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7 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt (and Boost Your Confidence)

by Hugo

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One of the biggest deathbed regrets is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”. If you’re constantly dealing with self-doubt, you’ll find it hard to live with courage and never second-guess your decisions. But how do you actually overcome self-doubt?

You can overcome self-doubt when you take conscious steps to deal with the cause. Self-doubt is often caused by a lack of confidence and something called imposter syndrome. When the voice inside your head keeps telling you that you’re not good enough, you need to learn how to stop listening to the self-doubting thoughts in your mind.

In this article, I want to share what self-doubt is, what specifically causes it, and how you can actually deal with it in a sustainable way.

What is self-doubt?

Self-doubt is a feeling that tells you that you’re not good enough. It’s a voice inside your head that doubts your abilities, no matter how good or proficient you actually are. The self-doubting voice inside your mind will find a way to critique your capabilities.

Self-doubt is not a rare phenomenon. It occurs mostly when we’re not confident in our own abilities. This happens more often than you might think.

In fact, some sources state that ~85% of Americans struggle with low self-esteem and self-doubt.

This means that you aren’t the only one that’s struggling with self-doubt. It’s just that most people try to mask their insecurities by faking confidence when in front of others.

What causes self-doubt?

One of our writers – Maili – recently wrote an article on self-confidence, and she said:

“The inner critic is the archenemy of confidence.”

Everyone has an inner critic. It’s the nagging, negative voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough or that you’ll never amount to anything.

This inner voice is the cause of your self-doubt. But what actually causes this inner voice to control the thoughts in your mind?

The biggest causes of self-doubt are:

  • Having been excessively criticized, scolded, or yelled at in the past.
  • A general lack of confidence.
  • Suffering from imposter syndrome.
  • The fear of failure.

Let’s look more closely at each of these causes.

Being unfairly criticized in the past

It’s good to know that no one is really born as a self-doubter. This lack of self-confidence is often a result of past experiences.

For example, if you were constantly scolded and criticized as a kid, there’s a likelihood that this has a lasting effect on your confidence. This would be a result of neuroplasticity. Your brain adapts to your life’s circumstances to make itself more efficient at handling future challenges.

In this case, this is something that causes you to doubt yourself more in the future. If your brain is used to dealing with self-doubt, criticism, and being yelled at, it will adapt to these circumstances.

Luckily, the principle of neuroplasticity also allows us to work on fixing our self-doubting habits. More on that later.

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Lack of confidence

In the end, a lot of self-doubting is caused by a lack of confidence.

Like most psychological constructs, self-confidence is made up of and influenced by a myriad of factors, including, but not limited to:

  • Life experiences, including traumatic events.
  • Achievements.
  • Physical and mental health.
  • Stress.
  • Quality of relationships.

Ideally, in order to be confident, you should be in good mental and physical health, have had positive life experiences and supportive parents, you should generally be surrounded by people who build you up instead of those who knock you down, and your life shouldn’t be too stressful, while still being challenging and rewarding.

Another fun fact: research has shown that self-confidence and self-esteem rise with age. As you grow older and gain more experience, your faith in yourself will grow. If you’re reading this in your late teens or early twenties, please know that feeling unsure and confused is the norm.

Imposter syndrome

Finally, there’s another phenomenon that often causes self-doubt, especially in a professional environment. Even when you’re really confident in your personal life, you can suffer from imposter syndrome at work.

Imposter syndrome is the persistent feeling that you’re a fraud and a fake and that someone is going to figure out that you don’t know half as much as you pretend to. 

It can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life and it can often stop them from achieving their true potential.

If you want to learn more about this topic, we’ve published an entire article dedicated to imposter syndrome and how to deal with it.

Fear of failure

Fear of failure is fairly common. I’m willing to bet that you have experienced it, too.

Whether it’s not joining the workout group you’ve been thinking of or applying for a new job, most of us have been held back by the fear of failure at some point in our lives.

This is also a frequent cause of self-doubt. The fear of failure is so common because failure is the most readily available option. Success requires a lot of work and effort, and sometimes, no matter how hard you work, you’ll still fail. It takes quite a lot of mental strength and resilience to keep working towards your goal despite failures and setbacks.

How to overcome self-doubt

What can you do to overcome self-doubt? This seemingly simple question is a bit more challenging to answer, as it involves changing your mindset and forming long-lasting habits.

If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.

Vincent van Gogh

Here are some tactics you can use to help you deal with your feelings of self-doubt and to become more confident in your own capabilities.

1. Start small

The key to conquering any kind of self-doubt is to start small and gradually work your way up to the really scary stuff.

For example, if you’re self-doubting your math skills at work, just try to start with the basics. Start small and build an Excel sheet that uses formulas, and slowly build up your confidence in yourself.

Alternatively, if you’re doubtful of your public speaking skills, getting in front of a packed meeting room is a bad idea. Speaking to a smaller group of colleagues is more likely to build your confidence as you start collecting positive experiences and little successes.

Think of overcoming your self-doubt as a staircase – take it one step at a time. If you try to jump several steps ahead, your chances of losing balance and falling increase.

