I just finished reading Ruth Soukup’s new book, Do It Scared , and oh man, do I feel called out.
In her recent in-depth study of how fear holds us back, Ruth identified what she calls the seven Fear Archetypes: the types of fear people experience that holds us back from accomplishing big things in our lives.
Along with the book, Ruth offers an assessment to help the reader identify which fear archetypes are holding them back. Before I started reading the book, I dutifully took the assessment, and I was surprised by what I learned.
My primary fear archetype was The Procrastinator. Now, this would surprise literally zero of the people who’ve ever met me. I’ve been a grade A procrastinator practically since birth. What really surprised me, though, was my secondary fear archetype: The Self-Doubter.
I thought that self-doubt was just a thing that everyone grappled with, but I never realized how much it has held me back until I read the corresponding chapter in Do It Scared. It was like reading an in-depth description of my personality. “You are most afraid you’re not enough,” I read, and it was a total aha moment.
How many of us walk through life with a brave face, while inside we constantly feel like we aren’t enough?
Self-doubt is a huge obstacle for many of us. It’s part of the reason some of us have been unable to follow through on dreams and goals throughout our lives. It’s part of the reason we struggle with relationships and why, in spite of our successes, we often feel inadequate.
At least we’re not alone. If self-doubt is so prevalent that Ruth identified it as one of seven fear archetypes, chances are good there are quite a few of us out there.
Taking all that I learned from Ruth and Do It Scared, I’ve created a plan to overcome self-doubt, once and for all.
It won’t be easy, of course. We won’t be able to snap our fingers and magically overcome a fear that’s had power over us for years. But if we take the steps to overcome self-doubt now, in time we’ll learn to stop letting fear keep us from the lives we deserve.
Are you with me?
What causes self-doubt?
First, we need to understand where self-doubt comes from. No one is born instinctively doubting themselves. It’s a learned fear, and I was, quite honestly, surprised by what is at the root of it.
The self-doubter, according to the book, is constantly worried that they aren’t enough. You worry what other people think of you, or what they might think if you make a mistake. This worry is always at the back of your mind and drives a lot of your decision-making.
Basically, your insecurity is external. You don’t just worry that you aren’t enough. You worry that you aren’t enough for others.
This was an eye-opener for me. Rather than focusing on myself and what I want, I’ve been letting my fear of what others might think dictate my choices?
Yep. Even though this is my life, I’ve been letting my perception of what other people think dictate how I spend my time on this earth.
Show of hands, who else is feeling called out right now?
How self-doubt manifests as a roadblock in your life
A little self-doubt is healthy, you might be saying. And you’re right. If we were 100% sure of ourselves all the time, we’d never consider whether we were being smart or safe or making the right choice. We’d never learn from anyone else because we’d be positive we were always right.
The problem arises when self-doubt has you getting in your own way. According to Do It Scared, people who struggle with too much self-doubt often look like this:
I don’t know about you, but I could check off almost every item on this list as something I do or struggle with regularly. In fact, my self-doubt is so ingrained that I didn’t realize having a voice constantly whispering “you can’t do this” wasn’t simply part of being conscious. I thought everyone just had that all the time.
Looking back, I see now that a lot of my biggest regrets can probably be attributed, at least in part, to self-doubt. Friendships that fell apart. Missed opportunities in my education and career. Inability to take risks and put myself out there. All things about my past that I hugely regret, and all times when I let fear hold me back.
Can you think of any times like that in your own life? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to look back on my life and realize I was ruled by fear. I’m ready to overcome self-doubt. I’m ready to have fewer regrets and more accomplishments.
So, how do we get there?
Ways to overcome self-doubt
You begin to overcome self-doubt when you start to reframe your mindset. Negative self-talk, fear of failure, and comparison may try to drag you down, but with a shift in the way that you think, you can cancel those attitudes and replace them with helpful ones.
1. Punch negative self-talk in the face
Start allowing yourself to try, regardless of what the outcome will be. When that negative voice whispers “you can’t do this,” do what your mom used to say when your brother was picking on you: Ignore it.
Do one thing each day just to do it. Don’t try to make it perfect or pretty or “right” – just do it. Write a poem, bake a cake, paint a picture, complete a workout, whatever. Just do the thing. Let each accomplishment, no matter how small, start to build up your confidence. That negative inner voice may be persistent, but that doesn’t mean he’s right. You can do this.
Keep track of your accomplishments in a success log. Write something down that you’ve achieved each day. Again, it doesn’t matter how small or whether or not you did it “right.” If you take the time to celebrate your achievements each day, over time your brain will begin looking for (and finding) achievement in everything you do.
