How to turn self-doubt into a strength

Published on December 8, 2023

If I were to bet on what is the most commonly felt but least frequently talked about (openly) challenges people have, then my money goes on self-doubt.

My work gives me a great deal of insight on how common this challenge actually is- and it’s just as common among very senior leaders as it is among those less experienced, btw. 

That’s because seniority by itself does very little to counteract that critical voice we all have. What does make a difference is the practice of self-awareness and intentional thought and I use this all the time in my work.

I’m going to outline here a simple four-step process designed to turn your self-doubt into a tool for remarkable growth and success. This isn't about suppressing your doubts; it's about understanding and reshaping them into a force that moves you forward.

Let’s say you might have thoughts like:

"I'm not a good leader”
"I can't handle this responsibility"
“I don’t make decisions fast enough”

Here's what you can do:
  1. Identify negative thoughts - First, you identify these negative thoughts and recognise how they impact your feelings and actions. A thought like “I can't handle this responsibility” might make you feel hesitant or reluctant to make a decision.
  2. Challenge the thoughts - Are they based on facts or just assumptions? For instance, consider your past successes and the positive feedback you've received. Look at the evidence that you can handle responsibility. What this step does is help you see that the self-doubt isn't fully grounded in reality, but in the negative bias the mind has (all minds have this negative bias, by the way).
  3. Reframe thoughts-  look at the thoughts in a more positive and realistic way. Instead of thinking “I don’t make decisions fast enough”, you might think: “I can make decisions, I can see the need to sometimes decide faster and I am reflecting on what is getting in my way so I can address it”. This shift in perspective turns self-doubt into a recognition of your potential for growth. You may seek support from a peer, a mentor, a coach- anybody who can support you in practicing making decisions faster, confidently.
  4. Use self-doubt as a growth tool - What this means is that when you feel self-doubt, you can consider that a sign to get support, seek feedback, invest in personal development. This transforms self-doubt from a paralysing force into a motivational one that drives continuous improvement and resilience.

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