We’ve all been there. At some points in our lives, we question whether we are doing well enough or are capable of facing all the uncertainties that might come up. We feel doubtful of ourselves, when we can’t control certain situations or when things don’t go according to plan.
The late American author and poet, Maya Angelou once confessed, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” Despite her accomplishments, wisdom and outward signs of success, Angelou was filled with self-doubt.
She’s not alone. None of us are immune to self-doubt. We all have this inner critical voice that berates us and says harsh things we would never dare say to anyone else. “I am such an idiot. I am a phony. I never do anything right. I will never succeed.” The thing is, though, these thoughts will always exist. What we need to ensure is that they don’t drive us. The question, then, isn’t about whether we have self-doubt or not, but rather how much power we choose to give it. A little self-critique can be a reality check, but a constant barrage of it can be debilitating.
The inner critic can hold us hostage when we second-guess our competence, our worth, our beliefs. Author Julia Cameron, in her book The Artists’ Way, calls the things our inner critic tells us as ‘blurts’. She believes that these blurts hold the key to our freedom. In that they serve a purpose – keeping us anchored – but left unchecked, our doubt can drive us to be over cautious and keep us from taking the very actions that would help us to soar high.
The freedom, then, comes from understanding that the inner critic isn’t our authentic voice. It’s a learned pattern of self-talk and we may have internalized it since we were children. We can unlearn it.
Quieten the inner critic
The ‘blurts’ that come from the inner critic have power when we don’t pay attention to them. Ignoring them won’t quieten them; they only grow louder. Instead, if we get curious about our inner critic and acknowledge that its intention is to keep us safe, we can value its presence and yet not be held back by it.
A practice: Notice the voice of the inner critic and label it. Observe the intention with compassion and curiosity. The key is to separate your ‘I’ from the inner critic. “There goes my inner critic again. Thank you for your input but no thank you!
Activate your authentic voice
The good news is that we have access to an authentic voice that reminds us of our strengths and builds confidence. However, it is easy to be inattentive to it. We lose sight of all that we have achieved, and we let the inner critic drive us.
There is a lot of merit in listening to the authentic voice as it gives us permission to be who we are at the core, unapologetically. There is so much to be grateful for and by choosing to focus on what we have instead of what we don’t have, we can celebrate what makes us unique and remarkable.
A practice: I have a daily journaling practice for 6 mins to focus on who I am being today, what I am grateful for and how I will make today great. Doing this inculcates positive thinking and helps us lower the volume on our inner critic.
Self-trust is the belief we have in our own abilities and in our ability to succeed. This is a key component to whether we will persevere towards our goals in the face of setbacks or challenges along the way. When there is self trust, we are ’re motivated to follow through with it despite the inner chatter we experience.
A practice: Reconnect with yourself and start building trust by exploring your values, strengths and boundaries and skills to remind yourself of what’s important to you. Reconnecting with yourself can also involve listening to your own needs and practicing being kind to yourself.
Choose your Squad
Besides being too hard on yourself, another thing to conquer is criticism from others. One way to continue to live your dreams and goals, is to listen to mentors, not the critics. The people we surround ourselves can either fuel self-doubt or fuel our confidence. When we surround ourselves with people who bring out our best and embolden our thinking, we can do more, be more and give more than we ever could otherwise .
A practice: Here is a tool I find very helpful – The ‘Square Squad’ by Brené Brown. Take a a one-inch square of paper and list the people whose opinions really matter to you. These are people who will both pick you up and dust you off when you fall, and respect you enough to tell you when you are acting in a way that’s out of alignment with who you really are, and support you to put right your mistakes. People who are contributing more than they are criticising. As Brené Brown says , “If you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback”.
Self-doubt can be an uncomfortable place to be and yet it can be our comfort zone. Self doubt affects all of us and it costs! Working through our self-doubt is an ongoing process. The good news is that we can shift our relationship with self doubt.
Take action now: Choose one of the practices outlined above and commit to it daily for the next 30 days. Pay attention to anything you sense, hear or feel, and make time to journal about your experiences. Notice what comes up for you as a result of this intentional practice.
I am a courage catalyst, executive coach, facilitator, speaker and founder of Interact Consulting.