How to Defeat Self Doubt [in 5 Steps]
Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt ~ William Shakespeare (tweet this)
If you’re just starting out on the road to leaving work behind then one of the biggest issues you’re likely to face in the coming weeks and months is doubt. Doubt that your plans will succeed. Doubt that you have what it takes. Doubt that you’re capable of really quitting your job and building a successful business.
I know this because I had that same self doubt when I started out. It is a common theme in many of my early posts here on LWB such as How to Combat a Loss of Enthusiasm, The Importance of Mindset, and What Cricket Can Teach You About Blogging.
When I wrote those posts back in mid-2011 I had achieved nothing in the world of making money online. I can tell a different story today, but only because I fought and defeated the doubts I had in myself. And that’s what I want to help you with in this post.
Step 1: Recognize and Understand Your Doubt
Self doubt is not always a bad thing. I doubt my ability to survive jumping off the roof of a ten storey building, so I don’t do it. That’s a sensible doubt. It is the doubts that prevent us from fulfilling our unrealized potential that do the damage.
Therefore, before you can defeat destructive self doubt you must see it for what it is. That may sound obvious, but self doubt for many of us is as natural as breathing and might just as easily go unnoticed.
So ask yourself: what is it that you doubt? Do you doubt your ability to succeed in building a successful online business? If so, what is at the root of your doubt? Do you feel that you do not have necessary ability, experience, willpower, money, time, energy?
Write down what you believe is stopping you from the success you crave.
Step 2: Accept the Inevitability of Success
There are over 315 million people living in the United States and over seven billion people in the world. That means a many great things, but for our purposes I want to focus on just one simple fact: there is almost nothing you can achieve that someone hasn’t already achieved under greater hardship and with fewer resources.
Do you know what that means? I means that if you persist for long enough, you will meet your goals (assuming they are not wildly unreasonable). You do not exist under some unique set of circumstances that prevent you from attaining the level of success you desire. You launching a modestly successful online business is a drop of water in the ocean of human achievement.
Some things are impossible, or so unlikely as to be not worth pursuing. I’ll probably never walk on Mars or be a professional soccer player. I’ll never live in Buckingham Palace. But in saying what you think you could definitely never do, you suddenly realize what you might be able to do if you put your mind to it.
My favorite excuse that I often hear people use when telling me how they absolutely cannot achieve something is that they don’t have the time. Sorry guys — I’m calling bullshit on that one. How many waking hours do you spend doing things you need to do, as opposed to things you like to do? With the greatest respect to those who do have a lot on their plate, for every single mother of one complaining that she doesn’t have enough time to launch a business on the side, there’s a single mother of three who made the time.
For most of us, success is a journey with different paths but no dead ends — if you persist for long enough you’ll eventually reach your destination. The only decision you need to make is whether to take the journey or not.
Step 3: Take Baby Steps
In a post here on LWB titled Why You Shouldn’t Chase Your Dreams, I wrote the following:
…if you’re going to shoot for the stars, you best learn how to build a spaceship first. You’re going to need a space program for that too. What I’m saying is this – don’t chase your dreams; build towards them.
In another post titled How to Succeed I wrote this:
Visualise your success as a series of cracks in the ground. If they are just small cracks, then you can step over them and in time you will reach your target. However, if those cracks grow into chasms, you can no longer move forwards. One of the keys to success is to eradicate the impassable chasms, so you can step over the cracks with relative ease.
I’m sure you’re seeing the common theme here: nothing is more conducive to self doubt than trying to do too much too quickly. It is so easy to attempt the impossible and then tell yourself you’re capable of nothing when you fail. Yet that mindset is utterly absurd: failing in an attempt to do the impossible teaches you nothing about your capabilities.
With that in mind, don’t be afraid to take baby steps towards success. This thinking should be applied at all levels of your business. For instance, I initially had dreams of passive income success but eventually fell back onto freelancing, which has ended up being an extremely lucrative endeavour for me. The less likely path to success ended up being the best one. Similarly, don’t try to write an eBook by literally sitting down and attempting to write it. Start by producing an outline, then work on it chapter by chapter, in manageable chunks.
Turn those chasms into cracks.
Step 4: Don’t Feed Your Doubt
I am a huge fan of goal setting — I don’t know where I would be without my goals. I have covered goal setting here on LWB in posts such as How to Set Goals and Motivate Yourself to Actually Achieve Them and The Benefits of Goal Setting (Why I Disagree with Leo Babauta). So of course I am going to tell you to set goals. However, I urge you to do so with the following in mind:
- Prepare to adjust your goals based upon changing circumstances
- Never use your goals as an excuse to fail
One of my favorite online business and entrepreneurship books of all time is Rework, and one of my favorite chapters in that book is Planning is Guessing. Here’s an excerpt from that chapter:
Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy, etc. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.
If you replaced “business planning” with “goal setting” in the above paragraph, you wouldn’t be too far from the truth. And yet goal setting is something that I urge you do. Let me explain.
The first personal goal I ever published on this blog was to quit my job by 23rd May 2012. At the time of writing that goal (July 4th 2011) it seemed like a complete fantasy. In a way it was — I had no clear means of achieving that goal. But I did in fact beat that goal by some distance — I quit my job effective 31st December 2011. Not only that, but I did it in an entirely different way to how I initially managed.
My goals were helpful in giving me direction, but I did not like them direct me mindlessly. Goals should be adaptable to the changing environment in which you work. As it says in Rework:
…you have to be able to improvise…Sometimes you need to say, “We’re going in a new direction because that’s what makes sense today.
To bring us back to the topic of this post, I mean to say that goals should fuel your drive and determination, not your doubt. Don’t let a failure to reach a goal affect your ego. Don’t respond to a failure to reach a goal with, “Well I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway.”
Goals are not your enemy — they are temporary milestones that should be adjusted to suit your own internal progress as well as external influences. Treat them accordingly.
Step 5: Record Positives and Achievements
I am an avid amateur cricket player and I recently started having lessons with a professional coach. In a recent session I was recounting how fed up I was with my performance in a recent game and he gave me some simple yet effective advice: no matter how bad a situation, try to think of three positives that came out of it. Although it was a struggle, I did manage it. And then I felt a lot better.
There is always a silver lining to every cloud, and reminding yourself of your positive achievements in response to doubt and/or failure is a powerful weapon that you should utilize generously.
If you take the time to list your positive achievements you may surprise yourself. Consider for example the fact that I made no money for about the first six months of my efforts to launch a successful online business. In fact, I lost nearly $1,000. And yet I knew that I had learned a great deal in that time, and that if I persevered, my efforts would eventually pay off.
If on the other hand I had just reflected upon six months of failure, I may well have given up. All the potential was there; I just needed to employ the kind of patience that would allow me to succeed in time.
Finally, one of my favorite things to do is turn a negative into a positive. Take for instance the very first website I built. I spent hours and hours on it only to see it crushed by Google after four months of hard work. Although that first project was a complete failure, it taught me an enormous amount about various aspects of blogging and SEO. I used that newly-found knowledge in future projects to much better effect — the things I learned in building that first site set the foundation for what I do now.
Be openminded and optimistic about what you do, and see the benefits of both your successes and your failures. Don’t let self doubt creep in — there is no place for it.
Over to You
The worst thing anyone can do is give up. If you’re doing something — anything — then you have a chance of success (no matter how small). If you’re doing nothing then you have a zero chance of succeeding. Remember that and never strop trying!
If you are struggling with self doubt then I hope the above has helped you. If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to leave them below. I hate to think of anyone giving up on their dream to quit their job and build a successful online business and I would love to help you succeed. Good luck!