The Truth About Self-Doubt

self-doubt

We always think that self-doubt is a bad thing.  It holds us back.  It prevents us from taking risks.  It silences us.  It cripples us.  We wish we were more confident.  We wish we had the courage to do more, more quickly, and more boldly. 

Sylvia Plath said ‘the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt’.

Was Sylvia Plath right?  Is self-doubt really such a bad thing?

I believe that self-doubt can be really powerful and in a positive way.  Here’s why:

1.    It motivates preparation. 

Let’s say I have a pitch to some senior directors at work.  I have an idea – I think it has potential.  It is my self-doubt that makes me spend time preparing my pitch.  What are my objectives?  What are key points?  What questions am I likely to be asked?  How would I answer? 

Blind self-confidence would send me into that meeting without having prepared, happy to wing it, happy to fly by the seat of my pants only to be shot down in flames by a director who knows more, who invariably will know more because he or she is more senior and has more experience, who has considered his or her position, who has done some research and who therefore has the ability  and knowledge to question.  Self-doubt doesn’t have to paralyse us.  Self-doubt can motivate us to perform better. 

2.   It opens the mind.

We all know people who think they know everything, who believe that their opinion is right, who believe that they are more intelligent and superior to others.  Over confidence means that we can be blind to the alternatives.  We don’t ask questions.  If we don’t ask questions, we don’t get any answers. 

The more we question, the greater our chance of finding the right answer and of seeing the alternative.  Self-doubt doesn’t have to shut us down.  Self-doubt encourages us to look for answers outside of ourselves.  Self-doubt can open our minds. 

3.   It helps us to listen.

Self-doubt means that we seek reassurance, we seek validation and we seek the opinions of others, positive or negative.  We listen to them.

I doubt myself.  I want to know what others have to say.  I want their opinion.  I want your opinion.  I have asked for it and now I am going to listen and take on board what you have said. 

Those who are entirely confident in their own opinion rarely do this.  Those who don’t have an element of self-doubt are not open to other views, other suggestions, other options.  They don’t listen and they don’t learn.

4.   It helps us to build relationships.

Self-doubt can help you to open your mind, to ask for help and to listen to others, and as a result it helps you to build relationships.  No-one wants to have a relationship, any kind of relationship, with someone who doesn’t listen.  It is demoralising, depressing, destroying.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of courage, confidence and self-awareness.  Self-doubt helps us to invite others in, to build relationships. 

I have self-doubt.  Sometimes to be honest, I have self-doubt by the bucket load.  I need a wheel-barrow to wheel my self-doubt around with me.  My self-doubt comes in waves, it can submerge me, unpredictably. 

But I know that self-doubt, if used correctly, is a good thing.  Not that crippling self-doubt that prevents us from ever taking a risk, or from ever trying something new, but that self-doubt that makes us stop to think a bit longer, to work a bit harder, to develop skills in a new area, to explore other options, to ask for advice, to seek assistance.

So, next time you feel self-doubt…

Feel it.

Recognise it.

Listen to it.

Don’t push it away. 

Don’t hide it in a corner. 

Don’t be scared of it. 

Own it.

Harness it.

Nurture it.

Exploit it.

Use it.

Build upon it. 

DON’T LET SYLVIA PLATH BE RIGHT. 

LET SELF-DOUBT BE THE FUEL TO YOUR CREATIVITY NOT THE ENEMY TO YOUR CREATIVITY. 

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14 Comments

  1. Melissa Wilfong
    September 1, 2015 / 9:24 pm

    I just want you to know how much today’s column touched me and how much I believe that you are so right. I am very down today and this lifted me up from despair and self doubt. The tears flow but I know it’s because this was well written and so touching. Thank u!

    • thesingleswan
      September 3, 2015 / 8:46 pm

      Hi Melissa, I am sorry for the delay in my reply – sometimes life just takes over. I really do hope you are feeling better today and I am glad that my post lifted you from despair and self doubt. Sometimes it is good to let the tears flow – don’t fight it. Take care of yourself. xx

  2. September 1, 2015 / 9:37 pm

    Good points. It’s always good to find balance in everything really just like in having confidence and self-doubt. Having just either would not really be as effective as having just the right amount of both. 🙂 #twinklytuesday

    • thesingleswan
      September 3, 2015 / 8:45 pm

      I totally agree. Thanks for your comment.

  3. September 2, 2015 / 12:20 am

    Very interesting. I agree that self-doubt leads you to prepare better, and that is something I found when I was working. I would work harder to ensure that I had thought of everything and that I was as prepared as possible. I think like a lot of things, it is all about balance, and a certain about of self-doubt can be helpful, as long as you don’t allow it to take over x #thetruthabout
    Sara | mumturnedmom recently posted…Summer: Bucket List UpdateMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 3, 2015 / 8:44 pm

      Hi Sara,

      You are totally right. It is all about balance and using self doubt to your advantage. Thanks for your comment #thetruthabout.

    • thesingleswan
      September 3, 2015 / 8:43 pm

      My pleasure. THank you for hosting #ShowcaseTuesday.

  4. September 3, 2015 / 11:01 am

    This is very clever. I especially love your second point. I’m naturally questioning and I sometimes find advice about leading a positive life is just – NO NEGATIVE THOUGHTS EVER. JUST SHUT THAT SHIZ DOWN. It’s not really natural and really it just felt like hiding the truth in a broom cupboard in my mind. I’m ready to own it. Thanks for sharing #fromtheheart
    Charlene recently posted…All the jobs I’ve ever done (sort of) – #blogajob challengeMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 3, 2015 / 8:41 pm

      Hi Charlene,

      Thanks for your comment. There is a balance to be struck I think. Too much self-doubt can be damaging but seriously a bit of self-doubt and self-awareness can only be a good thing. Use it and own it. #fromtheheart

  5. September 7, 2015 / 2:49 pm

    That is a very good point! I have been having some self-doubt lately and it does motivate me to figure myself out. I also kind of let it wash over me from time to time, to feel it and let it take hold because I know when I come out of it, I will be more confident and know what I have to do. It does open the mind and allow me to self-reflect. Introspection has become a great tool for me. Thanks for sharing this!
    Michelle recently posted…To be a Marine, or Not to Be.My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      September 7, 2015 / 10:15 pm

      Hi Michelle,

      Everyone tells us and everything tries to teach us that we should push self-doubt to the back of our minds, that we should be more confident, but actually I honestly believe it is a good thing. Self-doubt makes us humble, rounded and balanced individuals. The trick is to control it. Everything in small doses and used in the right way. Thanks for commenting again. x

  6. November 9, 2015 / 12:02 am

    I absolutely agree with this. I think people are too afraid of self-doubt, or maybe conflate it with larger anxiety issues. Doubting leads to questioning and clarification. It leads to improvement. What a terrific perspective and post.
    Kyles @ Pickles and Pords recently posted…Unconditional loveMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      November 13, 2015 / 1:36 pm

      Thanks and great to see you back here. x

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