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When you should listen to your self-doubt—and when you shouldn’t

There are times when self-doubt is beneficial, but there are also many times when it can be a huge impediment. Here’s how to know the difference.

When you should listen to your self-doubt—and when you shouldn’t
[Photos: serge vorobets/Unsplash; Rawpixel]

Confidence in your abilities can get you through a rough patch and help you move ahead, but there are times when self-doubt can help you avoid making a mistake. The key is in knowing the difference between the doubts that are serving us and those that are holding us back, says Margie Warrell, author of You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself.

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“Self-doubt is our fear’s way of expressing itself,” she says. “It’s the stories we tell ourselves, such as we don’t have what it takes or we’re not good enough. It’s about lack or being not enough of something.”

When to listen to self-doubt

When we experience impostor syndrome, it’s because our brain has a negativity bias; we tend to focus on what we aren’t good at or what we haven’t yet done. When we believe our doubts, we sell ourselves short every time. But sometimes believing can serves us in a healthy way.

“It would be dangerous to never doubt ourselves,” says Warrell. Our brains are wired to always be on alert, and as we make decisions, we are assessing our environment. It’s a built-in survival instinct, says Warrell.

“For example, you may not want to quit a job because the boss drives you crazy right after you took out a big mortgage; it could be risky,” she says. “For those reasons, some of our doubts serve us by keeping us from making stupid decisions.”

To determine if the self-doubt is healthy, consider what would happen it you allowed it to sit in the driver’s seat, suggests Warrell. “Ask yourself, ‘What would the future look like if the self-doubt is in control?'” she says. “And, ‘Am I okay with that?’ If I’m okay, it may be a risk not worth taking.”

When to leverage it

If you aren’t okay with letting the self-doubt make the decision, you may need to get help figuring out how to get what you want. Self-doubt can inspire creativity, pushing you to expand your imagination and vision.

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“It forces you to answer the question, ‘How?'” says Warrell.

Instead of focusing on the negative outcome and reasons you can’t focus on “why not?”

“This question literally tricks and narrows your peripheral vision,” she says. “But if you just focus on negative outcome and the reasons you can’t, you reduce your peripheral vision and your ability to find solutions.”

When to ignore it

More often, though, taking a leap of faith and risking what might happen is the right way forward. In this case, divide your doubts and break them down. It helps to give them a name, says Warrell.

“When you feel it creeping up, tell yourself that Debbie Downer or the Critical Committee is speaking up,” she says. “When you give it a name, you can recognize what it is. It’s not truth; it’s the voice of fear.”

Doubt can cost you opportunities and change what your future looks like. “I believe doubts put us back far more than external barriers,” say Warrell. “Defying doubt takes courage and courage is action in the presence of fear.”

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Overriding the voices takes practice. When you begin to trust yourself more, you’ll doubt yourself less, says Warrell, adding that the self-doubt voices really never go away. Courage is a muscle and the more you use it, the more you build it up.

“Doubts kill more dreams than daring ever can,” says Warrell. “You will fail more from buying into doubts than defying those doubts. The more you err on the side of self-trust, the more you can understand how little reason you have to self-doubt.”

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