We get lots of messages that tell us to jump in with both feet, take a leap of faith, and “just do it.” But is this wise? Having doubts or sheer uncertainty can be paralyzing, and while some people might recommend that you do it anyway, doubt is a voice that deserves attention, says Rachel Jimenez, founder of the business strategy firm Talk Raw.
“Doubt, just like fear, is meant to protect us from getting hurt,” she says. “You don’t want your life led by doubt and fear, but you should listen to it, and consider if it’s accurate, or if it doesn’t have enough information to make the right decision.”
Doubt can actually be a powerful force if you embrace it instead of resist it. Here are four things doubt can help you do to get ahead in business:
Doubt makes you aware of your weaknesses so you can prepare to counteract them. “If your doubt is telling you that you don’t know enough about something you want to get into, consider if that is fact or an insecurity,” says Jimenez. “If it’s true that you don’t have experience or you aren’t educated in that field, don’t give up, just find help, and do something to get more knowledge and experience.”
Doubtfulness is like “defensive pessimism,” a strategy used by anxious people to help them manage their anxiety so they can work productively, says Sherry Moss, professor of organizational studies at Wake Forest University School of Business in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“Defensive pessimists lower their expectations to help prepare themselves for the worst,” she says. “By thinking through all the bad things that might happen and all of the things that could go wrong, they are prepared for alternative paths to their success.”
Doubt is a signal from your intuition that you may not be making the best decision, says Lynn Robinson, author of Put Your Intuition to Work: How to Supercharge Your Inner Wisdom to Think Fast and Make Great Decisions.
If doubt creeps in after you’ve done your due diligence and you still don’t know what decision to make, it’s time to rely on intuitive input, she says. Ask yourself, “What am I ready to act on right now?”
“Many people report that as they make an intuitive choice toward what proves to be a correct decision, events begin flowing more easily and effortlessly,” says Robinson. “Doors to opportunity open and synchronicity and coincidence begin to occur.”
Also, determine which of your choices has the most vitality. “Think of the options you have before you; which one are you drawn to?” she asks. “Kinesthetic or physical sensations are one of the ways that intuition communicates.”
Then take action. “Like any skill, the more you practice, the better you’ll get,” says Robinson. “Make the time to routinely check in with your intuition, and you will be rewarded with faster, stronger and more accurate insight.”
Certainty turns attitudes into actions, but doubt reduces the chance of people taking action, says Susan Millsap, professor of communication at Otterbein University. If you believe colleagues are about to make a mistake that could hurt the company, use doubt to slow down the process.
“You don’t have to convince them they are wrong, just get them to question their certainty,” she says. “How much doubt will depend on the strength of their certainty.”