Jun 132011

Self-Doubt:  Your Best Friend or Your Worst Enemy

As an entrepreneur or anyone trying to achieve something, self-doubt can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

In my coaching, consulting and my own entrepreneurial endeavors over the last 30 years, I have noticed that while some people seem to have unflappable self-confidence, most seem to vacillate between self-confidence and self-doubt. By the way, I’ve also noticed that when you dig below the surface even just a bit on those who seemingly have “unflappable self-confidence,” they too have plenty of self-doubt, often times much more than everyone else. They just have well developed mechanisms for hiding their doubts from the rest of the world.

As it turns out, self-confidence and self-doubt are two sides of the same coin. Self-doubt and wanting more are an important part of the built-in mechanism that has allowed human beings to adapt and evolve over time. Self-doubt is also what fuels us to try harder and to learn more, so that we can feel that desired mental state of self-confidence, even if just briefly and periodically.

In the end, it’s really only possible to overcome self-doubt with action. You need to do something, overcome your fears and achieve something you never thought possible. That will do wonders for your self-confidence. You know how the story goes though: after a brief period of satisfaction with your accomplishment, you will likely then start to experience self-doubt again and feel the need to push on and accomplish more. If handled well, it’s what is often referred to as a “virtuous cycle.” If not handled correctly, it is likely to devolve into its evil cousin, the “vicious cycle.” Let me explain.

So let’s say you’re experiencing a serious bout of self-doubt. You’re in a funk, as the saying goes. You’re wondering if you’ll ever do anything successfully. Ask yourself a couple of questions: Am I a perfectionist? Am I always setting goals for myself that I have no possibility of attaining in the allotted timeframe? I see it all the time in the people and companies to which I coach and consult. They set impossible goals then wonder why they don’t reach them. I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself as well.

Here’s the key: set incremental goals that will allow you to reach your ultimate goal(s). Allow yourself to be successful along the journey to achieving your major goals. Will you still experience self-doubt along the way? Yes. But use it to your advantage. Use it to fuel your desire and give you energy to practice enough and correctly. Use it to motivate you to set incremental goals that will allow you to have successes and believe that you can reach your bigger goals. Use it to give you the determination you need to chart your own course to accomplishing your goals.

Don’t set yourself up for failure and constant self-doubt by setting impossible goals. Allow yourself to succeed incrementally along the way and you will be shocked how much better your results are, how much happier you feel and how much you enjoy those moments of self-confidence, even it they come and go as part of the virtuous cycle you’ve created.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

  • Self doubt – who could blame entrepreneurs in this environment – 6 months to pull in a PO, can’t raise money, difficult to hire staff. The incremental point is the key. Here are a few examples of going indirectly for your goal to win the prize:

    1. You don’t want the job you want the interview
    2. You don’t want the sale you want to build a deep understanding of the customer issues
    3. You don’t want to exercise you want to allocate a special time of day three times per week first and then ……..

    Remember as well most successful companies are 10 year overnight successes

  • Thanks for your insightful comments, Ian. I could not agree with you more, particularly on your last point regarding “10 year overnight successes” — most companies that appear on the scene as “sudden successes” are the fruit of at least 10 years of blood, sweat and tears. As you highlight, incremental successes are key — they build one’s (and a team’s) confidence and belief. Thanks again, and best wishes for success in your ventures.

  • Ryan Critchett

    Yep! Good points. The self doubt thing, we all have it. It’s, like you said, part of being a human. And you’re right, in many cases entrepreneurs experience it a lot more because simply put, we’re trying more things!!

  • Exactly, Ryan. Well said!