How to Conquer Self-Doubt and Do All the Things

How to Conquer Self-Doubt and Do All the Things

Written by Kristin Wong

Topics: Confidence

It’s Newbie Month here on Puttylike! During the month of April, we’re publishing articles about the thrills and challenges of exploring new things. (YAY, EXPLORING NEW THINGS! #Multipotentialite) 

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Last year, I met a woman who told me she wanted to be a writer. “That sounds so stupid to say out loud,” she scoffed. “Writer.”

I know this feeling. I felt it when I said I wanted to make movies. Or learn photography. When I told a coworker that I was moving to Los Angeles to do something more creative, and he laughed and said I was making a big mistake, I felt it then, too. I felt ashamed and audacious for having ambitions. You want to be a writer? Why don’t you visit Mars or make a kajillion dollars while you’re at it?

Wild ambitions are praised when you’re a kid. As an adult, you’re instead encouraged to doubt yourself constantly. You’re primed to believe you’re undeserving of something as simple as writing. Who do you think you are, snowflake? How dare you have a dream!

But even worse, the self-doubt becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when you sit down, stare at a blank page, and think, “I can’t do this. This isn’t meant for me.”

It’s a circumstance multipods might experience more often, thanks to our desire to do so many different things. We want to be writers, designers, photographers, playwrights, voiceover artists… the list goes on. In some ways, we’re perpetual novices, always learning and trying something new. And because of this, we’re constantly confronting self-doubt. The good news is, we can also become experts at dealing with it. Below are a few of my favorite remedies for managing my own self-doubt.

Get to know your inner critic

Like Emilie mentioned recently, it can be helpful to get to know your inner critic better. Yes, your inner critic. You know who I’m talking about. That little voice in your head who says stuff like:

  • Who do you think you are?
  • You want to be a writer? Yeah, okay, Hemingway.
  • You literally have zero experience. What do you think you’re doing?
  • Everyone is better than you. The world doesn’t need you.
  • You’re just gonna give up later, so why bother?

It can be helpful to get to know this voice better so you can figure out how to work with it. (And here are some exercises for doing so!) What does it look like? What is it telling you? Your inner critic might even be a friend or a loved one who is trying to help you.

It’s true—your inner critic may be harsh, but it’s a survival mechanism. It’s designed to keep you safe. If you don’t try, after all, you won’t experience the pain of failure. Most of us think of our inner critic as the enemy, so we get angry and fight it. For me, it’s helped to acknowledge my inner critic, listen to him, then calmly explain that I don’t need protection. I’m okay with failure, because it’s part of the process. As researcher Kristin Neff once told me, “Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up. We just need to learn to make friends with our inner critic.”

Focus on compassion, not confidence

Imposter syndrome happens when you doubt your abilities despite your qualifications. But doubt isn’t always a bad thing—it can be useful to acknowledge that you might not have all the answers. In other words, imposter syndrome can be good for you. There’s value in doubting yourself a little, you just don’t want that doubt to keep you from moving forward. For all the advice to “fake it until we make it” and force ourselves to be confident, there’s little attention on the benefits of admitting that you have room to grow. The key is to embrace your self-doubt without letting it get in your way of trying something new.

In that same interview with Dr. Neff, she promotes self-compassion as a beneficial middle ground between being too hard on yourself and being overconfident. She defined it as “treating yourself with the same kindness, care and concern you show a loved one.” Unlike confidence, self-compassion allows you to acknowledge your limitations, which makes it easier to start writing that novel, or explore your interest in interior design. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect—what a relief!

Know when to stop learning and start doing

There’s nothing wrong with learning to swim before you jump in the pool. In fact, I highly recommend it. At some point, however, learning becomes a convenient excuse for not taking action:

Oh, I would love to start a podcast but before I start recording I need to take five courses on how to do this. Yeah, I’m going to learn photography but first I need to spend a month researching cameras and saving up for the best one.

Perfectionists know what I’m talking about. Before we start pursuing something, we must learn how it works inside and out. And while it’s great to learn—at some point, learning ceases to be learning. It becomes gathering information as a way to procrastinate taking action.

Our self-doubt keeps us from doing the things we love because we feel like we must be perfect to even try. But here’s a big secret: You’ll never be perfect. You’ll probably always doubt yourself. (After ten years of writing professionally, I still feel very stupid when I say, “I’m a writer.”)

You won’t be perfect, but you will get better. Ironically, though, getting better requires doing something. Otherwise, there’s nothing to get better at. Don’t take years to get started because your self-doubt has convinced you there will be a perfect time, or a perfect amount of information to gather, for you to engage your interests. That will never happen, and you’ll spend years saying, “Yeah, I’m planning to write a book soon.” At some point, planning to write a book means actively sabotaging your ability to actually write one.

