Examining Self-Doubt

We had our first Wiser Way book club and we talked about “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It is a powerful, enjoyable, and thought-provoking book. As part of the discussion, we talked about the habit loops in our lives.

One of the participants talked about how he had a habit of self-doubt. I asked him to explain what he meant by that. He said that when he completes a piece of technical work that he confidently feels is done well, he has found that if he can have a bit of self-doubt, he is curious enough to recheck his work and has been able to find and correct errors.

This comment has stuck with me because I have defined self-doubt as bad and something to be avoided.

My definition of self-doubt is rooted in shame. It is when my inner voice starts saying, “Who do you think you are? You are not going to be able to do that. You are going to look like a fool!” For many years, it was my mental habit when I have felt challenged or exposed.

The difference in these two definitions of self-doubt is that one is grounded in humility and the other in humiliation. Humiliation leads to lashing out, blaming others or yourself, and limits your effectiveness.

One of the points in the book is that you cannot eliminate a habit, but you can replace it with another one. So, I have been working for several years to replace my habit of negative self-talk with openness and curiosity. This is similar to how my colleague described his habit of humble self-doubt. It means being open to learning and examining your assumptions.

When I am at my best, I have replaced that old script with a new one. It says something like, “I am not sure how this is going to turn out, but it will be fun to experiment. This is an opportunity to make a positive difference for others. What am I going to learn from this?”

The problem is that my old negative self-doubt habit crops up from time to time. I have found it in spades this summer around writing this blog. It has taken some time for me to recognize and replace the old mental habit. To do that, the most important driver for me is my belief that I have an obligation to help others be courageous leaders, which means I need to lead by example and be honest about how things are going. When I allow myself to be authentic and vulnerable, it not only is more effective, it is a lot more fun.

So, my challenge to you this week is to examine your mental habits related to self-doubt. Are they supporting you becoming the person you want to be?