You should also enlist help when fighting negative self-talk. Find a friend, coach, or counselor to reach out to whenever you get down on yourself. Often, our own view of ourselves is skewed; getting an outsider’s perspective can help you see things more rationally.
2. Don't let comparison kill you
Comparing yourself to others is a normal human trait, but it isn’t a particularly healthy one.
The real problem with comparing yourself to someone else comes down to priorities. We prioritize the things in our lives which are most important to us (either consciously or unconsciously, we do it). But not everyone prioritizes the same things, and this is why comparison isn’t rational.
For instance, lawn envy is a problem for me sometimes. I’m not very good at landscaping… or even keeping plants alive, for that matter. And I’ve never had the time (or energy, or money) to turn my lawn into the oasis I’d like it to be. A beautiful lawn would be nice, but it just isn’t at the top of my priority list right now.
And mostly, I’m fine with the state of my lawn. It wouldn’t even be a problem, if it weren’t for the fact that I happen to live near a part of town full of beautiful, stately, historic homes bursting with magazine-quality curb appeal.
Every day, when I take my morning walk, I pass by meticulously kept flowerbeds, flourishing perennials, and flawlessly shaped shrubs. I see cute little garden gnomes, solar powered lanterns, pergolas, water features, and inviting patio furniture. And then I come home to my own weed-filled, neglected lawn, and I feel like I’ve failed.
But the truth is, I haven’t made my lawn a priority, while my neighbors have. That’s it. That’s the difference. Different areas of my life are currently more important. So comparing my lawn to theirs is like comparing a plain grilled cheese sandwich to a five course meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant: they’re both adequate, but one had a little more effort put into it than the other.
In order to avoid comparison, you need to decide what your priorities are. What does success look like to you? If you want a nice car and big house, then your finances will be a priority. If your picture of success involves raising happy, healthy children, than you’ll naturally prioritize family time.
Once you decide what matters to you, own it. Don’t let anyone tell you what your priorities should be or make you feel like you’ve chosen the wrong ones. I drive a really crappy car. I get a lot of flak for it. But I don’t care about cars as a status symbol, so the fact that it’s a P.O.S. doesn’t matter to me, as long as it gets me where I need to go.
Make time for what’s important to you, and don’t apologize for what you pick OR what you don’t pick. When you see someone else with something that you wish you had, remind yourself that they made getting that thing a priority, and then go right back to doing your own thing. Eventually, you’ll realize that you’re a lot more secure in the choices you’re making than you used to be.
Bottom line: Stop comparing yourself and you’ll stop doubting yourself.
3. There are no mistakes, only lessons
Many of us know what it’s like to be paralyzed by the fear of failure, myself included. However, there is one feeling more powerful than the pain of failure – the pain of regret.
In his commencement speech to the USC Class of 2017, Will Ferrell said something that has deeply resonated with me. Speaking of the early days of his career, before he was cast on Saturday Night Live, when he had $20 in his bank account, he said, “Yes, I was afraid. You’re never not afraid. I’m still afraid. But my fear of failure never approached in magnitude my fear of ‘what if.’ What if I never tried at all?”
If Will Ferrell, one of the most successful entertainers in the world, admits to being afraid of failure, then I’d say it’s a pretty normal fear. However, Ferrell pushed through his fear because he knew that the pain of regret would hurt more.
In Do It Scared, Ruth writes that “mistakes only hurt for a little while, but regret can follow you for the rest of your life.”
She couldn’t be more right. We need to stop fearing failure and mistakes, because those are part of life. Mistakes are how we learn. What if Thomas Edison had decided to stop trying after his 1,000th attempt to invent the lightbulb? What if The Beatles had decided to hang it up in 1962 after being rejected by Decca Records? What if Henry Ford had given up after his first two automobile companies failed?
Truly successful people, almost exclusively, are those who simply refuse to stop trying. They make mistakes. They fail, often spectacularly. But they also learn from their mistakes. They get better; they try again.
Joseph Conrad once said, “It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes.”
If you want to be someone who does something, then you need to reconcile yourself with the fact that you will make mistakes. You also need to recognize that it’s okay to make mistakes, that you’re in good company, and that only by making mistakes will you learn how to improve.
Above all, when self-doubt starts to get the better of you, remind yourself that you are enough.
Remember to keep trying, celebrate the victories, and seek outside perspective when your negative self-talk gets to be too much. Be intentional about choosing to focus on your priorities and stop comparing your journey to those around you. Shift your mindset to recognize that there are no mistakes, only lessons to be learned.
Remember that it’s a process to overcome self-doubt. It’s about progress, not perfection. Keep trying to overcome self-doubt and it WILL get easier.