I know self-doubt, and its ensnaring, insidious contours all too well. It is what has made me start and stop many things over the years. It is what has, more often than I would like, held me back from stepping over that boundary that is always right there in front of us: the one that ferries us from viewing life as if through a glass window to being fully and wholly in it.
When fully and wholly in the thrust of life, I am free of doubt and the kind of self-reflection that cripples. I am absorbed. I am happy–in a surprising way, no matter what is going on–because I feel alive. Ego is blissfully not present, or at least not trying to run the show. It is one of the reasons why I so enjoy being with young children: They are caught up in the wonders of life, experiencing them first-hand, not filtering them through a too-often jaded, distorted, and limited adult lens.
So how does one overcome self-doubt? And is doing so always a good thing?
Here are a few of the things that I have found to help:
- Connecting with others: Stepping out and sharing an aspiration, a feeling, a crazy or not so crazy idea. How often this results in a surge of inspiration and motivation–of the drive and willingness to put the effort into bringing an idea to life–because someone listened, expressed curiosity, or said one small encouraging thing. As e. e. cummings wrote, We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that something deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit. (Thanks to Gratefulness.org for sending this to my inbox today.)
- Acting quickly, before overthinking takes over: The best things I’ve ever written, the best new relationships I’ve ever developed are the ones that I just went for, without deliberation. This is not to say that a good deal of work and effort did not precede it. Often, it has. But then there comes the time when one is just ready to shoot out that email, post that blog, pop that question. Now, right now. Without editing. It’s the ripening moment, and the important thing is not to miss it.
- Following your heart: I can’t think of anything I have regretted doing because my heart led me to do it. Times I stood up and said something that I felt frightened to say but needed to say, all the same. Times I stepped forward and found a strength I did not know I had to confront someone, or ask something of someone–because my love for another in my care compelled me to do it. I know some may have had negative judgments about me in these times. It’s not that following your heart leads to universal accolades. But what I have noticed is that whatever negative judgments others may have about those moments don’t matter very much–certainly not as much as they would when I come from a place of overly rational deliberation.
Yet is overcoming self-doubt always a good thing?
In many ways, it looks as if our cultural answer to that is absolutely. As Susan Cain wrote in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, we largely equate success today with acting like an extrovert (thanks, in no small part, to Dale Carnegie and the role of selling in American society.)
Still, there is a balance to be struck. For if there is a power and appeal in confidence, there is also a sweetness in humility. A virtue in weighing whether our actions are aligned with our intentions, and whether our intentions are good. A depth that comes from self-reflection.
Whether in writing or any other endeavor, it is often the action that arises after self-doubt that has a richness to it that would not have been there otherwise–suggesting a value in both the time of self-doubt and the act of overcoming it.