how to overcome self-doubt

How to overcome self-doubt and take action [PMP #115]

Self-doubt is a feeling everyone can relate to. Whether you’re worried about an upcoming exam, a project at work, an important client or even things going on in your personal life, we often doubt ourselves and our abilities.

Even the most “successful” people in the world (whatever that means) feel self-doubt. Also known as imposter syndrome, this is the fear that you’re not as good as people think you are.

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In this post, I’d like to share some stories and tips that have helped me to overcome self-doubt.

1. Remember that someday you're going to die

Whenever I’m not sure if I should do something, I take a minute to think about my impending death and the simple fact that one day I won’t be here any more.

This is something I thought about before I quit my job in 2016. Before we sold our house to go travelling. And even now, something I think about to make sure I don’t waste my time.

I’m not a religious person and I don’t believe in any form of afterlife. The image or feeling I conjure up in my head is that of falling asleep. When you’re asleep you’re not (usually) aware that you’re sleeping. You have no consciousness and no awareness. This is what I imagine death must be like. It’s scary.

This sounds morbid – why would anyone think about what death feels like?

But when you think about yourself, friends or family dying, you start to appreciate the life you have right now and for me, this is a real motivator to push past any self-doubt and take action.

This idea of thinking about death is something I’ve come across since diving into the world of Stoic philosophy. The great thing about stoicism is how practical this school of teaching is. After reading a few books like The Obstacle is the Way and A Guide to the Good Life you can arm yourself with the skills you need to worry less, deal with adversity and improve your overall happiness.

And I’m sure most people have seen this already but if not, go and watch Steve Job’s famous commencement speech at Stanford. This video now has over 31 million views. Steve shares his experiences dealing with death and the line that really stands out to me is:

“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose”

2. Get organised and get planning (turn “someday” into “today”)

Okay, hopefully now I’ve freaked you out to the point where you're motivated enough to push past any self-doubt or fear that you’re feeling. Now you can take all those things you’ve been putting off until “someday” and start working on them today.

If you’re a follower of Getting Things Done, you’ll be familiar with the idea of having a “Someday” list. It’s basically a list of ideas or projects you’d like to pursue one day, but they’re not important right now. I’ve dabbled with this idea in the past but now if I have an idea or something I want to work on I do one of two things:

1) Set up a task or project in Asana and start planning when I’m going to work on the project or idea (usually within the next few weeks or months).

2) I don’t do it.

When you adopt this mentality, every decision you make comes down to a simple decision on “am I going to do this”, and “if so, when?”. There is no middle ground. In fact, I think having a “someday” list can be dangerous as it creates a distraction and makes you feel inadequate because you now have a list of all this stuff you haven’t done. I can’t tell you how often I work with clients who have task lists with hundreds of ideas and to-dos on them. All these things they’d like to do but aren’t important right now and you just end up overwhelmed and the self-doubt creeps in.

Having a “someday” list can be dangerous as it creates a distraction and makes you feel inadequate because you now have a list of all this stuff you haven’t doneClick To Tweet

If I haven't planned to work on something in the next few weeks, I don’t worry about storing the idea for later. If it’s a really good idea or it’s important, it’ll resurface later.

So, when you come across an idea or have something you’ve been putting off. Start planning and working on it today.

  1. Plan out all the little steps you need to do.
  2. Get all your ideas out of your head and onto a notebook (digital or physical) or a mind-map.
  3. Think about and list them in the order you need to accomplish them in.
  4. Schedule time on your calendar to work on the item at the top of the list.

Taking just a few small steps to make a start and plan WHEN you're going to work on a project starts a snowball effect or progress.

3. Reduce social media consumption

I feel like a lot of our self-doubt is the result of comparing ourselves to others, usually on social media.

Social media influencers use all sorts of tricks to grow their following and create the appearance of success. Whether it’s paying to hire a jet just to take some photos or living in hotels for free in exchange for endorsements, it creates a very unrealistic picture of what life is like.

Browsing through Facebook or Instagram may seem harmless, but as you can see, it often paints a skewed picture of what life should be like. Because friends, family and influencers usually only share the highlights of their lives, this gives us the impression that if your life isn’t a constant state of euphoria and joy, something must be wrong.

When you spend less time on social media, you don’t compare yourself to others as much. This means less self-doubt about your own accomplishments or abilities.

I use the iPhone’s screen-time settings to make sure I don’t spend more than an hour a day on social media.

5. Give your head a break

January was a busy month for me. Loads of clients that I signed up in December all needed my attention in January and as a result, I started to feel pretty overwhelmed and was beginning to doubt myself:

  • “Am I going to get all this work done on time?”
  • “What if clients need it quicker?”
  • “Am I really good enough to be doing this?”

Last week, I was taking a walk during a lunch break and I sat down for 10 minutes to meditate (I used the Oak meditation app). I’ve always been pretty up and down when it comes to meditation. I’ll usually do it for a while and then get lazy and stop. Last week it was the first time I’ve meditated in a few months and boy did it feel good. After 10 minutes, I opened my eyes and felt like I’d hit a reset button. All the previous doubt I’d been feeling was melting away and I now felt confident in my abilities.

It just goes to show how easily you can overcome self-doubt when you just take a few minutes to step back and get out of your head.

Your ideas?

I hope this post can be of use to anyone currently dealing with self-doubt. Please let me know if you have any other ideas or tactics you use to deal with this issue.

Thanks for reading!