Have you ever asked yourself “why am I hard on myself but not so hard on other people?”
Here are two facts that seem to contradict but coexist:
- You’ve achieved a lot in a successful career and life
- Sometimes you doubt yourself
Because you’re a high achiever, it’s hard to accept self doubt as a close friend.
I struggle with this when self doubt drops in. It’s an unwanted arrival on a busy day, messing with my plans.
Here’s an idea to help us break free: we spend time with this friend because we accept them, and then choose mindsets to improve how we see ourselves.
Self doubt drops in but you can boot it out when it bothers you
Here i’m talking about realistic and manageable self doubt. This is the doubt we have in challenges and problems.
I’m not talking about low self esteem, although this article will help today. For this, I suggest counseling as a way to discover solutions to help you understand the worth and value you already own.
To boost your self-esteem, try a values exercise to build your foundation of who you are and what you believe in. This is a set of beliefs you live by. I’ll post an article about this next week so you make a start. Values are so powerful for living a great life and I now feel an urgency to discuss them.
How does knowing your values build the way you see yourself?
- When you face hard times, mistakes, or difficult people, your values keep you grounded in who you are and what is important to you
- Knowing your values keeps you focused on what is right and true about yourself so you maintain your confidence
- Your values provide a baseline for how you want to behave and react so you maintain respect for yourself and reactions you choose
To make a start, write a list of strong beliefs you have to guide you life. Here are three examples:
- I behave with kindness and compassion towards myself and this includes mistakes I make
- I treat all people with respect, even if we’re different or they’re hard to get along with.
- giving and being generous makes me happy and builds a better world
3 ways Self doubt behaves as a character strength: An exercise to combat self doubt that holds you back
Self doubt, to a manageable level, is a sign of humility and awareness of what you’re doing and how you’re interacting.
Self doubt is a strength in your character. How?
- Self doubt reduces arrogance or overconfidence. There is evidence that overconfidence causes more errors and a narrowed view of challenging situations such as medical diagnoses and decision making.
- It’s a sign of a balanced view of yourself. This is seeing yourself as not all good or all bad, but a person with variable abilities and skills. You’re more likeable as a human than a robot.
- Self doubt opens you up to learning and growing. For example, at work you notice a mistake you made or an area of knowledge you need more of. Instead of feeling bad, you make a plan to read a clinical guideline or research paper. (Time willing. This is a topic for another article on the time pressures we face as professionals).
And at the same time you don’t want self doubt to slow you down or create fears that are hard to battle.
Living happily on the confidence spectrum
There’s a spectrum of confidence ranging from full self criticism with crippling doubts to super confidence that can’t be cracked.
Sometimes I think i’d like the unshakable end but at the same time, i’m thinking this could be unrealistic.
For you and me, we likely sit along the spectrum somewhere and not at either end.
But there’s always room to improve the view you hold of yourself. In times of difficulty or suffering, we really need this skill to kick in without much effort.
You can do this…. taking action to kick the inner critic when you need it most.
Shifting the view you have of yourself
Seeing yourself in a healthy, balanced and positive way is a value you can choose to live by, rather than a feeling or emotion.
When you choose a value, it becomes an anchor and a way of living to come back to and evaluate.
When you choose to see yourself as worthy and acceptable, you change your identity in new and different contexts. For example, you take up a new position at work and a stressful task hits you. Now you make the choice:
- Go to your list of values and read “I value respecting myself and my worth, even in hard times”. You then take on the next task with self compassion and your best effort.
- Freak out and berate yourself for not knowing everything yet and enter the job with worry
When the appearance of yourself appears fixed but is actually moving
In article by George Musser in Nautilus, he writes about the shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates and how this relates to Google Maps. He explains a dilemma:
Nothing on the ground has fixed coordinates because the landscape is ever-shiftinghttp://m.nautil.us/issue/81/maps/what-happens-to-google-maps-when-tectonic-plates-move?
So he asks, how do our GPS systems stay up to date with where we are located?
Musser tested this position change. He states:
When I go to Google Earth and compare images taken on different dates, I find that my house jumps around by as much as 20 metershttp://m.nautil.us/issue/81/maps/what-happens-to-google-maps-when-tectonic-plates-move?
Musser’s article goes into much detail about the way latitude and longitude are measured and how changes are dealt with.
The science of this goes beyond my expertise and beyond the topic of my writing today but, essentially, he describes how scientists acknowledge the changes as a moving reality, measure them, and update the system.
