There’s no denying that everyone experiences self-doubt. Almost all of our worry or self-criticism often comes down to one question, says Toronto-based Therapist Jennie Ormson: “Am I enough?"
Self-doubt can especially flourish with entrepreneurs because of the uncertainty that comes with running a business. “I see self-doubt evolve from a lack of experience pushing beyond comfortable limits,” says Ormson, who mentors entrepreneurs. “It can be born of an experience that didn’t go as well as hoped, such as a speaking engagement that fumbled or a pitch that was spurned.”
YouInc asked three leaders, whose roles require them to be in the spotlight, about their biggest self-doubts and how they build themselves back up in moments of self-adversity:
Brodie Lawson, On-Air Host, Canadian Football League (CFL)
My self doubt comes from a place of not feeling good enough. I doubt my intelligence, my knowledge, and my abilities. I consider myself a ‘recovering perfectionist,’ and I think that influences a lot of these doubts. If the interview or the show is not done perfectly, then that proves I’m not good enough, and I don’t deserve my job. There are so many talented people, who would do anything to be the host of the CFL, so I feel I need to earn it daily.
I battle any lingering perfectionism; that voice saying “you’re not as smart as those football analysts, so if you don’t nail this segment perfectly you’re proving you’re dumb.” That voice creeps in frequently and annoyingly, and often before I’m about to go on camera. I quickly refocus on whatever the task is and work on getting better and feeling more confident. I don’t dwell on feeling doubtful or anxious. For example, if I’m doubtful before a show, I’ll jolt myself out of those thoughts, literally imagining a white flash or a swipe, and I re-read notes.
The process of learning what works best for you is a huge part of growing up. I have confidence in my preparation and I rely on it. Whether the moment of self-doubt comes before I’m supposed to go live on camera or it’s happening at a party where, for example, my knowledge is being challenged, I pause for a moment and scan my mind of what I do know on the topic and lean into that knowledge. That voice saying “you don’t know enough, therefore you’re not good enough” is silenced pretty quickly when I’m able to recall information or draw on relevant experiences; my self-doubt disappears and my confidence grows, which allows me to be a little more bold and brave.
Beth Comstock, Vice Chair, General Electric
I doubt myself mostly when I attempt to take on things or enter discussions where I don’t do well or feel intimidated by the subject matter. I’ve learned that what influences my beliefs are long-held narratives I built in my head. For example, telling myself I’m not good at math. I remember the moment when that started for me in 7th grade math class with a teacher who gave out more ridicule than teaching.
I rely on my curiosity to guide me by asking questions to learn, not as a way to show how smart I am. I give myself small challenges to overcome my fears, like asking a question in a meeting in the first place. Then I say to myself, “see you can do this.” I know some people bluff their capabilities as a way to build confidence – fake it until you make it kind of attitude. For me it’s much better confessing what I don’t know and being open to learn.
I also remind myself that I have a unique perspective to contribute. For example, early on in digital and technical roles, I led by asking not how does the technology work, but how will people change behaviour based on the new technology? I found I was often the only one taking a behavioural point of view. Adding value helps build confidence. Small steps forward build confidence.
Alessandra Marazzi Rodel, Founder, The Resilience Path
Self-doubt is a present companion in my life. The moment I’m about to leave my comfort zone to enter the “learning zone,” which happens constantly, “he” (the name I give for my voice) shows up. Recently I made the choice to bring my practice from families and individuals to organizations and corporations--a choice that was accompanied by a lot of internal resistance and self doubt.
What does "he" say? “Who do you think you are?” to “what makes you think you have what it takes?” to “you’re not good enough” and “you’re a fraud, and they’ll find out.” I often wonder whether I would use the same words and tone with a friend in distress or a friend setting up for a courageous challenge.
I’ve moved away from the often unproductive search for the “whys,” which I used to indulge. I turned my saboteur into a friend and an advisor. I have learned to sit mindfully with my inner voice and observe my own judgments towards myself. Self-doubts are only mental events which we choose to believe or not. I have chosen to listen to mine but not necessarily believe them. Since, I’ve noticed how the voice tends to fade and renewing messages find their way through.
I employ specific ways of reframing my thoughts. For example, if the message is “they hated my workshop,” I bring myself concrete evidence of how engaged people were or how I got good feedback at the end. I also like to use this sentence to create new thought patterns: “A more helpful way of seeing it is…,” which helps me to shift from helplessness to resourcefulness, from problems to solutions, and outcomes to process. Action is a powerful tool against self-doubt.
HOW TO OVERCOME SELF DOUBT
By preparing and practicing the mental and physical skills we need to achieve our goals, we can overcome self-doubt. Ormson suggests entrepreneurs pause in moments of self-doubt to ask, “have I prepared, researched and thought through this decision or opportunity from multiple perspectives?" She reminds us, “remember why you started and where you want to go--goals can only be achieved if you forge ahead through the fear and discomfort. Dare to fail. Dare to make mistakes.”