Silencing Self-Doubt: A Guide to Overcoming Your Fears

Apr 5, 2024

Overcoming Self-Doubt

Have you ever found yourself consumed by self-doubt — that insidious inner voice telling you’re not good enough, that you’ll never be able to achieve your dreams?

I know I certainly have.

In fact, I’d argue that self-doubt is something we ALL grapple with at one point or another.

Ask any self-made entrepreneur alive today and they’ll gladly tell you how many times they failed, or how many times they had to face their fears and eliminate self-doubt before they reached their goals. 

It’s okay to doubt yourself — it’s often the thing that actually spurs you on — but when you start actually believing that inner voice, you’re walking a path that leads only to self-doubt, to stress and to sadness.

And that’s a place that none of us want to be.

Fortunately, there are ways to override that little voice in your head and prove to yourself what you’re REALLY capable of. 

It’s all a question of perspective, bravery, dedication and embracing the unknown. 

Pant growing in lightbulb

The Truth About Self-Doubt

The truth is, self-doubt is not a reflection of our true abilities.

It’s a product of our environment and the negative thought patterns that we’ve internalized over time. 

And our minds are VERY good at latching on to the negatives.

It’s important to understand that when it’s left to its own devices the human mind is like water — it automatically runs downhill, gravitating towards negative thoughts and self-doubt.

In fact, studies show that we have around 60,000 thoughts per day, and most of those are self-critical and filled with doubt.

We need to understand these natural tendencies of the mind, so that we don’t fall into the trap of believing that what the mind is thinking is a reflection of an objective reality.

Because when we do, we fill ourselves with self-doubt that is based on nothing but the mind’s subjective and natural tendency to look at things through a negative lens.

From there things can spiral dangerously out of control.

Overcoming Self-Doubt

As an educator, I’ve had a front-row seat to witness the devastating impact that self-doubt can have on young people in particular — and especially right now, given the kaleidoscope of digital distractions that are wreaking havoc with young people’s mental health.

(It’s something I’ve talked about already, and will, no doubt, be raising again in future!)

But it’s not always the internet that’s to blame. 

The Stress Test

female student sobbing in office

A few years ago I had a student (let’s call her Sarah) who was incredibly sharp.

She was a bright, talented young woman who was clearly destined for great things. 

But then, something shifted.

For some reason, she suddenly started questioning her academic abilities, second-guessing her self-worth and, ultimately, allowing self-doubt to consume her.

She wasn’t eating properly, she wasn’t sleeping well and her performance in class had taken a nose-dive.

I’ll never forget the day she came to me in my office, tears in her eyes, convinced that she was going to fail an important exam.

Like so many of the other students at our British private school, her parents were super-successful and had very high aspirations for their child — failing at anything was not an option.

The pressure she felt to succeed was crushing her.

Unable to talk to her parents, she finally turned to me , as her tutor, to help.

She was mentally and physically exhausted, and clearly teetering on the brink of a significant mental health issue.

“I just can’t do this,” she said, sobbing. “I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough.”

It broke my heart to see someone with so much potential so paralyzed by this fear.

But we talked it through, and I finally helped her realize that her self-doubt was just a synonym for fear — a fear of failure, a fear of not living up to expectations, a fear of the unknown.

I explained to that life IS an unknown, for ALL of us, and that we only have two choices:

1. We hold desperately to our ideas and fail to entertain the idea that things might work out differently; in other words, we bank everything on high expectations and have no strategy for dealing with things is they don’t work out;

2. We accept that if we want to succeed in the future, all we is do our very best in the present. After all, the past is the past and the future hasn’t happened yet. The only control we have is in the present moment.

I explained to her that if she wants to see what will most likely happen in the future, she needs to analyze what she’s been doing with all the present moments.

After all, every effect has a cause, and it’s most likely that positive effects follow positive causes.

In Sarah’s case, it was likely that positive outcomes in exams would be directly related to positive causes she had created in terms of her studies.

I asked her: “Have you been trying your very best and studying when you know you should be?”

“Yes. . . I always do,” she replied.

“Are you sure you’re giving it all you’ve got?

Again, she replied, “Yes, of course.”

So I asked her a question: “Is it possible to do better than your very best?”

She thought about it for a moment and then said, “No, of course not!”

To which I replied that in that case, there was nothing to worry about as there was no way she could possibly be doing any more.

I also pulled up her grade sheet and reminded her of the amazing grades she’d consistently been getting across the board — a series of obvious positive effects which were generated by positive causes.

It was then that she mentioned one more thing: A few weeks ago she’d begun hanging out with a new group of friends, who had started a study group.

Unfortunately, though, they didn’t do much studying at all; instead, they sat around gossiping and moaning.

As I’ve said, Sarah was a clever girl and once she’d been given some perspective, she managed to see the REALITY of the situation and realized that she’d been catastrophizing based on nothing except her own negative thoughts.

She also realized what she already knew: That this new group of ‘study buddies’ were not her buddies at all.

We kept checking in over the next few days and Sarah reported how much better she was doing and that she’d stopped hanging out with the noisy negativists.

She also said she’d been practicing the simple meditation and mindfulness techniques I’d been teaching her.

And you know what? She aced that exam — and all the others.

Sarah is now on LinkedIn proudly displaying photos of her graduating from a top university and about to enter her profession of choice.

Balloons

Understanding Self-Doubt

Now, I know what you’re thinking: sorting out our self-doubt isn’t always that simple.

And you’re right.

Overcoming self-doubt, especially when it’s ingrained, is a process that requires patience, perseverance, and a willingness to confront those deep-seated insecurities head-on. 

The only way to silence self-doubt once and for all is to understand it for what it is: an irrational fabrication of a mind that will always try and find the negatives.

So, if you’re currently struggling with self-doubt, know that you’re not alone, you’re not helpless against it and YOU HAVE THE POWER TO OVERCOME IT.

With time and with the right mindset, you can not only reclaim your self-confidence; you can achieve things you NEVER dreamed you are capable of.

5 Actionable Strategies for Silencing Self-Doubt

Here are five easy, actionable steps to help silence self-doubt and set you on the path to success in whatever it is you choose to do:

Practice Positive Self-Talk

Be intentional about the way you speak to yourself. Whenever you catch yourself being overly critical or doubtful, immediately counter those thoughts with affirming, encouraging statements. Remind yourself of your strengths, accomplishments and the progress you’ve made.

Keep a Confidence Journal

Set aside time each day to jot down things you’re proud of, compliments you’ve received, or just general notes about your capabilities and worth. Refer back to this journal when you’re feeling doubtful to reinforce a positive self-image.

Identify and Challenge Negative Thoughts

Pay attention to unhelpful thought patterns like catastrophizing, all-or-nothing thinking, or jumping to conclusions. When you notice these distortions, consciously reframe them with more balanced, realistic perspectives. Practicing mindfulness will be a great help.

Celebrate Small Wins

Don’t just focus on big achievements; take time to acknowledge and appreciate the smaller milestones along the way. Recognizing your progress, even in small ways, can help build confidence over time.

Seek Support from Trusted Sources

Surround yourself with people who uplift you. Simple.

Silencing self-doubt takes practice, but these actionable steps can help reinforce a healthier, more confident mindset over time.

Final Thoughts

There are many barriers to happiness in life.

Many of them are barriers that we have no or little control over.

But self-doubt is a barrier that we construct ourselves — and it’s often the biggest barrier of all. . .

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once famously said:

That decision is one you make, again and again, in every present moment.

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