zenhabits : breathe

the insidious perfidiousness of doubts, overcome

Post written by Leo Babauta.

There isn’t a single one of us who has overcome the human condition of self doubt. Whether you’re a supremely confident person, a content Zen monk, a successful writer … it doesn’t matter. You have doubts about yourself.

The question is whether these doubts stop you from doing amazing things, from leading the life you want to lead.

I was one of those people who toiled for long years under various masters — kind and unkind — because I doubted my ability to be my own boss. I doubted whether I was a good enough writer to succeed in a world of immensely talented writers.

These doubts weren’t overwhelming, but that’s the sneaky thing about them. They aren’t in your face — they creep into your subconscious so that you don’t realize they’re there, tugging at you, wearing at you, grinding you to a stop. They lurk in the dark, extending an influence so pervasive that it seems a part of the fabric of our being, even if it’s only a corroded thread that’s snaked itself into that fabric.

But these doubts are there, even if we rarely think about them. They’re that silent voice in our heads that say, “I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. I’d never make it. I’d only fail and embarrass myself. Why should I dare dream?”

They’re there, and they are more powerful than we can put into words.

I let them hold me back. I worked for years doing things I wasn’t proud of, just for the safety of a job and a steady paycheck. I thought working for yourself was something you needed money to do — you had to have capital to start your own business, right? I thought becoming a “real” writer — one that’s made it in the world of real writers — was an impossible dream.

how i beat them

I was wrong. I overcame those fears not through a tremendous burst of courage, not with a push through the front lines of doubts … but through information.

This information came in little doses, but practically daily. I started a little blog on a free, amateur blogging platform. I wrote, just little posts that no one would read. A few people read them, and said they were good. That was information.

I kept doing it, and kept getting good feedback, even if it was just from a handful of readers. One of those early supporters was a guy named Kamal, a great guy who I finally met in person here in San Francisco yesterday. He told me I was good, that I spoke from the heart, that I would be big one day. He believed in me, and that was more information.

My incredible wife Eva supported me, with praise and faith. My wonderful mom was proud of me, and that was more information. Every new reader who commented on my site gave me further information … and it was valuable data indeed.

Through these little packets of data, I was able to build a database, a 3D model in my heart that told me my old doubts, they were wrong. They were just flimsy fa├žades that I had built up into something so solid they seemed indestructable. They seemed so real they were unquestionable, the foundation for my everyday reality.

But they were wrong, the new data was telling me. That was disruptive, and it shook me. How could everything I had believed all these years be so wrong? But the data was consistent, and it never stopped coming in. It comes in to this day.

My reality today is different, thanks to this data. And though I still have self doubts, I no longer let them define my reality. They’re just hypotheses, waiting to be tested by actual data, waiting to be disproven, just like the hypotheses of previous doubts have been disproven time and again.

you’re not alone

Everyone has these doubts. My sister Kat became enveloped by the world of health and fitness, became so enthusiastic about it that she dreamt of doing it for a living. She wanted to go to school for it, so she could eventually get into training and educating others. I told her, “Just do it! Find a client, train her, get the experience, learn as you do it, get better, get another client, get even better, let word of mouth be your advertising, and live the dream, now!”

But she had doubts, and it held her back for a little bit. That’s understandable — they held me back for years and years. She did it, though, getting certification and then training a few clients and then starting some bootcamps. She’s now living her dream, and I’m overwhelmingly proud of her.

Everyone has these doubts. My sister Ana lost her job awhile back, and I told her to start her own marketing firm. She said she knew herself, and knew that she couldn’t be her own boss. I said she was wrong, that if she loved it she would do it. I told her that if she loved cooking, she could start a supperclub and just start cooking for people. If she loved teaching ballet, she could teach classes after school to kids at their schools. Just start doing it!

She doubted herself, but these days she’s taken the plunge into marketing consulting, and she’s starting to take off. I’m ridiculously proud of her too, and I know she’ll soar on her own.

Everyone has these doubts. You do. Some of you have beaten them to the point where you’re doing what you love. Others haven’t, and might not even realize those doubts are holding you back. They are — and you can beat them. I’ve done it, my sisters have, thousands and thousands of others have too. We’re no better than you — we’ve just stumbled on better information.

Get the data. Do something, get feedback, keep doing it, get better at it, get feedback all along the way, and see what the data says. Put your doubts to test, let them be disproven. And when the results finally come in, and you know what reality really looks like, be proud of yourself for at least putting the doubts to test. I’m already proud of you, just for reading this far, and letting some small light shine on the doubts quivering in the darkness.

It’s me who is my enemy
Me who beats me up
Me who makes the monsters
Me who strips my confidence.
~Paula Cole


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