The Debilitating Energy of Self-Doubt.
As I was sat in the hairdressers reading an article in a magazine about the mindset of entrepreneurs, I found myself particularly drawn to one paragraph. That many “high achievers” suffer from self-doubt and have an underlying notion of unworthiness or not feeling good enough. Sometimes known as “Imposter Syndrome” – doubting your accomplishments and the fear of being exposed as a fraud.
OH WOW – Not just me then!! It appears that our entire western world is plagued by self-doubt. You could say it is almost part of our conditioning! I found this hugely comforting, I wasn’t on my own.
Before I found my mindfulness practice, I used to be dogged constantly with self-doubt & imposter syndrome. Presenting at conferences, my mind would be drowning with thoughts such as: “Its not going to be good enough”, “I don’t know what I’m talking about”. Standing up in front of hundreds of people, feeling like a lamb to the slaughter, terrified! Afterwards I would feel exhausted, exposed, vulnerable and very often would cry, mostly as a release.
As it happened, for the most part, feedback for my work was always really positive, my presentations were well received and people enjoyed what I had to offer. After all I had the qualifications, years of experience, I was repeatedly invited back to deliver more and I had a good rapport with everyone. Yet each time I would feel the same…and not just before I went on stage, we’re talking months in advance, when I’d be doing my research and prep. My mind would be racing pretty much 24/7, I’d lie awake at night thinking, thinking, thinking about it.
Self-doubt would come tumbling down on me like an avalanche, suffocating me.
So why does the energy of self-doubt have so much power to agitate our minds so much that we become totally overwhelmed by strong emotions, lost in thoughts and stuck in an exhausting, debilitating place? How can we learn to stand like a mountain and watch the avalanche unfold, without getting caught up in it?
We Believe Self-Doubt – Over and Over Again.
It is a deeply ingrained pattern or habit of mind. We may, or may not, know where it has stemmed from, but we identify with it as being part of our “self”.
We identify with it as: “It’s part of who I am”, “my self”, “my struggle”, “my self-doubt“. The voice inside our head saying “I can’t do it”, “I’m not good enough” etc is so loud, so powerful and so strong. It seems valid, it seems reasonable, it seems real…so we believe it. It becomes self-fulfilling.
Here’s the thing, by relating to doubt in this way and believing everything we think to be true, we identify with it as being true – a fact. When it is not. Here is what the Dalai Lama had to say about unworthiness or self-doubt:
“Your feeling of unworthiness is wrong, it is absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself.”
See! Our fears are unwarranted! With self-doubt the feelings evoked are real, but they are NOT TRUE.
OUR THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS – Even the ones that say they are!
How Can We Free Ourselves From Being Frozen in Self-Doubt?
Rather than viewing self-doubt as part of us, a problem that needs to be fixed, solved or got rid of, there is an alternative way of viewing this.
We can begin to see doubt for what it is – just a thought or feeling arising in the mind in this moment. We can bring a sense of curiosity and interest to what we’re thinking and feeling, rather than trying to push it all away, turn towards it with an inquiring mind, asking the question “What is this?”
We can only begin to understand how to free ourselves from self-doubt when we recognize and acknowledge it is here. If we can adopt an attitude of interest and curiosity, even friendliness, towards our thoughts and feelings, we can see them unfolding more clearly.
“Ahhh here is doubt”. When we see what is here, we can work with it in a wise way and from a place of non-identification.
Step 1. Recognize Tell Tale Signs of Self-Doubt.
Indecision, uncertainty is like being at a cross roads and not knowing which way to go, left or right and actually not going anywhere, being stuck. It is debilitating. It can stop us from moving forward in our work, leisure and relationships. Frozen in indecision. Doubt can arise in our lives in many different ways for each of us, so it is important to recognize your tell tale signs to see when it is manifesting itself.
Ironically, I have been frozen for months over writing this blog! Normally self-doubt and fear arise for me when I’m out of my comfort zone, doing things I’ve not before, pretty normal stuff really, but that doesn’t stop it from hindering me and my capacity to move forward. I have been working a lot with “fear” and “doubt” in my personal practice over the last few months for this reason. It is a very precious, short life we live, I do not want to be held back by a mere thought, or mind state! So over the last few months I’ve worked with noticing, having an awareness and recognizing when the “doubting mind” is arising. Thoughts such as: “I’ve never written a blog before”,” what do I write about”, “what if no one reads it”, “what if it’s dreadful!” A tightness would settle in my chest and spread across my forehead. A real feeling of heaviness about my body. I would mentally note “Ahh, doubt is here”. Even last night when I was in the bathroom the thought popped into my head “I cant do it”. I smiled as I dried my hands and committed to writing it today!
The doubting mind is so strong, we need to be mindful of situations that can give rise to it. Even now, with a little more wisdom under my belt and a wider perspective from my mindfulness practice, if I am doing a workshop or presenting, those same old thoughts and feelings arise, the old habits of mind come out to play! But it no longer chokes me, I am able to recognize them and be with them in a non-identifying, but nurturing, caring and helpful way. It is truly the most liberating feeling.
Recognizing your signs is so important so you can work with it, allow the ice to melt and free yourself.
Step 2: Catch It
Catching self-doubt it as soon as it arises. Being mindful as it arises for you. If we can see the thought arise we can see it as just a thought, it is empty really, it has no substance, it is just a thought or just a feeling.
Like a dark cloud in the sky, it will pass.
Self-doubt is not you, it is not me, but let’s not be casual about this, we need to be aware of it and attend to it. Being mindful of it we can wake up to it, right in the midst of its arising, catching it as it happens. When we catch it, we can investigate our thoughts and feelings in this moment. This gives us space and a freedom to choose how to respond, rather than react in habitual ways which are not healthy for our mind or body.
This alternative (mindful) way of relating to self-doubt really does have a transforming effect. I feel more open, alive, free, happy and self-confident. I no longer identify with self-doubt as part of my “self”. Yes of course there is still fear, there are still doubts, we are all human, but these unpleasant mind states, (which is all they are), are part of life. They belong in our experience just as much as pleasant ones. As I continue along this mindful journey and work to the edge of my comfort zone, for me this is the place for my mindfulness practice. IT IS OK to feel it. If we don’t cling to our doubts like they are stuck to us, if we see them clearly as empty thoughts in the mind, as passing feeling states, it allows us to not identify with them as being our self. It gives us space and freedom to move forward and live life more fully and to truly be who we are.
Why Not Join The Mindful Journey?
My next 8 week mindfulness course starts on the 18th September 2018. Please get in touch for more information via my website: www.exercisemindfulness.co.uk
Or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you the very best