It all started with a little voice telling you that you are not ready? Before you knew it, the voice has become so loud and so frequent that you are convinced that you need more time because you are not yet good enough. And once again, you are not ready.

Welcome to the world of self-doubt.

We Have A Powerful Mind.

Our mind is powerful. If we set our mind to it, anything is possible – including talking ourselves out of amazing opportunities.

And that’s exactly what I did.

I was invited to go on a podcast a few months ago. Although I was flattered, for someone who is more comfortable with written words than spoken words, this invitation also triggered a chain reaction – something that resembled one of my chemistry class experiments back in high school.

It went like this …

Feeling excited about the invitation
Feeling grateful that someone noticed my work
Starting to wonder what the podcast may be like
Slightly stressing out about what I had to say during the recording session
Enacting a self-comforting tactic “I have got time, I can do some planning. I will work this out later” to destress

A week later …

Starting to stress about not getting back to the host about choosing a date to be interviewed 
Still worrying about what needed to say on the podcast except now I also began to worry about perhaps I was not good enough
Little voice inside me playing the “what-if” tune big time

3 weeks later  …

The “what-if” tune still being aired except now it had become the number 1 hit
Feeling more stressful now because the word podcast had become the first thing that entered my mind when waking up in the morning
More worrying now about how the host would think of me if I declined the invitation after weeks of silence

Before I knew it, 3 months flew by. Between a busy schedule and over-thinking, I managed to successfully delay the whole thing and talk myself out of being interviewed. Imagine that! How was it for a powerful mind? It was darn brilliant.

But then another problem surfaced.

I was far from happy with this outcome. The word podcast still appeared in my mind first thing in the morning. What was going on?

Reflecting back, this whole hesitation-and-procrastination-in-making-decision situation clearly was more to do with self-doubt than my actual ability. But why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we self-doubt?

Why Do We Self-Doubt?

Hidden underneath self-doubt is a collection of fears: fear of criticism, fear of imperfection, fear of the imposter syndrome, fear of exposure and fear of disagreement.

Interestingly enough, these feelings are not exclusive to a certain group of people. Young or old, successful or yet to be successful, these negative feelings can touch everyone. As a result, self-doubt is a universal self-inflicted condition that is rampant everywhere.

Self-doubt is soul-crushing.

While it’s unlikely we can get rid of self-doubt completely, it’s something that must be addressed head-on if we were to enjoy a successful career and live a fulfilling life. Leaving it unattended for too long, self-doubt can be soul-crushing.

How Do We Combat Self-Doubt?

So what can we do? How can we free ourselves from a never-ending self-doubt loop?

1. Get clarity on purpose

People who defy odds to accomplish something great often say they do what they do, because they believe in something. And that something is a purpose.

We become more resilient to criticisms and failures when we truly believe in what we are doing. Having a clear purpose is like having an invisible compass. Using it right, the invisible compass can guide us across the treacherous self-doubting water.

2. Develop a healthy attitude for criticism

Most of us would like to think we’re open to constructive feedback, but in reality, our mind gives priority to negative criticism. How do I know? I recently lived through such an experience.

I received feedback on a workshop I delivered at a conference. While I was not so full of myself to expect a perfect score, my attention was immediately drawn to the slightly less favourable score despite an overwhelming number of my audience enjoyed my session and rated it accordingly. Nevertheless, my mind focused on the selected few less favourable scores for days.

How easy is it for us to forget to celebrate?

So my recent experience has taught me a few things:

  • People love to give out opinions. Some will be favourable and some will be negative. That’s just part of life.
  • We can’t please everyone. In fact, we were not born to please everyone. Accept the fact that there will always be people who disagree with us or don’t appreciate our work.
  • Criticism helps us improve. But at the same time, don’t forget to celebrate wins.

3. Know when to leave naysayers behind

Many successful people have learned to ignore naysayers who often don’t have positive intent and fuel our self-doubting tendency. The willingness and knowing when to leave naysayers behind is critical to building a successful and growth mindset.

I didn’t fully appreciate the negative power of naysayers until I heard Graeme Joy’s presentation a few years ago. As an elite explorer who jointly led the International North Pole Expedition, Graeme spoke about how having a team member with a naysayer mindset was detrimental to survival in an uninhabitable part of the world.

Graeme further drew parallels between success in expeditions and success in business. I was so inspired by his presentation that I even wrote a post How To Build An Innovation Culture In The Workplace.

When it comes to self-doubt, naysayers play a significant role. We often are worried about what others may think of our decisions, our appearance, our success, our failure and the list goes on.

In fact, so much of our self-worth is built on other people’s opinions. 

So to curb our self-doubt, learn to recognise the negative impact naysayers can bring and be prepared to leave them behind.

4. Say YES 

Sometimes a hard reset is needed to break the self-doubt cycle. One way to do it is to intentionally say YES to the opportunities that have been presented to us.

Of course, not all opportunities that we say yes to will work out. And for some of us who are more risk-averse by nature, this can be a big step to take.

While this seems a risky strategy, it does bypass all the internal dialogues. In this YES mode, we stop overthinking. Instead of talking ourselves out of opportunities, we talk ourselves into possibilities.

Action to take: Set  a “YES Day” every month and see what opportunities open up for you when you are in the YES mindset

5. Take imperfect actions

This is one of my favourite quotes, because self-doubt breeds on the belief that we must be perfect.

I am not ready.
We need more time. 
I just want to do it right.

These are just some common phrases that signal the symptoms of wanting to be perfect.

So what happens usually is that we let our powerful mind convince us. So we wait for the right moment to take action. Just like how I waited to take up the offer of going on a podcast. The truth is, nothing would ever happen if all we do is just wait.

So accept that there is no right time and nothing is ever perfect. While we always strive to do our best, the only way to move forward is actually move forward through imperfect actions.

What happened to the podcast invitation?

Despite my overthinking and procrastination, I was lucky. My podcast host has more faith in me than I had in myself and has made the podcast a standing invitation.

So early this week, I said to myself “don’t overthink it and say YES to the opportunity. You can work out the details later.”

So I did, I finally say YES to going on the podcast. I even set a date for it. Am I still nervous about it? Yeah, a little. But now I have dealt with the biggest hurdle – my self-doubt, being interviewed seems less daunting and much more achievable.

So see you soon, podcast!!! I’m coming.