This article first appeared on Forbes
How many times have you decided to change something about some aspect of your life and given up once the initial excitement slowly drifted away? How many times have you wanted to play bigger, pursue your dreams, have those difficult conversations, but done nothing for fear of failure or rejection?
Ah self-doubt! The perpetual companion that’s part of our human inheritance. We’re a species wired to ensure our safety, and burdened with a voice that reminds us of potential dangers. And while this voice served its purpose over millennia so oodles of us roam the planet today, it’s now limiting our growth and leading to angst and regret over chances not taken and dreams left behind.
Here’s why. We’re a divided species, also wired to want to grow and make a difference. When we take the voice of self-doubt too seriously, we let it convince us of (highly unlikely) catastrophic outcomes, we buy into its mental reminders of our inability to cope with them, and we stop ourselves from living the lives that long to live within us.
If you’ve read this far, you’re likely struggling with your own voice of self-doubt. And while some self-doubt is normal, and even beneficial in that it keeps us from taking unnecessary risks, perpetual and debilitating self-doubt points to underlying feelings of low self-worth. “I can’t do this” or “I’ve nothing of value to offer” are not one-off comments muttered out of natural fear, but the self-conscious emotion of shame and worthlessness uttered out loud. And shame leads to a set of predictable responses, depending on the situation and on where you sit on the self-worth spectrum.
You Try to Maintain Your Self-Worth
You may engage in self-defeating or avoidant behaviors, which could mean partying the night before an important presentation, or not preparing for an interview, so you have an excuse for not succeeding. It could also mean procrastinating, or passing your responsibility onto someone else so you don’t reveal your self-perceived worthlessness.
You Try and Prove Your Self-Worth
Alternately, you may put in herculean efforts, burning yourself out with extreme measures to perfect your performance or prepare an impeccable presentation. While this may make you successful, the happiness is short lived because you’ve now raised the bar without strengthening the belief that you’re capable. Enter the Impostor Syndrome.
You Try and Gain Approval
However, if you just don’t believe you’re capable at all, and have no past successes to count on, you may try and win approval despite your apparent incapabilities. You may engage in all sorts of people pleasing behaviors, or worse, you may try and mask the pain of not being enough by bingeing on food, alcohol or other self-destructive behaviors.
You Take the Boldest Step Forward
So how are we to manage self-doubt in a healthy manner so we take on the goals we believe in and show up as our boldest selves? Here are four steps that can help:
Step # 1: Know your Triggers
What are the situations that give rise to self-doubt? When do you feel the perspiration sitting atop your eyebrows or your throat dry from fear? Recognize these situations so you know when you need to call on your courage.
Step # 2: Uncover the Expectations
While some fear is normal when we’re about to take on something new, certain experiences, and especially our early experiences, can have a debilitating effect on us. Taking a little trip down memory lane can help understand the reasons these situations feel so terrifying for you.
Step # 3: Count on Compassion
Compassion calms fear—that’s just the way we’re wired. When struck with self-doubt and eager to turn back, reach out to someone you trust who believes in you. If you’re alone, bring them to mind and gently say to yourself what they would say to you in this moment.
Step # 4: Take Deliberate Action
When you’re calmer, ask yourself “This is hard, yes, and what am I going to do about it?” And the best part? The more you take action that’s aligned with your values, the more you build your self-efficacy, and the easier it gets to step boldly ahead in the future.
As you step ahead into the new year, which response will you own?