A Coaching Power Tool Created by Valerie Lim
(Executive and Leadership Coach, SINGAPORE)
Creeping silently into your mind
Obliterating happiness of any kind;
Growing rapidly in the night
Fuelled by words so worn and trite.
Confidence falling as it leeches your soul
Pulling you apart and taking control;
Draining your strength until you wanna let go
Suffering inside, yet no one knows.
(Excerpt from `Self Doubt’ by Scattered Angel Dust)
Self-doubt is the lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities. How many times have we felt self-doubt? That familiar nagging feeling that we are not good enough, no matter how hard we try. Research has shown that young women suffering from poor body image have been associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety, causing a lowering of self-esteem and confidence. In my work with successful senior executives, I meet strong, independent, high-achieving individuals who are often plagued by self-doubt especially when they find themselves in new or challenging situations.
We start creating beliefs the moment we are born. We internalize negative messages that we pick up from an early age – from caregivers, teachers, classmates, media, society. We often hear: “You can’t do it” or “You haven’t done it right” and continue to perpetuate this to our children. This feeling of insecurity makes us question our abilities and if left unchecked, our self-worth starts crumbling bit by bit. As a result of our insecurity, we often hesitate and then abandon what we had set out to do in the beginning.
Aside from being a negative thought process, self-doubt is not really a thing in itself at all. Rather it is a lack of something vital to our success and happiness, and that is self-confidence. Confidence is defined as `faith or trust that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way’. So self-doubt affects people when they have little or no trust and faith in themselves in the areas they feel most challenged.
If we trace self-doubt back to its roots, the lack of faith or self-trust all point to fear: fear of failure, embarrassment, criticism, scrutiny, judgment, loss of status….the list goes on. Fear is almost always self-imposed and is the biggest obstacle we put in our way to achieving, doing or being what we want. The confidence which a person with a high level of self-belief has in himself allows him to express his feelings, desires and grievances better than a person with lower self-esteem. This is because he feels little fear about the reaction he may cause with what he says. Such people are typically very happy with who they are and accept more easily whatever faults they may have. This acceptance of themselves can translate into an acceptance of others, giving individuals with high self-belief a special way with new people. So how does one go from doubting oneself to trusting in one’s self confidence and self-worth? How does one make that perspective shift?
Thomas graduated from college and was almost immediately hired by one of the country’s top investment banks. He was thrilled to have landed himself this much sought-after job. Scores of his classmates had applied for the same job but he was the only one from his university that had been accepted. Before long, Thomas found himself working 60, 70, even 80-hour weeks in a dog-eat-dog corporate setting. In his mind, Thomas thought that this was success—even though it wasn’t what he truly wanted for himself. He decided that he would give 100% and more of himself to his job in the hope of rising to the top quickly and getting to the top of the heap. He was convinced that this would be his ticket to the good life. His girlfriend was upset with his long hours. Feeling neglected, she left him. Thomas held onto superficial friendships and toxic relationships because he did not have the time to make any real friends. To him, friendships were not really important since he was doing so well at work and being rewarded handsomely for the revenue he was making for the bank. He felt invincible.
The following year, the bank started hiring more young graduates fresh from school. These new hotshot graduates were smart and confident, to the point of being arrogant. Thomas started recognising himself from a year ago in these new hires. Soon he realised he was no longer the youngest and the brightest, and that he had to fight hard to get the best accounts. The spotlight was no longer on him anymore.
Thomas started doubting himself to the point that he was making his decisions based on what others wanted of him, and not what he wanted for himself. He was constantly struggling with confidence and always second-guessing himself. With the sudden economic downturn, Thomas’ earnings were being cut by half. His fair-weather friends left him for `greener pastures’ and soon Thomas started spiralling into depression.
With the help of his Executive Coach, Thomas started to shift his perspective and see the world through different lenses. Some of the lessons learned:
- Stop comparing. Thomas realised that he doubted himself the most and started feeling inadequate when he compared his accomplishments with his colleagues’ accomplishments. His coach helped him realise that the accomplishments of others were not a litmus test to grade his own success.
- Forget about what everyone else is thinking of you. When Thomas cared too much about what everyone else was thinking of him, he felt inhibited and judged. Because of this, Thomas found that he would rather do nothing and not get judged, than do something and risk criticism. Worrying about what other people thought of him held him back from doing something potentially huge for himself.