Look for self-doubt in disguise

Self-doubt is sneaky this way. It doesn’t always look the way we think it does. It disguises itself as perfectionism or protection. As perpetual novices, we find ways to keep ourselves in that role, because that role feels familiar and good. Of course, we pay a price for comfort: never doing the things we want to do. Thanks, self-doubt.

The good news is: It’s never too late to get started, it’s never too late to be new at something, and it’s never too late to put your self-doubt in its place. Have a conversation with your inner critic, give yourself permission to get started, and—dare I even suggest—show yourself a little compassion.

Your Turn

How has self-doubt gotten in your way? How do you conquer it to thrive as a multipotentialite? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Are you itching to explore a certain New Thing?

Got a new project, business idea, career/life direction, or even just an activity or hobby you’re dying to try out? This May, we’re running a month-long challenge in the Puttytribe called Yes You May.

Yes You May is a month to let yourself fail, try new things, be curious and embrace all of YOU! There will be weekly video check-in huddles with your fellow multipotentialites, on-going support in the forum, and even a show and tell at the end of the month. You don’t want to miss this!

To take part in Yes You May, sign up for the Puttytribe waitlist, and join us when we open the doors on April 30 (or if you’re already a Puttytribe member, just show up!):

neil_2017_2Kristin Wong has written for the New York Times, The Cut, NBC News, and Glamour magazine. She’s the author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford. Kristin is a writer, but she’s also an amateur photographer, speaker, podcaster, and recovering workaholic. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @thewildwong.

17 Comments

  1. K says:

    What about the obstacle of not the writing of the book, but the publishing of it, which depends on the opinions of other people, over which you have no control?

    (And yes, this applies to both traditional and self- publishing; the only difference is whether you’re selling the book to an agent or directly to the consumer.)

    • Kaci says:

      You just said it, K – you have no control over other people. Put your work out there and be proud, even if you don’t get the results you want. Focus on the joy of creating and let go of what you think the outcome should be.

      • K says:

        I don’t write for “the joy of creating,” I write to share stories with the people who need to hear them; so their purpose is not fulfilled until they reach the audience that needs them. Telling a story requires a listener.

        • Kristin says:

          If you’re truly only writing to provide people with something they want and not because you enjoy writing on that subject, and the opinion of other people is that they don’t want the thing you’re writing about, then why write it? That doesn’t quite sound like self-doubt to me. That sounds more like business strategy – figuring out whether or not you’re filling a need.

          On the other hand, if you believe there is definitely an audience who needs the thing you’re writing about, but your self-doubt is coming from a publisher not agreeing with that, then I guess your goal is to find those people, find your tribe, to prove there is indeed an audience out there. But I’d say look at it objectively, in that case. Be open to the idea that you may need to tweak your angle or story to truly serve your audience. Find people to validate and support your idea.

          • K says:

            It’s the latter.

            Anyway, I guess I wasn’t clear enough that I was looking for advice in the vein of this article – how to overcome the mental barriers, not the practical ones. The mental barrier of “no one is going to publish this anyway, so there’s no point in writing it” is what stops me from writing.

        • Neil Hughes says:

          Hope you don’t mind me butting in, K and Kaci, but it seems you have two options: become god and force everybody to listen to whatever stories you want to tell, or accept that all you can do is put a story out there and then try to help it find its audience. Or option three: dislike the second option so much you don’t bother writing it in the first place. All are valid options, but some are easier than others, and only one option ends up with anybody at all hearing your stories. Good luck, and I hope you share your stories with us someday!

  2. Mary.gabriola says:

    It’s certainly true you don’t have complete control, but you have some. For instance, making sure you are following the publisher’s submission guidelines and choosing an appropriate publisher for the work… marketing with energy and creativity… all those salesy activities give you a better chance of selling to either a reader or a publisher, so they do give you a bit of control.

  3. michael says:

    This article sums up my life to this point. I usually take months, years or decades to get my ducks lined up enough to start. I have created two websites this year since reading “How to be everything”. I haven’t finished either of them as I keep moving onto something else more urgent. It is not a perfect existence by any stretch but it feels better having done what I felt I needed to at the time. http://www.fridayclimatework.org

  4. Kimberly says:

    This is very timely. My finger has been hovering over the payment button on a new website for the past week and the little voice in my head keeps telling me that I’m just going to give up like always and that I don’t have any wisdom to impart anyway.

