Channelling compassion inwards: Strategies to Overcome Self-Doubt

Oct 15, 2021   |   Neha Thantry

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Do you find it hard to make important decisions in your life? Have you ever caught yourself excessively saying “sorry” even at the slightest slip-up or inconvenience? Or do you always find yourself shying away from the spotlight, hesitant to even take credit for your own hard work?

If any of these scenarios sound all-too-familiar to you, you might be struggling with self-doubt — a term many of us might have heard countless times, but perhaps do not entirely understand. In its simplest form, self-doubt is defined as a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities. At first glance, in a culture that values humility and condemns complacency, small amounts of self-doubt can seem like a good thing to prevent overconfidence. The problem, however, is that more often than not, once the seed of self-doubt has been planted, we start making a habit of thinking negatively about ourselves. This ends up creating a toxic cycle of self-loathing that prevents us from living a full life.

While many of us may have heard various suggestions on how to improve our confidence in ourselves — from reciting affirmations in the morning, to simply “getting over” negative thoughts  — a lot of these morsels of advice may seem superficial or even ineffective without first understanding the root causes of our individual self-doubt.

Most of the time, self-doubt arises from a fear of failure — which is often a symptom of holding yourself to extremely high standards or being overly preoccupied with achieving a very specific goal. It can also stem from constantly comparing yourself to others, worrying that your own achievements and milestones pale in comparison to those of your peers or even the people that you look up to. On a deeper level, self-doubt can be a result of feeling like an imposter, when you start believing that you have not put in enough effort to deserve what you have accomplished thus far.

Once you have identified what exactly causes your insecurity in your own abilities, it then becomes easier to find strategies that manage this issue at its root. Of course, it may not always be possible to entirely eliminate self-doubt from your life – rather, the following suggestions can help to mitigate it, such that it does not excessively influence how you view yourself, or the choices you make on a daily basis.

1. Journaling

One of the simplest ways to deal with self-doubt is to find an empty notebook, grab a pen and just write down all your thoughts. A lot of the time, when you let even a singular negative thought fester in your mind for too long, it begins to escalate into larger insecurities that make you question your every move. Journaling is a great way to express any negative feelings you may have on paper, rather than storing them in your mind where they run the risk of spiralling out of control, and work through them rationally. Reviewing the concerns that you have written down can enable you to separate facts from feelings and help you recognise that not all of your worries may be rooted in truth. Keeping a journal also allows you to look back on your entries in the future, making it easier to identify specific triggers or patterns that can help you to gradually overcome your self-doubt.

2. Spending time with loved ones

Especially when you are set on achieving a particular goal, it can be easy to shut yourself off from the people who love you in order to focus – but making time in your schedule to surround yourself with friends and family who support you for who you are can actually be beneficial for your mental well-being when you are experiencing bouts of self-doubt. Not only is the positive presence of these people who have faith in you uplifting, but they can also remind you of what you are capable of even when you may not believe in yourself.

3. Reminding yourself of your achievements

When you encounter a rough patch in your journey toward your goals, remembering that you have been able to cross similar hurdles before through your own grit and tenacity can help manage feelings of self-doubt – particularly if you are struggling with imposter syndrome. While you can remind yourself of these past accomplishments – no matter how “small” they may seem – verbally, it could be even more helpful to create tangible mementos that evoke memories of these experiences. This could include anything from displaying certificates from camps or competitions you have taken part in, to even pinning up a simple note of encouragement written to you by a teacher when you did well in a test. Placing such items around your room can act as a regular visual reminder of how far you have come, and they serve as morale boosters whenever your faith in yourself begins to dwindle.

4. Focusing on what matters most to you

If your self-doubt stems from comparing yourself to your peers or worrying that you will not be able to live up to others’ expectations of you, it could be helpful to divert your focus away from trying to match up to what other people are doing or fulfill what you think they want you to become. Instead, take some time to consider what you feel is more important to yourself – list down your own values and set goals that align with these values, then work towards these instead of squeezing yourself into a mould that was never made for you in the first place. Not only does this ensure that your goals are manageable and suited to your skills and interests, but it also gives you a sense of purpose that grounds you during periods of uncertainty.

5. Making time for hobbies

It might seem appealing to fight your self-doubt by forcing yourself to work even harder to prove your qualms wrong – but this can be counter-productive, as you may end up overworking yourself to the point of burn out. To avoid this, it helps to find time to immerse yourself in hobbies – activities that you do purely for your own enjoyment and not as part of your work – that makes you feel fulfilled. Be it escaping into a fictional world through reading books or trying out a new craft, hobbies not only help to refresh your mind in between completing particularly difficult tasks, but also serve to remind you that you do not necessarily need to be very skilled in order to enjoy doing something. This encourages you to value yourself in a more balanced way, making room for simple joys without worrying too much about having to be the best at every skill you pick up.

Ultimately, it is important to view overcoming self-doubt as a process of learning to be more kind to yourself, rather than yet another challenge to succeed at. We are often our own harshest critics, and as we get caught up in chasing our aspirations and trying to be the best versions of ourselves, we tend to forget that at the end of the day, we are all still human and inherently flawed – it is thus only natural for us to make mistakes along the way. Hence, in your journey to become more confident in your abilities, there is also a need to be forgiving of yourself – to accept that it may not be possible to excel at everything you do, and to allow yourself to make mistakes as part and parcel of learning and growing.