I’m sure you may have experienced self-doubt, too.
How am I so sure of that?
Well, many leaders have confided in me that they’ve had bouts of self-doubt. In fact, a few years ago I coached a well-known business leader with a strong North American presence. She shared how much she doubted herself. I was initially a little bit blown away, to be honest. This woman had one of the most incredible resumes and career arcs I’ve seen in a few decades.
And, yet, she suffered from self-doubt.
Even the most accomplished souls are not immune to it.
Whether you’re a rising or senior leader, at some point you will grapple with self-doubt.
There is nothing usual or unhealthy about pangs of self-doubt. It’s normal. In fact, you should be worried about not having any doubts at all. This may mean you’re not challenging yourself … or you’re leaning towards arrogance.
Self-doubt can show up as the occasional thought that may have you questioning your abilities (this happens to me every time I create a new leadership product or program) or it may have the power to stop you in your tracks.
You can let self-doubt paralyze you … or you can figure out how to manage and leverage it to help you grow in all aspects of your life.
How do we overcome self-doubt, then?
1. Start with a series of realizations about self-doubt. Realize it exists. Realize everyone suffers from it. Realize you will need to manage it. Now, the most important step: Realize you are enough.
2. In keeping with understanding that you’re enough, next you need to reduce ideas around hyper-comparison. As Teddy Roosevelt once said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Not to get trite because this argument can head that way, but social media has probably made this worse. Social media is great for connection at one level, but it’s also comparison on steroids. You’re always evaluating yourself in the context of others if you’re relatively active on social. Research shows it’s a recipe for self-doubt and depression. Take Facebook and Instagram off your phone, for example. You can still check them periodically, but they won’t always be with you.
3. Mix short-term goals (attainable now to give you a boost against self-doubt) with longer-term goals. If all your goals are things you won’t be able to judge against for a year or more, your daily self-doubt index is going to rise up.
4. Pay more attention to positive feedback. This is hard for humans — we’re wired to respond to and remember negativity more — but it can be done. Obviously you don’t want to tune out constructive criticism and become a total narcissist, but it’s OK to believe your own hype periodically.
5. Change your environment. This means being more intentional about the people you spend time with, both at work and personally. That’s repeatedly been shown to be a key to a longer life, too. You can make an argument that building the right community is crucial to everything: marketing, dealing with aging parents, divorce, and more.
6. Take walks, exercise, get out of the loop. We get on work treadmills where it’s task-task-task-task for days and weeks at a time. Find time for yourself to move and be free and not think about the next target that needs to be hit. Allow yourself to be you. It will improve your ideation and focus you more.
7. Think about the 20-40-60 rule. Never heard of that? Here’s a primer:
“Originally espoused by actress Shirley MacLaine — and adhered to by Silicon Valley legend, entrepreneur and investor Heidi Roizen — the rule goes something like this: “At 20, you are constantly worrying about what other people think of you. At 40 you wake up and say, ‘I’m not going to give a damn what other people think anymore.’ And at 60 you realize no one is thinking about you at all.” The most important piece of information there, Roizen says: “Nobody is thinking about you from the very beginning.”
If people don’t really care ** that ** much, then hyper-comparison can be reduced, and in turn so can self-doubt!
8. Boost your optimism. Think of a book, movie, song, or podcast you love. When you feel self-doubt, go back to that. Just do it for 20 minutes at a time. It will reset you.
9. “You’re not a failure just because you failed.” In the best season of his career, Michael Jordan still missed more than half the shots he took. It took James Dyson 5,000+ iterations to make the right vacuum cleaner. U2 and J.K. Rowling both got rejected over 18+ times before someone took a chance on them. All these people were riddled with failure and self-doubt, and now they’re household names. They kept trying, pushing, fighting — and they realized the self-doubt would never go away. It simply had to be managed as the real journey continued.
10. Continually learn and grow. This is everything in life. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” has become a popular business mantra, sure — but it applies at the personal level too. When you have self-doubt, ask yourself: Why? What changed? What can I do differently? After the fact, ask yourself: What did I learn? How did I change? What should I do differently next time? Everything is a learning experience. Continue to learn, grow, and push back on self-doubt. You ARE enough.
It’s natural to feel self-doubt but don’t let it hold you back. Rather recognize your feelings as a healthy part of your development as a leader. Know that you already have what it takes to succeed.
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