- Be grateful. Despite the new competition at the workplace, Thomas learned to acknowledge that he was still a very good trader who knew how to do his job well. He decided to speak to his manager about trying his hand at managing others. His world started to open up slowly as he started thinking of others other than himself and opening up to others.
Just as we act automatically in the simple belief that the TV will turn on when we click on our remote controls, or that our car will start when we turn on the ignition, we do the same with the beliefs we develop about ourselves. If we develop limiting beliefs about what we think we can achieve, then our response will be to limit the actions we take. In this way, we also limit the results we get.
If we believe we are likely to fail, our subconscious mind will get to work to create actions which support this belief. And the moment we hit an obstacle, we will just give up, supporting our belief that we knew we were going to fail all along. On the other hand if we believe we are going to succeed, then we probably will. The first steps to overcoming self-doubt are to admit it and then begin to understand it. For many, just admitting it to someone and sharing their struggle brings a sense of relief and freedom. The good news is that self-belief really can be learned and built on. Challenge that inner negative voice – listen to that voice and ask whose voice is it really. More often than not, they originated from our parents, grandparents, classmates, teachers, society. Challenge these negative thoughts.
Next, list down your strengths, as well as the strengths that you’d like to have. Spend a few moments each day to focus your thoughts on these strengths and reflect upon what each quality means to you. Internalise these strengths.
Create a powerful vision of yourself. Look into the future and visualise what your confident self will look like, brimming with self-belief. Understand & accept your shortcomings, treating them as temporary setbacks that you can fix.
You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserves your own love and affection. Buddha
How do we fight the demons of self-doubt and move our clients from:
“I am not good enough” —> “I am worthy”
Help your client recognize his feelings of self-doubt and help him shift his attitude and thinking. Self-Doubt Self-Belief
(Taken from ‘Building Self-Confidence’)
As you can see from these examples, low self-worth can be self-destructive, and it often manifests itself as negativity. Self-confident people are generally more positive – they believe in themselves and their abilities, and they also believe in living life to the full.
We can help our clients look at the situation in a new and different light. Teach our clients to recognise those feelings of doubt and fear and perceive these feelings as being natural. If our clients can move pass these feelings of discomfort, they can then take action to start building on their self-belief.
- Recognize and acknowledge that doubt. Ignoring it will not help an ounce. Help your client pull recognize underlying beliefs, assumptions & prejudices. Pull these demons out into the light and deal with them one by one.
- Analyse that doubt. Peel away the layers of the onion and understand what is causing that doubt. What triggered it? How does it make him feel? Question those feelings.
- Identify the source. Drill deeper and see if you can figure out the origins of these feelings. When was the last time your client had the same feelings? Do you see a pattern? If so, how did your client deal with it the last time?
- Design a plan and act on it. Strategize and put together a plan. If your client needs help and support from those around, make him ask for it. Get a family member or best friend who can help him overcome these feelings.
- Find his inner strength. Meditation and deep reflection can be powerful tools for shifting or reframing one’s thinking and arriving at solutions.
- Describe the last time you faced a new challenge or had to take a real chance on something.
- Describe the last time you failed miserably. What did you learn?
- Have you ever failed and then tried again (and maybe again and again) until you got better at something)? What made you keep trying?
- What past failures are you now grateful for?
- What are your strengths? Write down every positive trait or quality you can think of – give yourself credit.
- What makes you truly unique? (Don’t be afraid to get silly here, let yourself go!)
- What special or secret talents, skills or abilities do you possess?
- If you had all the confidence you needed, what would you like to do or become?
Make the commitment to consciously choose to recognize your strengths and positive qualities. Acknowledge them. Focus on things that make you feel good and happy in your abilities.
As described by the great poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson,
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
Self Doubt by Scattered Angel Dust – excerpt from http://quizilla.teennick.com/poems/8456450/self-doubt
‘7 Steps to Self-Belief’ by Mark Tyrrell at http://www.uncommonhelp.me/articles/self-belief/
‘Building Self-Confidence’ http://www.mindtools.com/selfconf.html
‘From Self-Doubt to Self-Confidence’ by Guy Reichard at http://www.coachingbreakthroughs.ca/confidence/from-self-doubt-to-self-confidence/
‘Characteristics of a Person with High Self-Esteem’ by Simon Fuller at