I liked this example to illustrate an important point in our psychology:
3 ways to see who you are and what you are capable of [the power of choosing]
- Fixed and unchangable. For example, if I think I’m shy and this is unchangable, I’ll behave with shy body language and vocal tone. I think this is fixed and I miss seeing it can be moved through choices and actions.
- Changeable and malleable. In the same example, I’ve developed an identity of “shyness” but decide this is learned and I can change it. I question this identity and choose to straighten my back, lift my chin, and speak openly and clearly in a new social or work setting. My behavior feels hard to do but over time my identity shifts to confidence and ability.
- A combination of the two. That is, we have some fixed traits but we are also malleable and can change how we see ourselves. This is a balanced view of ourselves.
How to challenge the fixed view of your identity
In the the nature versus nurture debate within developmental psychology, the question is asked: are we formed by our experiences or our biology and genetics?. When we see development as fixed based on genetics and predetermined biological characteristics, we feel we can’t change.
Carol Dweck describes a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. In a Harvard Business Review article, she describes people with a fixed mindset as:
those who believe their talents are innate giftshttps://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
This may seem appealing, but what if we say “I’m naturally good at dealing with clients” and then a client gives you negative feedback? With a fixed mindset the risk is our sense of innate talent has been shaken.
Our mind feels fixed like the location of our home on google earth, but the truth is we are changeable and subject to change due to natural forces.
The appearance of fixedness causes you to think you’re stuck in one place.
Choosing a moldable view of your identity
In opposition to a static view of ourselves, we can choose a growth mindset. In the same Harvard Business Review article, Dweck describes people with a growth mindset as:
Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others)https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
She explains, this view of ourselves leads us to focus on learning and growing rather than appearing successful to ourselves and others.
In the nature versus nurture debate, the nurture argument states we become ourselves through experiences and outside influences such as family and mentors. We are malleable.
With this view, our brains and minds are subject to change, which is exciting because we have agency to choose some of the inputs we accept. For example:
- What we read
- Who we spend time with
- The words we choose to listen to in our heads
The way you choose to view your identity matters: you can change and improve the view you have of yourself
Your self view is changeable and you have agency to change it with practice. You begin to see to see yourself moving from:
- Feeling hopeless in this situation to i’m capable to make a change and take one action
- Holding back to choosing openness and acceptance
- Seeing the negative to seeing the possibilities
- Viewing yourself as lesser than to i’m acceptable as I learn and grow
4 ways to improve the way you see yourself, especially in difficult times
Here are four ways:
- Understand Self determination. This is a theory that explains
People are able to become self-determined when their needs for competence, connection, and autonomy are fulfilled”https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-self-determination-theory-2795387
To improve the way you see yourself, look back to your successes and skills you have achieved, how you’ve achieved them, and the people you’ve connected with who gave you joy.
2. Learn to recognise the inner critical voice
In a recent video from the National institute for the clinical application of behavioral medicine, the presenter discussed the inner critical voice we all have to different degrees.
One psychologist asks the question of his clients to combat this: “when do you choose to listen to this inner critic?” .
This is excellent because of it distances the inner voice away from yourself and also allows you to choose when to pay attention and when not to. We have that power. Not all words we say about ourselves are accepted as true.
3. Understand you choose to keep moving even when self doubt visits. You have the ability to drive this movement in a forward direction. The opposite to this is mentally rehearsing the past such as mistakes and failures. It’s ok to glance back but then try turning your head forward.
4. Believe in self actualisation as an ongoing desire and right. This means we seek ongoing learning and growth. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or the number of your successes and failures, you have the innate desire to improve and achieve meaning and contribution. Self actualization is described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a natural inclination we all have to progress, achieve, and improve our lives. It’s a process of growing, maturing and becoming. This theory fits nicely into the growth mindset I described earlier defined by Carol Dweck.
In conclusion: the path through the forest
Imagine you’re walking along a forest path. You hear a crack of a twig behind you that startles you so you glance back expecting danger. You notice this broken branch dropped from a tree. The danger briefly appeared but it wasn’t dangerous at all.
You turn back to your map and look ahead to the next bend in the track. The air is fresh, the pine is sweet and the sun is bright through the canopy. You keep walking. Self doubt is the branch behind you. The path ahead, and the steps you take, are the solution to seeing yourself with a clear and positive evaluation.
- Write a list of 8 values you believe in and live by that you can come back to on a tough day
- Imagine you have no career and achieved very few accomplishments. Now write down 5 reasons you are valuable as a person of worth.