Why Self-Doubt is a Mark of Self-Confidence
If self-doubt were a person, it could really use some help with its PR.
William Shakespeare compared the act of self-doubt to treason: “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
Sylvia Plath said it was “the worst enemy to creativity.”
Even medical experts such as this cardiologist named it an “unhealthy food for the soul [that] drags down your spirit, crushes your ambitions, and prevents you from achieving all that you can.”
The cardiologist further cited problems with anxiety and depression, and serious physical ailments such as weight gain, high blood pressure and chronic fatigue.
Hardly any one of us would disagree about the harm that chronic self-doubts have on our success. If you second-guessed every decision you’ve ever made, which is the same as not trusting your own judgment, you paralyzed yourself from taking any meaningful action. Our judgment helps us navigate the slippery slopes and gray areas in life. (To cultivate judgment, you might enjoy this post.)
Self-doubt comes from a place of low self-esteem where nothing is ever certain. In an environment of uncertainty, we fall back into our comfort zone where, as Shakespeare pointed out, we are afraid to try anything new.
Self-Doubt as Indicator of Healthy Self-Confidence Backed by Science
There are now schools of thought that contend a healthy dose of self-doubt has a place in our lives. A team of psychologists found that “doubting your doubt” actually reduces uncertainty and leads to greater confidence.
Their research paper, titled, “Doubting One's Doubt: A Formula for Conﬁdence?” was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. It seems like an odd paradox but from this study, if you play Doubting Thomas to your self-doubt, it can lead you to gain, not lose, your confidence.
It makes sense. Only an individual with a healthy amount of self-esteem could be comfortable in allowing herself and others free reign in questioning her decisions and play devil’s advocate with her ideas. That type of transparency is a mark of confidence.
Self-Doubt Builds Mental Toughness
In Men’s Health, Master Chief Will Guild, a veteran trainer for the Navy SEALs, sees nothing wrong with second-guessing yourself. In fact, it is one of six key components of building mental toughness.
"We all have monkey brains. We think terrible things sometimes. Quitting, [and] abandoning something important to us. But don't let that disturb you too much, because it happens to everyone. Really, who you are is your second or even third thought."
Guild’s philosophy may appear counterintuitive yet it makes perfect sense. We often produce our initial idea or decision under less than optimal conditions (hunger, stress, time constraints). If given the opportunity to run through the ideas and choices again, we should do so with more rigorous examination.
Beyond sports and the military, individuals seeking spiritual awakening often perceive mental toughness unfavorably. Perhaps it is thought of as a hardening of oneself. This thinking is a disservice to their self-discovery.
Mental toughness is like a beautifully formed SWOT analysis of your mental capacity. What are its strengths and weaknesses, and what are the opportunities and threats to these strengths and weaknesses? Once you formed a clear picture, you can next begin the process of anticipating and preparing for each situation at hand.
Self-Doubt Allows You to Keep it Real
Self-Doubters are people who like to keep it real. Steven Pressfield, wrote in the War of Art that “the counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
Self-doubt keeps our egos in check. Pressfield sees it as a useful tool, much like fear.
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”