Last week one of my athletes asked me about self-doubt.
What is doubt? Doubt is uncertainty of the truth of something, being unsure. In terms of our self, it is lack of confidence or security in ourselves and our judgments. This doubt is often based in our low self-confidence, fear, cautiousness and mistrust. Because of that, doubt can hold us back from making choices or taking risks that will propel us to that next level. Beyond questioning our self, doubt comes in the form of incessant chatter that distracts us from following our instincts or taking a leap of faith. At its best, doubt makes us cautious and careful in our decision-making. At its worst, it keeps us from making a decision at all and instead has us spinning in a circle of uncertainty, waffling and inaction.
The more you find yourself in challenging situations, the more possibility there is to doubt yourself. It’s what you do in those moments of what iffing yourself that separates those that overcome and those to succumb to doubt. If you answer the what if with “why bother”, you have succumbed. If you answer the what if with “why not” or “let’s see”, you prevail.
Anyone who has taken great risk has had a doubt about themselves or their abilities. But at a certain point, the attractiveness of the “what if”, the possibility of bettering myself has overridden those doubts and led them to act. Through belief comes action, through doubt comes stagnation. Our role in life is to learn and grow. You must free yourself from doubt in order to make that happen. But how?
The first step in letting doubt go is to let go of fear. Fear comes in many forms; it could be fear of failure, fear of change, fear of discomfort, fear of what others think. Fear prevents us from going where we want to go. When we become fearless we allow ourselves to take on opportunities or put ourselves into situations that involve risk. When there is risk, we open ourselves up to making mistakes. When you give yourself permission to make a mistake, you allow yourself to learn and grow.
The great basketball legend Michael Jordan admits to missing 9,000 shots, losing over 300 games and 26 times being trusted to take the game winning shot only to fail. He never doubted his ability to take those shots and that is why he is an overall success. He also likely learned how to better himself from each failure. Through failure you find a valuable lesson – what worked, what didn’t work and if you integrate those lessons into your next experience you have learned. The opposite of fear is freedom. When you let go of fear, you do not allow doubt to enter and you become free to live, make mistakes and learn.
Doubts are negatives thoughts or counterpoints that clutter up our head with chatter throughout the day. The average person thinks 12,000 thoughts per day. What is the theme of your thoughts? Listen for a day. Are you positive or negative? Do you see problems or possibilities? When your head is filled with doubts, your thoughts become crowded with darkness, fear and insecurity. You think only in terms of “I can’t” and never see how you can. You begin to wonder if anything is worth trying at all. You back yourself into a corner and there is no way out. When you learn to speak only in positives you not only erase doubt but you change the color of your world. You open yourself up to taking on a new situation and then have the confidence to take a chance. From confidence comes action. When doubts clutter your thoughts, you are backed into a corner of inaction.
Practice positive thoughts throughout the day. This will take vigilance and constantly rephrasing the negative. If you find yourself thinking or saying something negative, have a process in place to redirect this thought or reframe it. Consider starting each week with a positive quote or phrase you post on your mirror, read it often. Spend a few weeks doing this and you will find you have more positivity at your reach.
To overcome doubt it also helps to build a history of success. Take small risks, set small goals to create a success. To do this you must set the bar so low at first that you can’t help but get over it. Be realistic in your expectations. In sport it’s easy to think that applying more work or smarts to something will lead to success. Often this is not the case. Success in sport is a complex interaction of skill, genetics, coaching, training and recovery. Setting unrealistic expectations leads to failure which then feeds the doubt. Start with small tasks or steps that might seem easy at first. Succeed there then take a bigger step. If your goal is to one day win your age group at a large-scale event, start small and give yourself a chance to succeed. Learn to master the process in a less competitive venue. Every lesson you learn will then build bigger confidence and skill which will help you to one day progress to the large scale victory.
Another way to overcome doubt is to surround yourself with a support system that builds up your confidence. Your friends, your training partners, your relatives – everyone you interact with throughout the week will either add to your confidence or add to your doubt. Be careful with whom you choose to train with or how often. Train only with those who understand how to balance competition with friendship – and know that not many friendships are solid or mature enough to handle this. If a partner/friend feeds off of your failure or make excuses about why you had a better day than them, they become an energy drain and create doubt. A little friendly competition is good but the overall feeling should be positive and understanding.
Have faith in yourself. Faith is a confident belief or trust in yourself. When you have faith, you cannot have doubt. The confident person does not have doubts because they see themselves as capable of handling whatever is thrown their way. How do you build confidence? Follow the suggestions above and give yourself time. As you learn to phase out doubts and replace them with powerful, positive and confident thoughts you need to allow yourself to fall back every once in awhile. But when you do, assess why and then find a way to get around it. Changing a habit takes time and patience. Trust that it will be worth the time and do the work to make the change. Put yourself into smaller situations that test your doubts and soon you will start chaining together success stories that will be stronger than your doubts. That builds confidence. And with confidence is the opposite of doubt.