you want. Start with tiny steps. Start with one tiny step forward. And keep moving, and keep making.
- Celebrate your progress. “Self-doubt leads you to focus on the challenges, inadequacies, and mistakes, which is only one part of the picture,” Kang said. “Balance it out by intentionally setting aside time to notice what you like about yourself, what you’re good at, what you’re proud of, and how you’re moving forward.” In fact, keep a written list. “[R]eturn to it on hard days,” she said.
- Treat your self-doubt like a friend. Don’t fight it. Try not to see it as an adversary. Instead, “affirm that it’s OK for your self-doubt to be present, and that you value its role in your life, even as you learn how to not let it limit you,” Kang said.
However your self-doubt manifests, try to be kind and patient and gentle with yourself. Try to pursue whatever you want to pursue, regardless of your insecurities and fears. Maybe think of your self-doubt as a misguided friend or parent who wants to protect you from potential pain. But it doesn’t realize just how strong and mighty you really are.