A Coaching Power Tool Created by Ju Yang
(Life Coach, SWITZERLAND)
The online free Dictionary.com defines “self-doubt” as a lack of confidence in the reliability of one’s own motives, personality, thought, etc. The same source defines “self-confidence” as realistic confidence in one’s own judgment, ability, power, etc..
In essence, self-doubt leads one to question one’s ability to achieve goals, one’s image and one’s being, sometimes even one’s own purpose of life. It is one of the important sources leading to procrastination, hesitation and bewilderment. In contrast, self-confidence leads to action towards achieving the goals. The underlying belief is that one has the capacity and sound judgment to reach the end goal.
In this fast-changing world, our ability to survive and thrive in society depends a great deal on whether we have more self-doubt or have more self-confidence when dealing with our own specific situation. It is not surprising that thousands of books are published on how to boost self-confidence because it helps us thrive.
Self-confidence or self-doubt can be associated with a person’s inner operating system in general, but also can be event-based. Even an extraordinarily self-confident person can encounter a lot of moments of self-doubt. In this increasingly specialized world, a confident IT specialist may have doubt in his/her own ability to parent a difficult child. A person who has full of confidence in academic work may encounter a very difficult moment of self-doubt on some occasions. My own experience can testify to this perspective.
Perspective and Explanation
I am a fully independent 40-year-old professional with a decent career and diverse life experiences in different countries. Since my childhood, I excelled in most of the academic competitions and achieved most of the goals set by myself or my closed ones. In general, I am confident about my own capability of passing assessments and reaching my goals. This self-confidence is based on my past successful experiences – as one would agree, as all human resources practitioners tend to agree, the achievements in the past increase the likelihood to succeed in the future.
However, what I experienced in getting my Swiss driving license left this self-image, i.e., “a confident person” in doubt. Early 2017 I started my journey of getting Swiss driving license, which includes first-aid course, theory test, driving theory course and finally the road test. Switzerland is known to be very strict in issuing the driving license. Many friends warned me that it is not a cakewalk at all, especially the road test. The assessment system is such that one can start driving with a teacher or another person with full license once s/he passes the theory test. S/he has two years since the success of the theory test and has three chances to take the road test. After the 2nd failed attempt, however, s/he is required to be certified by a driving instructor before the registration of the 3rd time road test. If you fail all three times, you will be required to visit a psychiatrist and obtain a “fit-for-driving” certificate before you can apply to take road test again. Financial investment is also huge. On average, the cost of one-hour accompanied driving in Switzerland is about US$ 90-100.In general, so as I was told, Swiss pass the driving test after 80-hour road practice.
Despite awareness of all these known challenges, I told myself I can do it – the sign of a confident person.
I started my driving journey in January 2017, after I passed the theory test successfully. After 3 months, I took the first road test in April 2017 and failed. Subsequently due to professional reason I suspended the driving practice until September 2017, when I restarted again for one month, then a break again until 2018 due to wok. My practice was not consistent, sometimes I drove very well, sometimes I made one big mistake after another. In late 2018 I resumed practice again, realizing that the two-year limit was fast approaching. In March 2019 I took the 2nd test and failed once again.
By then my confidence was shaken. I started to ask myself if I “CAN” really get the driving license. Frequent self-talk in my mind occurred to me. Some of this self-talk is factual such as “driving test is different from all the other academic tests”, some of them are subjective such as “maybe you are too old to get this, you react slower than most people”. By that time I became aware that I was losing self-confidence due to two-time failure. Self-doubt starts to cloud my head.
Before I started this driving license journey, my self-confidence derived from my past academic achievement. In March 2019 my self-doubt also derived from the past, but it is from the more recent failure in this specific driving area. Both self-confidence and self-doubt are in essence the reactions/results from what happened in the past. The question is: how would I best utilize these reactions so that I can achieve my future goal, i.e., get the driving license?
My self-doubt came from the fact that previously I failed twice the driving test. After analyzing the reasons I know the following factors contributing to the failure: I am slower than average in reaction and anticipation, I am following one single instructor so long, I am not practising frequent enough, and when practising I receive instructions in English while the road test is done in French – thus further delay my reaction.
Do I have the capability to address these issues that lead to self-doubt? The self-confidence that builds on academic and professional achievement may not be applicable here. But do I have the self-confidence to identify and implement the mitigation measures to address the identified issues? The answer is yes. Do I have the past successful experience in acquiring skills that I don’t think that fall under my area of natural strength? The answer is yes.
For two months (May and June 2019) I increased my frequency of practising, I asked the instructors to switch to French for instructions, I change the instructor and I practised until I successfully passed the driving test on 28 June 2019.
In my own experience, I acknowledge this awareness that I am in a state of self-doubt. I explore further on the underlying facts/past experiences that lead to this state. I question myself if I have the capability to address these issues. I recalled my past experience in acquiring skills and shift the focus of my mindset from being stuck saying “I cannot” to “what I can do?”.
Clients come to coaching sessions for help due to all different reasons. It is quite often that some of the clients come with the self-doubt, hesitation and confusion on what to do next. How could coach work with the client to shift from the state of self-doubt to self-confidence?
First of all, it is of utmost importance that the client is aware that s/he is in a state of self-doubt. This awareness cannot be taken for granted. Acknowledging that I am doubting myself on my own capabilities in some areas requires courage and authenticity, especially for a person who is proud of being confident, who usually equates self-doubt with vulnerability.
The coach then needs to work together with the client on the underlying beliefs leading to the current state of self-doubt, identify the past events leading to these underlying (normally limiting) beliefs.
Looking at the future, the coach and the client will then review how these past events/triggers correlate the clients’ perspective for the future. It won’t be surprised if this deep inquiry leads to “a-hah” moment “actually the client can do something to mitigate the impact of past events, or to de-trigger these things”. The pattern of the words uttered by clients may shift from “I have this question….I don’t know if I can….I find it confusing…” into “I can do something on this….”.
It is important for the coach to notice this shift of the speaking pattern and make the client aware of this difference. It also represents a shift from the state of self-doubt towards the state of self-confidence.
During the coaching session, the coach may also ask the client to recall the past success stories s/he encountered, and recall the feeling at that time. What would s/he use the past successful story build up the confidence to handle the current situation? Both self-confidence and self-doubt come from the past. While one keeps reminding himself of the failures, s/he tends to become more and more doubtful about his/her ability. That is why it is so important to ask the relevant similar experience but with the success, so that the client may recall his/her own feeling.
Finally, it is important for the client to acknowledge the shift from self-doubt to self-confident. All of us at some period of our life is vulnerable, with self-doubt clouding our head. However, knowing explicitly that one has the experience and confidence to deal with this inhibit feeling in a positive way will help the client identify the state self-doubt more easily in the future and take self-corrective action accordingly.
Sample coaching questions can be:
- What is important to you about this matter?
- What makes you feel hesitant (or quote the client words, e.g., most often heard is “I am not sure……”? What are the factors leading you to doubt yourself in dealing with this matter?
- What can you do to the factors you just identified?
- Can you please recall in your past experience a similar situation? What did you feel at that time?
- What can you do about this self-awareness?
- What can you learn from this experience, from doubting yourself on this matter to the current stage of success/self-confidence?
- Where do your self-confidence lie? Recall a moment of self-doubt and how did you deal with it?
- What would happen if you remain in this state of doubt and how would it impact your life in this area?
- How can you support your client to build up confidence?
Trust and doubt, International Coach Academy course materials.