Most of the time, what stops people from achieving their goals and living the life they want to live isn’t not knowing what they want, or how to get it.
We all know what we should do to get the life we want. You’re probably also aware of how you should be living and the steps you need to take to hit your goals.
But what holds you back is self doubt, preventing you from actually taking these steps, out of some undefined fear of the future or half baked awareness that you aren’t good enough.
Self doubt can be a handy tool, if you can use it correctly.
It can make you aware of issues you’re facing, and potential downsides of a plan. It can also be a great marker for what you’re actually overstretching yourself and taking to big risks.
But for most people? It just holds them back.
So how do you stop that little voice, push through, and achieve everything you want to achieve.
Here’s 14 ways to do it.
1) Control your thoughts
Self doubts are like any other thought, and like any other thought, you have far more control over them than you might think.
But it’s about being able to control them in the correct way. You can’t stop yourself from thinking about these things directly, and feeling doubtful.
What you can do is divert you mind away from the doubt, and onto something better.
You might not know this, but you can only hold one thought in your mind at a time. So as soon as those doubtful thoughts start to come forward, shut them up.
Tell yourself, in your mind, that you’re not going to think about this stuff, and literally start thinking about something else.
Disrupt the thought patterns before they get a foothold, and you’ll find that your doubts soon start to melt away.
2) Examine the past
Why do we doubt?
The answer’s a simple one. Fear.
See, self doubt is a useful trait, if it’s coming out in stressful and actually dangerous scenarios.
But for most situations in your life, you’re not actually in danger. You’re not actually under any threat at all.
When you start thinking about your doubts, cast your mind back to the last time you were anxious and doubting. Remember how you felt, and what happened afterwards.
Examine the actual consequences of the action that made you doubt yourself, and how well everything went.
Most of the time, the things we’re scared of, aren’t actually there. We’re scared of phantoms, ghostly scenes that our minds have made up from whole cloth with little to no chance of happening.
It’s common to doubt yourself because you’re scared of the worst case scenario. Of you entirely failing, over and over again.
But by examining the past, and realising that you don’t often fail, and bad things don’t often come to pass, you’ll start to see your doubts in a new light.
3) Get a second opinion
It’s a truism that we should talk over our fears with someone else.
Often times, the simple fact that we’re doubting ourselves can cause our thoughts to warp and spiral out of control, but the moment we start explaining them to someone else is the moment we realise that.
By talking to someone who supports you, they’re either going to point out holes in your argument against yourself that you didn’t otherwise realise, or just by airing your ills, you’re going to realise how silly they sound, and how capable you actually are.
So the next time you feel that doubt creeping in, go and talk to someone you trust. You’ll soon feel it dying away.
4) Don’t keep focusing on others
One of the worst ways to feed into self doubt is to compare yourself to other people.
Social media is murderous for this problem, because when you see someone’s social media feed, you’re basically seeing a curated version of their lives, with all of their successes and none of the failures or self doubts they inevitably felt.
An old saying says that you shouldn’t compare yourself with anyone else, because you’re all entirely different people. Only compare yourself with how you were yesterday.
It’s not hard to live a life that’s a tiny bit better than yesterday.
After all, how big does a 1% improvement in your life really look? And how much effort will it take?
But do that every day? In three months you’re almost 100% better.
That’s a sure fire way to destroy doubt and protect your self esteem.
5) Journal to keep track
Journaling is a master habit for so many successful people for a reason.
It allows you to line up your thoughts, and go back over your days to see what works and what doesn’t.
Knowing that, and knowing that self doubt is often caused by a distortion of the facts and a fear that you’re not successful enough or capable enough to cope with what you’re facing down.
How useful do you think it would be to have a written record of everything you’ve achieved, and how you felt about it?
There’s a second, serious benefit too. The simple act of writing something down clarifies it in your mind. When you write something down it has to be put into a form that’s understandable and logical.
By writing down your doubts, you can easily work through them, and gain awareness over them and whether they’re actually as big as you feel they are.
6) Remember that people don’t really care
You might be looking at that sub-title and thinking ‘How is that supposed to help me?!’
But it really does.
See, social consequences matter hugely to people. To everyone, you and me included. Humans are social creatures, and most of what we do is done because of the impact it has not just on us, but on the world and people around us.
But we’re designed to live in small family groups, with a few select friends around. Our minds really don’t know how to cope with the chaos we surround ourselves with.
The only people who’s opinion matters is your family and friends. Everyone is is irrelevant.
For example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, think of the last speech you watched or listened to, and try and remember if there was a mistake in it (there probably was, no one’s perfect and public speaking is a skill)
Now think about how everyone reacted. No one cared, right?
It’s the same for you. No one really cares what you’re doing, or whether you’re succeeding or failing, unless you’re directly impacting their lives.
What this gives you, is freedom. Those social consequences you were worried about? They don’t exist.
Go and do what you need to do. There’s nothing holding you back.
7) Understand how criticism works
Sometimes, self doubt actually comes from other people. From a harsh critique or someone getting angry and lashing out.
But most of the time, when people do this it actually shows you more about them than you.
You don’t know the lives of your boss and co-workers. You don’t know if they’re having a bad day, or marital issues.
