You’ve likely heard the phrase, “you are your own worst critic.” The popular adage reminds us that strongest force of opposition in life isn’t external, but often internal.
At one point or another, we’ve all faced ourselves in the mirror and doubted who we are or what we’ve done. This self-doubt is natural, and even healthy in small doses.
For it to remain a healthy element in your life, however, you can’t let self-doubt conquer you. You have to learn to conquer it.
In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield equates self-doubt and the instances in which it surfaces in our personal and professional lives. Albeit, he labels it “Resistance” with a capital “R.”
“Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet…To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.”
The good news is that there are ways you can learn to accept this self-doubt as part of who you are and make it work for you.
The Enemy Within
Throughout The War of Art Pressfield gives Resistance an almost human quality: it’s a force of nature that constantly works to halt our personal and professional growth.
“Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”
He makes it very clear that if you’re not living your best life, you’re experiencing some level of self-doubt, or Resistance. And what’s more, Resistance begins and ends with us—internally. It’s entirely within your control to conquer.
“Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us.”
Curate a Support System
“We’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with Resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.
None of us are alone in dealing with self-doubt. It’s part of being human.
As such, you can rest assured that the people in your life also battle similar internal demons from time to time. One of the best ways to tackle self-doubt is to vocalize it to another, and ask for help.
It’s important to find someone in your life who listens to you, understands you, and helps you stay grounded in times of doubt. Maybe it’s a therapist, a group of friends, a parent, or a former teacher.
When you turn to this group or person for support, they can help you identify unhealthy patterns of self-doubt from an objective viewpoint. Further, you can feel comfortable knowing they won’t pass judgement on you for feeling the way you do.
One of the benefits of asking for support is that it helps you to vocalize your doubts. You can then process your self-doubt in a way that helps you mentally understand why you feel certain ways and what fears hold you back.
When self-doubt creeps in, or you experience something you believe to be a “failure,” call upon your support system for assistance. They can help you mentally frame your concerns in a way that presents opportunities for moving forward.
Get Comfortable With Failure
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.
When Stephen King finished his first novel, Carrie, he sent it off to publishers. All told, the book was rejected over 30 times.
King didn’t let the failure of securing a publisher invite self-doubt into his life. He didn’t let it stop him from sending it to more publishers. His persistence and confidence paid off: in its first year on shelves it sold over 1 million copies.
Failure is a part of life. Every instance provides us an opportunity to exercise perseverance or solicit feedback. And when you become more comfortable with the concept of failure and view it as part of the human experience, it’s easier to prevent it from derailing your ambitions.
If we’re accepting of our failures, there’s no room for self-doubt to put us down further.
Celebrate Your Victories
“The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.
When you cross the finish line and defeat your self-doubt, no matter how trivial it may seem, you’ve won. Don’t sit idly by and let that win fade into the back of your mind.
Instead, celebrate it. It’s an acknowledgement that you built a trajectory to success, followed it through, and came out on top. Don’t let self-doubt chalk this win up to good luck or a happy accident.
For example, say you’re a social media manager executing a promotion on Twitter. After sending out a tweet, you later find it was retweeted by 10 people. Before you jump to thinking about the 50 people who didn’t retweet your content, practice celebrating small wins. Focus on those 10 people and that small success, before you ask how yourself how you can take it to the next level.
Pressfield says that one of the best ways to overcome self-doubt is to take your dream, passion, job, or idea and “go pro” with it. He doesn’t mean pro in the sense of a profession like an athlete, doctor, or lawyer. Instead, he means it with regard to your attitude.
“The Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences. The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro, it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time. That’s what I mean when I say turning pro. Resistance hats it when we turn pro.
You have to make the decision to go pro though, and then actively work to attain that ideal. It requires commitment to your passion and an understanding of what you need to be successful.
“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Perhaps one of the most underrated and misunderstood aspects of self-doubt is that it’s an indicator of where to go—a compass of sorts. As Pressfield says:
“Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
If you have a great deal of self-doubt surrounding one issue, project, or job in your life, chances are high that you need to accomplish this goal. Don’t let self-doubt stand in your way. Let it illuminate your future pathway to success, be comfortable with failure along the way, fall back on your support system if needed, and realize your best life.