Who hasn’t suffered self-doubt? That nasty little hobgoblin that sits in your head and tells you you’re pretty rubbish, that nothing you do is much good and that every attempt at creating something meaningful will be laughed at and widely ridiculed. You know, that self-doubt.
If you haven’t suffered it, then well, good for you, but stay away from me because it’s possible you’re a sociopath. Self-doubt is part of the human experience. And it can be a useful thing, too. It plays a part in making you go back to the manuscript, essay, brilliant idea and tinker with it until it’s even better than it was before.
Unfortunately, it can also crawl into your head and make itself nice and cosy, really settle in for the long haul of torment it intends to create. And it will, if we let it. It will nestle in there, latching on to your fondest wishes and placing them on the top of a tall mountain, far, far out of the reach of an untalented, intellectually diminished dullard like you.
And it doesn’t matter what those fondest wishes are. You might work in a chicken factory, but you long to be a hairdresser. Hah! Too easy, says the hobgoblin. Who do you think you are? The chicken factory is as good as it’s ever gonna get for you. If you were a hairdresser you’d have to talk to people, make appointments, wield a pair of scissors without hacking someone’s hair to bits or cutting off an ear. You’d be rubbish. Stay where you belong amongst the headless chickens and the giblet bins.
See what I mean? It’s easy, so easy to believe the greasy words whispered in our ears by the voice of self-doubt.
Now, I’m not claiming to have all the answers here. I still struggle with it, and like most people, will probably always have the voice in my head that’s too ready to be dismissive and derogatory. But what I have learned to do is ignore it and just plough on. Not the most emotionally sophisticated way of dealing with it, I grant you, but one of the few I’ve come up with so far and it works pretty well.
It’s kind of like, if I was in my own head and the hobgoblin was standing in front of me talking trash (I like to slip into prize fighter talk at times like these), then all I have to do is pick it up, place it to one side and then keep walking. I leave it behind me, the voice getting fainter the further I go.
The other trick I’ve used before is to think back on something I’ve done that I feel good about. At times like these you’ve got to be kind to your ego. Treat it like the poor suffering little milk sop it is and give it a boost. It doesn’t matter what you reflect on: Came third place in that 5th grade swimming race? Then rapturous applause all round. Passed that unit in Russian politics at uni without having a small breakdown? Kudos to you. Overcame that addiction to ice-cream that previously saw you face down in a bucket of the sweet stuff with a frozen tongue and a sick feeling of self- loathing? You have my respect. (What are you talking about? Of course this isn’t from personal experience. I’ve never won a swimming race in my life.)
Whatever it is, that’s something you have set your mind to, you latched on to it like a puppy on a posh pair of shoes and you went for it. You didn’t stop to let self-doubt tell you that you can’t swim, that you need that last shovel of ice-cream, that the intricacies of the government of the union of Soviet Socialist Republics are beyond you. You just ploughed on and got the job done. You kicked self-doubt to the dirt (again with the prize fighter parlance). You did it once, so that means you can do it again.
The other tactic I employ is equally as sophisticated and that’s the blind leap. You have to imagine you’ve done all you think you can. You’ve used self-doubt to your advantage, you’ve fine tuned, you’ve sculpted, you’ve tinkered and now it’s time to stop. But self-doubt doesn’t just magically disappear at this point. Nope, it’s still there like that last dinner party guest that just won’t bugger off, even though everyone else has gone home, the dishes are done and you’re in your jim-jams yawning extravagantly.
That’s when the blind leap comes in to play. It’s the just-do-it tactic – you hit send or post, you say yes to the job, you enter the competition or pay for the adventure tour tickets. Closing your eyes and leaping can be a bit terrifying, but it’s the last line of defence against self-doubt and I guarantee, the more you do it, the stronger you will get.
So, use self-doubt to your benefit. Use it, abuse and then throw it away like yesterday’s cat food. Because we’re all way better than the nasty hobgoblin that lives in our head. And if you’re around about my vintage and wasted too many afternoons in front of the TV as a kid watching Monkey, then you’ll recognise this sage quote: “Tathagata the Buddha, the Father Buddha said, “With our thoughts we make the world”. And who can argue with the wisdom of Monkey?
What do you guys do to overcome self-doubt?