You might have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Now, this doesn’t excuse other people laying into you. But it does mean that their comments probably have nothing to do with how successful you are and could be.
Again, it goes back to comparing yourself to people. Don’t compare yourself to other people, or other people’s images of yourself.
You know if the criticism is correct. Assess it realistically. You’ve got multiple ways to do that, now.
8) Let positivity work its magic
Moods are infectious. If you’re spending your time surrounded by positive people, you’re going to feel a lot more positive.
But it doesn’t just have to be real people.
Imagine listening to awesome, high energy music for five minutes, then listening to a talk or podcast about positivity and success. Then let positivity do the work.
A quick session like this can be the perfect way to shift your mindset and start feeling good about yourself again.
9) Realise that nothing is forever, especially failure
Sometimes, it’s not the fear of consequences that’s the issue.
It’s the idea that those consequences will last forever, casting a shadow over the rest of your life.
But is this really true?
No it’s not.
In fact, it might be the opposite. Failing, and failing fast, might be just what you need.
It was Michael Jordan, the legendary basketball player, who said ‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career, and 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed.’
But that didn’t hold him back, because he knew that he was doing everything he could, and for every shot he missed, the likelihood that the next one was successful was higher.
Failing can also teach us where we’re going wrong. Thomas Edison said of his multiple attempts to make a working lightbulb that ‘He hadn’t failed, just found 10,000 (!) ways that didn’t work.)
So the next time you’re afraid of the consequences of failing, give yourself a perspective shift, and start to look forward to it, as a way to get closer to your goals. Also check our article about how to overcome failure here.
10) Learn from your doubt
Like we said earlier, sometimes, self doubt can be a useful tool.
If you’re feeling doubtful about an upcoming event, or talk, or presentation, it could be a sign that you subconsciously know you’re not ready.
Examine how you feel, write it down, and if you think that’s actually the case, then you know exactly what you need to do.
Practice. Grind out some reps in whatever it is you’re facing down. Then, when you’re a bit better at it, come back to your self doubt and see how it feels then.
You might just find that it’s shrunk away, almost to nothing.
11) Get in motion
A lot of the time, self doubts can lead to a negativity spiral, where you feel doubt, which prevents you from moving and acting.
That lack of action makes you feel worse, as you know you should be closing on your goals and making progress.
Which makes you feel worse.
Which makes you even less likely to act.
See how this works?
You counter it by one, not beating yourself up over your doubts, and realising that they’re a natural, normal part of who you are and how you deal with things
Two, you can take the smallest possible step when it comes time to do the things you don’t want to.
If you need to exercise, promise that you’ll stretch for one minute. If you’re got a project to work on or a dissertation to write, say you’ll sit down in front of the screen for five minutes and see what happens.
A whole lot of the time, that tiny step is just what’s needed to break you out of your patterns and get moving again.
12) Pretend what you are not
You need to understand the physical aspect of doubt.
Self doubt, like almost every other emotion, is rooted deep in our physicality.
If I asked you to imagine someone who was doubtful, and someone who was confident, you could picture them both in your mind, right now, I bet.
You can hijack your own self doubt by mirroring the physical aspects of a confident person. In other words, pretend to be confident….
The next time you feel anxious and doubtful, take five minutes to yourself.
When you do so, stretch, breathe, deep and slow, and stand up straight.
It sounds ridiculous, but these simple steps, forcing your body to move in a way that’s antithetical to doubt, can go a long way to fighting it especially when paired with other methods on this list.
13) Realise and enjoy every tiny step
Every plan has multiple steps to take in order to see it through, but often we don’t reward ourselves until we’ve achieved the big, meaty goal at the end.
If you’re guilty of this, and don’t worry, most of us are, then you’re actively inhibiting your progress.
On the other hand, whenever you achieve a step closer to your goal, no matter how small and inconsequential it might seem, you can lock it in by treating yourself, even if to something tiny.
Say you want to start a business, and you buy the domain and hosting. That’s a success. A small one, but you’re moving. So treat yourself to something sweet.
If you’re trying to exercise and get fit, if you hit your goals for the week, go see a movie with your friends or partner.
It’s almost Pavlovian. You want your body and mind to actively look forward to doing these things, and one of the key ways to do so is to make it rewarding.
If you wait until the big payoff to reward yourself, you’re going to get bored and demoralised along the way. Think about it logically.
If you’re not rewarding yourself along the way, the process isn’t rewarding!
14) Remember that nothing ever goes completely to plan, but change is great
Lets say that again, for clarity.
Nothing will ever go completely according to plan.
But that’s okay.
If you were going for a drive, and you ran into some traffic, but there was a clearly signposted diversion, would you blindly and obstinately stick to your one, true path, getting more and more frustrated by the lack of momentum?
Of course you wouldn’t. But so often this is how people deal with problems in the world around them.
They think of the one way things have to be done, and that’s it. That’s the one way it’s going to be done, from now until the heat death of the universe.
Instead, try and be a little more flexible. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, but you’re a strong, capable person.
Using these tools laid out for you, the next time you face down difficulty or trying times, you can take a step back, assess what’s going on, and instead of being held back by doubt, effortlessly deal with it and move forwards.