2. Practice self-appreciation

Whenever we’re about to make a decision or take action on something of importance to us, it’s easy to second-guess ourselves. It’s in our nature to anticipate threats or danger. But, one thing that heightens our paralysis is the way that we perceive ourselves. It’s the way that we talk to ourselves.

The negative voice in our head that’s causing self-doubt is something that we can limit by practicing self-appreciation.

Self-appreciation is seeing yourself exactly the way you are, valuing yourself for it, and showing yourself compassion and gratitude.

There are 4 steps you can take to practice self-appreciation on a daily basis:

  1. Step out of your negative thoughts.
  2. Accept who you are at this moment.
  3. See the goodness in you.
  4. Be grateful.

We’ve covered each of these steps in our article about self-appreciation.

3. Think more positively of the future

Try to change your thinking into something more that is less doubtful, but more hopeful about your own capabilities. Whenever you experience feelings of self-doubt, try to add the word “yet” to your thoughts:

  • I’m not clever enough yet.
  • There’s no way I can do that yet.
  • I’m not strong enough yet.

This type of thinking may sound silly and inconsequential, but there’s some actual power behind this strategy. By thinking positively about yourself, you’re actually more likely to trigger a chain of thoughts that reduces the amount of self-doubt you expose yourself to.

This last point was confirmed in a fun study by Barbara Frederickson. The study found that a positive mindset can be triggered, and more importantly, that a positive mindset initiates more creativity and an urge to “play ball”. Basically, when you have a positive mindset, you’re better able to deal with the challenges that life throws at you.

4. Realize that failing doesn’t make you a failure

As we discussed earlier in this article, the fear of failure is a frequent cause of self-doubt.

This isn’t to say that there’s no point in trying anything new. Humans are quite admirable because we keep trying despite the odds not always being in our favor. We are resilient beings, and more often than not, we get back up again when life knocks us down.

What you must realize is that failing doesn’t make you a failure.

We are only human, so we’re bound to fail every once in a while. It’s important to realize that everybody occasionally struggles with failure in their life. What you need to do when this inevitably happens:

  • Don’t let such a thing set you back.
  • Don’t interpret it as a failure, but rather as a learning experience.
  • Most importantly, don’t let it stop you from trying again tomorrow.

As Michael Jordan said:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan

Stop doubting yourself after experiencing a single failure.

If you want more help in this area, you may find helpful tips in our article on the fear of starting something new.

5. Know that it’s okay to be afraid

Being afraid of something is not the same as doubting yourself. Self-doubt is a negative inner voice that determines how you feel about something, whereas fear is a totally natural reaction.

Whether you’re afraid of failure or of being embarrassed, what matters is that you try to conquer your fear. Don’t confuse that fear with self-doubt.

People often think that they shouldn’t be afraid in the first place. However, if you’re already scared, thinking that you shouldn’t be scared usually only makes the fear stronger. Accept that you’re afraid and focus your efforts on building up your courage, instead of beating yourself up for having a completely natural reaction.

6. Discuss your feelings of self-doubt with someone you trust

Talking about your feelings with a close friend can do wonders, as it may help you understand the true issue of what you’re dealing with.

This is because although it may seem like we think in sentences, our thoughts are usually more like a messy word cloud. Add emotions into the mix and you’ve got a perfect mess. By putting these thoughts into words and saying them out loud, you are creating some order into the mess and voilà – clarity!

Additionally, a friend may help you put your feelings of self-doubt into perspective.

This study found that as much as 82% of all people suffer from imposter syndrome. If you’re not friends with any of your colleagues, it’s only natural that the people you work with are constantly trying to keep up appearances.

After all, nobody wants the world to see that they are struggling with self-doubt.

But if you discuss your feelings with a close friend, you’ll probably learn that (s)he is dealing with similar feelings as well. This can help you put your feelings in perspective.

And finally, the last benefit of discussing your feelings of self-doubt with a close friend is that you’re able to count on someone’s support.

7. Talk to a therapist

This in-depth review of existing research shows that people who lack self-esteem and have feelings of inadequacy are:

  • More likely to show symptoms of depression.
  • Suffering more from eating disorders.
  • More likely to use or abuse illegal drugs.
  • Having more difficulties responding to social influences.
  • More likely to become pregnant as teenagers.
  • Less likely to succeed academically.
  • More likely to have suicidal thoughts.
  • Finding it more difficult to form successful close relationships.
  • More likely to excessively drink or smoke.

Therefore, it’s important to seek professional help if you’re unable to deal with your feelings of self-doubt.

A therapist or counselor can help you look at your feelings of self-doubt from a new perspective.

When you’ve thought about something for a long time, it may seem that you have thought about every aspect of it. In reality, however, there can be parts of the problem that you are unconsciously ignoring and a professional can help you shed light on those areas.

More often than not, these problems are easy to spot for a person that is looking from the “outside-in”, instead of your personal “inside-out” point of view. There are many more benefits of seeing a therapist that we’ve covered in this previous article.

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Wrapping up

Self-doubt is a nasty habit that keeps you from living a life true to yourself. While self-doubt is often caused by your past experiences, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. By adapting some of the powerful habits we discussed in this article, you can change your state of mind to be more confident about yourself.

What do you think? Do you often deal with feelings of self-doubt? What’s your favorite way to counter the negative voice in your mind? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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