This is a guest post by Alexandra Levit, career advice columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
Self doubt has been something I’ve struggled with all my life, from debating whether I could get into a top tier university to believing I could succeed as a writer. It’s a very human emotion, and it’s made worse for some people because of life experiences or temperament. Self doubt also makes you feel alone. Sometimes you think you’re the only person in the universe who suffers from a crisis of confidence, and you wish that you could be more like your successful, self-assured neighbor. Well, I guarantee that your neighbor doubts himself every now and then too.
You won’t ever be able to rid yourself of doubt entirely – believe me, I’ve tried. But I hope that these suggestions will lessen your pain when dark thoughts are all around you.
Go back in time: The first step to overcoming self doubt is to recognize that it’s there in the first place. Think about the circumstances that are leading you to feel insecure, and see if you notice any patterns. Are there particular situations (for example, dealing with a new boss, speaking in public) that prompt you to feel this way? Make a note of times in the past when you doubted yourself but ended up coming through with flying colors. Knowledge and recognition of your past successes will bolster your courage regarding what you can achieve in the future.
Defeat the doubtful thoughts: In one column, write a doubtful thought, and in the opposite column, write facts that dispute that doubtful thought. For instance, suppose you are afraid to invite a new colleague to lunch because you’re afraid you won’t have anything to talk about and she won’t like me. Statements that refute that thought might be: “We can spend at least an hour talking about the office culture here and what she did before this” and “She will like me because I’ve made a sincere overture to get to know her better.”
Keep an event journal: If you are a person who experiences a lot of self doubt, then it’s time for a test. In the course of a single day, write down all of the things – simple and complex – that you accomplished without a hitch. These can be things like “ran productive staff meeting” or “had great talk with Brandon over coffee.” Then, write down the things that didn’t go so well. You will inevitably notice that the list of things that went well far outweighs the list of things that didn’t, and this will hopefully allow you to see your doubt in a different light.
Call on your cheerleaders: Often, our loved ones can see our lives much more objectively than we can. Being a natural introvert, I sometimes doubt my interpersonal skills, and when someone doesn’t respond to me in the way that I expect, I occasionally get paranoid. It always helps to call one of my best friends so that she can assure me that I do in fact have a lot of wonderful relationships in my life.
Celebrate your successes: When a situation in which you doubted yourself turns out better than you expected, don’t just nod and smile and move immediately on to the next thing. Take a moment and reward yourself for a positive outcome. Do something you enjoy like going to your favorite restaurant or eating a delectable dessert. Taking the time to cement positive emotions in your mind will hopefully make the doubt disappear more quickly next time.
Alexandra Levit is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and the author of the new book “New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career.” If you’re struggling with what to do with your career in the New Year, visit www.newjobnewyou.com for free tools and guidance.