Why You Continuously Doubt Yourself and 5 Ways to Finally Overcome It
Updated: Apr 18
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash
Self-doubt affects all of us at some point or another. Some people deal with it easily, while others try to do as much research as possible for most decisions to make sure they don’t mess up.
While self-doubt can be good (it motivates you to learn and grow and it keeps you humble), it can take a turn for the worst when it affects multiple areas of your life.
If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t stop questioning yourself, read on to find some possible causes.
Common Causes of Self-Doubt
1. Childhood Upbringing
Did you know psychologists believe that most of our core beliefs and habits are formed by the time we’re 8 years old? It’s important you know because, as children, we naturally begin to define our self-image and sense of self-worth through the eyes of our caretakers and those around us.
If you grew up in a less than nurturing, or lack of home environment (ie. criticized, neglected, not praised) chances are you weren’t shown how to value your thoughts and/or opinions. This can leave you feeling like you’re not good enough, whether it be consciously or unconsciously.
To make matters worse, the more you live your life feeling worthless without questioning it, the more ingrained it becomes into your subconscious and so begins a never-ending cycle of self-doubt.
2. Not Knowing Yourself
How can you expect to know what you want to do, be, or have if you don’t know who you are?
Knowing yourself doesn’t just mean knowing your favorite color, food, or tv show. It means knowing who you are on a deeper level: your core values, personality, beliefs, passions, fears, strengths, and weaknesses.
Growing up, I didn’t realize that I didn’t know myself. I went with the flow and followed what my friends, boyfriends, or family wanted and didn’t take the time to ask myself what I thought. I just wanted to feel like I belonged and for them to be happy.
I came to realize that I had become so conditioned into doing what others wanted and just accepted it. So when those relationships ended or we grew apart, I was left feeling lost.
3. Comparing yourself to others
In his Theory of Social Comparison, American psychologist, Leon Festinger, hypothesized that our innate need to compare ourselves to others came from our basic human desire to evaluate ourselves objectively.
This means that when trying to figure out how attractive, intelligent or successful we are, we use people similar to us (in ethnicity, age, profession, etc.) as guideposts.
So maybe you compare your achievements to those of your coworkers. Or maybe you compare your body to that fitness person you saw on YouTube. While this comparison can be used as motivation to improve, chances are that’s not what’s happening.
Instead, you’re probably focusing on all the ways you aren’t like that person. Which then makes you feel like you’re not good enough and can do damage to your self-esteem.
4. Fear of Failure
You’ve stopped yourself from taking the promotion, starting that blog, or asking your crush out. That voice in your head is telling you that you’re not ready, you’re not good enough, or that you’ll just embarrass yourself. Why?
Well, it’s because of the way we’re wired. Our brain, to keep us from feeling pain, tries to predict outcomes. It tends to give us worst-case scenarios because if we expect the worst then maybe we can try to plan and protect ourselves from it.
Thinking about worst-case scenarios is helpful when dealing with life or death situations like preparing for an earthquake. It’s less than helpful when you’re trying to take that next step in your life. Especially if it gets to the point where it stops you from taking any action at all.
This leads to opportunities passing you by. Luckily, there are ways to start combatting that.
Overcoming Your Self-Doubt
1. Get to Know Yourself
This is one of the most important steps you can take to improve not only your self-doubt but other issues in your life.
When you understand yourself on that deeper level (mentioned earlier) you realize the emotions you feel, thoughts you have, and actions you take are being dictated by how you view yourself. With this knowledge, you can then take the next steps to improve.
There are so many ways to get to know yourself. Finding which way works best for you is part of the journey. To give you a few ideas, you can:
Meditate - Meditation promotes self-discovery by minimizing external distractions and bringing your focus inward. Because there are so many types of meditation (ie. guided, transcendental, mindfulness), I suggest trying out a few to see what you like.
Journal - Writing regularly in a journal helps you express your deepest thoughts and feelings healthily. It also helps you in identifying negative thought patterns. If you’re not sure how to start, try Over 100 Journal Prompts to Truly Know Yourself.
List past achievements - Writing or thinking about your achievements will not only help counteract your negativity bias but will also help you realize that you’re better than you thought you were.
Take personality tests - Although these shouldn’t be taken as absolute truth, they can give you a starting point into understanding yourself. Some popular tests are Meyer-Briggs, Big Five Personality, and Enneagram.
2. Realize That You are NOT your thoughts
Thoughts are ideas that form spontaneously in your brain. Sometimes those thoughts make you believe that you’re horrible, dumb, and worthless. Just because you think that though doesn’t make it true.
Because of our negativity bias, we tend to hold onto traumatic incidents and harsh criticisms and forget the positive ones. This causes us to hold ourselves in a negative light; just accepting what everyone has told us and reiterating it ourselves through our thoughts.
It’s important to realize that the thoughts you are having are caused by what you’ve been programmed to think. To start changing this automatic response, start paying attention to the thoughts you are telling yourself and challenge them. What proof do you have to believe it? Are you sure it’s true or are you just being hard on yourself? Remember, we tend to be our own worst critics too, so be as neutral as possible.
This exercise won’t come easy at first, after all, you’re trying to change something you’ve been doing unconsciously. Just like learning how to swim or ride a bike, it takes time. Once you’ve developed that muscle you’ll have more control in turning your negative thoughts into more positive ones.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
What do you say to yourself when you make a mistake? If you’re reading this post it’s probably something not very nice. Maybe something along the lines of “ugh, I’m so dumb?” or “I’m such a horrible person”
So let’s say your friend just failed the job interview, and blah blah blah. Would you tell them that they’re dumb or they’re horrible? I hope not, that’s just mean (unless they are those things, then maybe get a new friend).
My point is that you should talk to yourself as you would someone you care about.
Another thing to keep in mind is that whatever mistakes or failures you’ve made, other people have made and will make. I’m not saying this to take away from your feelings about it. I simply want you to understand that this is all part of life. Once you’re able to accept this you won’t be so hard on yourself.
But wait, there’s more! As a bonus, the more compassion you have for yourself, the more you also end up having for others.
4. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Although comparing ourselves is part of our human biology, we need to remember that rarely do we have all the information to know whether the perception we have of others is based on reality. This is especially true when done through the use of social media. We make judgments in a split second solely based on someone’s highlight reel.
The truth is, It’s virtually impossible to compare yourself accurately to someone because there are so many other aspects that factor into making someone who they are.
Also, your definition of success might be different from someone else's. That's why it’s important to know what you want, otherwise, your definition of success is dependent on others. If you stay focused on your own goals then it won’t matter what anyone else is or isn’t doing.
5. Just Make a Choice
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”
Do you know what’s cool about making a choice? It’s that even if you make the wrong one, a lot of times you can change it.
You can try to contemplate every decision, weighing out the pros and cons of each option but none of us has that kind of time. The sooner you make a choice, the sooner you’re able to see if it was the right choice.
If you struggle with making any choices at all, then start small. Start with deciding where to eat before inviting a friend out or deciding what TV show to watch during dinner. The more you practice this, the easier it will become over time.
While you’ll probably never get rid of self-doubt completely (no one will), I hope you realize that you have the control to change your perception anytime that doubt starts creeping in.
And if sometimes you can’t control it at all that’s ok. Remind yourself that it takes practice and time. The key to making habits stick long-term is consistency
Was any of this information helpful to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below!