    But I have done the prep work, and I do get asked for advice, so I just need to do it.

    • Nina says:

      Oh my, me too! But I have to persuade people to get it for me/invest in myself, since I personally can’t afford it, even though I am supposed to be paid off with the knowledge I acquired there very soon, and there is a money-back guarantee. It’s just that someone dear to me, who paid for so many things I wanted to try out, but never did the way I wanted, due to the things mentioned in the article, is pissed off at me for giving me “money for nothing, that I’ll just waste again”. But, that’s the one option, I can generate other ideas. I have already a plan B on hand that I started developing, in case that particular venture doesn’t go out as planned.

    • Kristin says:

      I know the feeling of doubting your own qualifications too well. It’s helped me to remember that I won’t be perfect now, but I will learn so much more by taking action!

  5. Nina says:

    Thanks for this article, it helped me so much. I have even had Neff’s Mindful Self Compassion Workbook sitting on my ottoman beside the bed, underneath the clutter, almost intact, because of my self-doubt, for the months. My closest family and everyone else hates that I’m constantly in everything but action, and creation. I also have one test I could take to get clear on my last thing. These things are now my must-do, and I’m going to go make sure I start practicing them all before the resistance comes back.

  6. Martin De Beer says:

    Thank you so much for an awesome group and website. I am 52 and apparently quite a bit older than most of you which is a blessing in a way. You see I have had and still have doubts sometimes but I have so many past successes to draw on which helps dispel self doubt. Studying law back in the mid eighties my car’s engine gave in. Not having money for a repair shop I bought a second hand engine removed the old and put in the new myself and it actually worked. So I don’t think I can fix a car I know I can because I have shown I can. I joined the police and studied further part time due to financial constraints. Apart from being a very capable detective, analyst and interrogator I was the primary hostage negotiator for the Northern Cape (South Africa) and the preferred suicide negotiator in my district. On completing my degree I left the police and as an attorney I excelled. I didn’t take to the double sided thing too well, a “dog” by day and a “teddy bear” by night. I needed a Pentium 4 server for my practice back un 2000/2001 so I bought magazines (internet was rather “thin” then) researched and ordered parts from all over the country and built my own server even setting up the network and cabling between offices and machines all by myself. I eventually kicked legal practice, managed a retail hardware store for about 2 years and then did a stint as a sales rep/manager which I am still playing at 6 years later. Having provided my current company with double to three times targeted inventory growth every month, empowering them to buy an extra crane truck and a huge warehouse and property they were renting after my being there for just 8 months as sales and marketing manager, I’ld say I have shown I am definitely quite good at sales and marketing too? So yes, today I was “empty” so I let myself be. But my ultimate solace is in the fact that I don’t have unrealized multipotential but proven multicapabilities (I weld and do carpentry too and am currently installing my own solar power system and experimenting with hypar (latex concrete roofing))! So, my advice is to choose some diverse and sort of easy stuff to do, maybe together – sometimes I had brickwork, steel and wood projects all running at once and could do whatever I felt like on a particular day or just chill and do nothing. But push to actually finish them. “The I made that” feeling is awesome and helps to shut that inner critic up very fast. My hypar project is on hold because it was not working (mix formula not right, maybe ambient temperature too hot and base sheeting definitely not perfect) but I am going to relaunch because you know what? From experience I know I can do anything I set my mind to, except give birth and breastfeed (I am a man) and subsequently I keep slogging until I hit the home run, but with diversions here and there for when the slogging gets really tiresome. All the best to all of you, may you realise all of your potential (if that is at all possible in a single life time?)!

  7. Kristin says:

    Wow, you’ve had quite the career!
    “But my ultimate solace is in the fact that I don’t have unrealized multipotential but proven multicapabilities.” I love this because I feel like a lot of multipods don’t give themselves enough credit for their accomplishments. Thank you for reading and thanks for sharing your story!

  8. Karen Joslin says:

    I’ve definitely dealt with plenty of self-doubt over the years, part of it stemming from my parents’ tendency to jump to the worst possible outcome/problems first. So my childhood programming was steeped in negativity, and it’s been challenging to change my basic mindset. The two main things I’ve done to help conquer self-doubt have been to tell my parents that I don’t want to hear their negativity about anything I’m doing because I have enough of my own to deal with (had to say it twice, but it worked); and I try to meditate every morning. I have a set of affirmations that I repeat as a silent mantra to myself while I’m meditating, one of them being “I release perfection.” I find that meditating with my mantras really helps get me in a good head space. I get a lot more done and I feel more confident about what I’m doing.

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