Can You Banish Self-Doubt?

Can You Banish Self-Doubt?

BY Michelle McQuaid

Could confidence be over-rated? What if instead of confidently striding into your next meeting, pitching your new big idea or even owning a large public stage relied less on feeling fearless and more on acknowledging your self-doubt and having the courage to do things anyway?

You see when we lack confidence in ourselves and in our abilities we tell ourselves stories like: “I doubt I’ll be successful if I try this”, “People will find out I’m not as good as they thought” and even “If I fail my career is going to be over.”

“The challenge is that these beliefs shape our expectations about whether we’ll succeed or not, the behaviors we’re motivated to take, how we perform and the stories we tell about our performance ” explains Louisa Jewell, positive psychology and self-doubt expert.

“For example, in one study conducted by Michael Inzlicht at the University of Toronto when women’s beliefs were shaped with a reminder that women are worse at maths than men just before undertaking a maths test, they performed more poorly,” said Louisa. “The researchers found that the story fed the women’s self doubt and made them feel anxious, which caused them to expend mental energy trying to suppress the anxiety and left them with fewer resources to concentrate on the test itself. Beliefs about our abilities have a tendency to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

As a result, the idea of forever banishing our feelings of self-doubt is an idea that appeals to many of us, is it the most effective way to improve our performance?

Should You Banish Self-Doubt?

While ridding yourself of self-doubt forever sounds appealing, the truth is nature has wired your brain with these uncomfortable feelings for the practical purpose of guiding your behavior. For example, self-doubt can also help motivate you to improve your performance and avoid making the kind of mistakes associated with too much self-confidence.

Like any feeling or emotion you have, you never want to feel all one way or another. Psychological agility – the right emotion, in the right situation for the right outcome – should always be your goal.

The challenge with self-doubt is that researchers have found it can cause us to:

  • Become defensively pessimistic in an effort to avoid taking on new challenges.
  • Procrastinate and try to put things off.
  • Self-sabotage ourselves so we can logically blame our failures on other factors – like “I’m so hungover no wonder my presentation was terrible” – in an effort to protect ourselves from really trying and failing.
  • Drive us to overachieve in an effort to prove ourselves wrong and risk burning ourselves out.
  • Suffer from the imposter syndrome and are unable to accept praise for our efforts because we believe we don’t really deserve it.

It’s when these behaviors are getting in the way of you being able to show up to do what matters most in your life that a little self-confidence building can help you to move forward.

So what can you do to constructively manage your self-doubt? In this episode of Chelle McQuaid TV, I asked Louisa what the world’s leading researchers are discovering when it comes to dealing with our self-doubt and building more self-confidence.

How Can You Manage Self-Doubt?

Louisa recommends three scientifically-tested approaches to ensure you can swim in the ocean of opportunities that are available in life:

  • Acknowledge you’re “not there yet”Professor Carol Dweck at Standford University suggests embracing our self-doubt by acknowledging “I’m not there yet. But I can get there.” You see Dweck’s research has found that that self-doubt is often fed by a fixed mindset that invests in the belief that we’re born either smart or stupid, talented or ordinary. Over the last decade neuroscientific research has confounded these beliefs with the discovery that with effort and practice we all have the potential to improve our abilities.

People with a growth mindset see challenges and failures as opportunities to grow. To help embrace a more growth-orientated mindset which studies suggest lead to ever higher levels of success, try using your moments of self-doubt as a trigger to remind yourself that these feelings just mean you’re not there yet, but this is a great opportunity to learn and practice getting better.

  • Take one small stepProfessor James Maddox at George Mason University has found that acknowledging our self-doubts and taking small steps that lead to small successes is an effective way to build our confidence and shift our beliefs about what we’re capable of doing. Maddox’s research suggests that improving our self-efficacy – our beliefs about what we can do and what we can’t do – can help to lower our levels of stress and improve our levels of effort, persistence, resilience and ability to achieve our goals. What one small step would you be willing to try to help you to grow and gain confidence in your life?
  • Create a mantra of self-compassionDr. Kristen Neff has found the benefits of looking at our mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding. Neff’s research suggests self-compassion helps improve our optimism, leaves us feeling happier and acting in ways that are good for ourselves and others.

A simple way to practice self-compassion is to talk to yourself like you would your best friend. To remind yourself that you’re not perfect and neither is anyone else. Louisa recommends having a little self-compassionate mantra ready to go when self-doubt threatens to overwhelm you or failure feels like it’s sinking you. For example: “In most situations you’re better than you think you are so let’s see if you can figure this out” or “You know what, you’re doing your best and that’s all I ask”. What self-compassion mantra can you have up your sleeve?

For more ideas on managing self-doubt based on the science of self-confidence visit

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