How To Get Over Your Self-Doubt

For some, self-doubt and confidence issues color a whole lifetime. How can you break out of that shell to reach your full potential?

There was a long time when the lack of belief in myself was a major factor in my life.

I didn’t pursue an ideal career, or start my own business, because I didn’t think I could. I didn’t stick to habits because I didn’t really believe I had the discipline. I was shy with girls, I had a hard time making new friends, I didn’t assert myself in the workplace. I didn’t push past my comfort zone.

All because I didn’t really believe I could.

While I’m not free of self-doubt these days, I can honestly say I believe in myself like never before. That doesn’t mean I think I’ll never fail or quit: I will. Probably often.

And that’s okay.

The trick is that I learned it’s completely fine to try and fail, to put yourself out there and not be perfect, to say hello to someone and have them not instantly love you, to create something and have people judge you.

Failure, not being perfect, mistakes, not having people agree with me, not being completely accepted: these are not negative things. They’re positive.

How is failure positive? It’s the only way we truly learn. For example: you can read a book on math, but until you try it and fail, you’ll never see where your lack of understanding is. The best way to learn something is to study it a bit, then try it, take practice tests, make mistakes, then learn some more.

How are mistakes positive? They’re little pieces of feedback necessary to grow and learn.

How is being rejected positive? It means I’m growing beyond the absolutely socially acceptable realm. The best people in history were not socially acceptable: truth-tellers like Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi, Proudhon and Bakunin, Martin Luther King Jr., animal rights philosopher Peter Singer, unschooling pioneer John Holt, women’s rights activists, abolitionists, and many more.

These things we’re afraid of—they’re actually desirable. We need to learn to see them that way, and embrace them, letting go of the fear.

When we can get better at this—which takes a lot of practice—we can start to remove the things that hold us back.

So practice:

  • Push past your discomfort, growing your discomfort method.
  • Put yourself out there, and be okay with not knowing if people will accept you.
  • Stick to a habit, not listening to the negative self-talk that normally holds you back.
  • Stick to it some more, and learn to trust yourself.
  • Go into situations not knowing, and learn to be okay with that.
  • Learn through repeated attempts that it’s okay to fail, that you can be okay in failure.
  • Learn through repeated experiments that you are stronger than you think, that you are more capable and more tolerant of discomfort than you think.

And in this practice, you will find yourself. And realize that you were great all along.

This article originally appeared in Zen Habits and is reprinted with permission.

[Photo: Flickr user EladeManu]

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