‘It’s kind of a rule of thumb for me to self-doubt going into any kind of project. I always think that I shouldn’t be doing it and I don’t know how to do it and I’m going to fail and that I fooled them. I always try to find a way out.’ – Heath Ledger.
Self-doubt is debilitating, and it effects everyone. From Oscar winning actors to promising young students. It is one of the major obstacles that inhibits us from living the life we truly deserve. An unbearable weight to bear; soul destroying, and ambition denying.
Our emotional growth, then, appears to be retrograde: shrivelling as we age. Let us put this into perspective for a second. As children, whilst learning how to walk, whether we fell 10, 100 or 1000 times, self-doubt never crept into our minds. Why then, do we now consistently believe we are trying to be something that we are not destined to be?
“You can’t succeed; you are destined to fail.”
“It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’re simply not smart enough.”
These are self-destructive thoughts which manifest in many of our minds.
Failure and self-doubt are clearly intertwined, sure. However, giving up is the only sure way to fail. Of course, at some point in our lives, doubt WILL set in. Whether it is due to studies, work or relationships. The same overwhelmingly negative question will, at some point, spiral through all of our minds.
‘Am I good enough?’
This is never an easy question to answer, despite the clear bias towards our own negative traits. Keeping a journal is always a good idea. We tend to remember the negative far more than the positive. Because of this, we often lose sight of what we have actually achieved. For me, as a neuroscience PhD student, I am faced with self-doubt most days. Scientific research can be riddled with frustration and anguish due to the frequency of experimental failure. Because of that, I have regularly lost sight of how far I have come. When I was 15, my biology teacher howled: “you will never have a successful scientific career.” Now, 9 years later, I am working towards my doctorate. You should never give in to the critique or assumptions of others.
However, if you remain isolated in difficult situations, you trap yourself in your own head, like a bird in a cage. You start to think that your consistent failure is a unique trait, trademarked to only one person – you. This is never the case, and talking to people in a similar position highlights this considerably, lifting the shroud. Self-appreciation is far easier to grasp when you seek out advice and support from those who are aware of your situation, whether that be a loved one or a colleague. Remember, you will always be your own worst critic.
Now, failure. Too many of us regard failure as something irrefutably negative. It shouldn’t be. We build on failure. Don’t try to forget the mistakes, use them as stepping stones; a learning platform. However, never dwell on previous mistakes and pitfalls. An inventor can fail 999 times. However, if they succeed just the once, they’re in. Failure is simply practice for success.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that it won’t work” – Thomas Edison
Doubt as a consequence of failure – it’s the anchor that prevents us from sailing. Have faith in your skills. As I say, do not dwell on the past. Reflection, however, is important. How many times have you previously doubted yourself? How many times did you succeed despite that? Now, imagine what the outcome could have been if you managed to wash away that doubt.
If the burden of doubt becomes debilitating, counteract the negative with the positive. Begin to list positive things about yourself. Perhaps ask others to aid with this, too. It really helps to affirm just how far you have come to arrive at the position you are in. Some people forget this journey all too easily, myself included.
The worst trait of many, including myself, is to compare ourselves to others – a terrible idea. Focus on YOU getting better every day. Small, accumulative, and consistent improvements are the key to success. However, naturally, failure can be incredibly disheartening. But never be afraid to fail, it is a blessing in disguise.
“When one door closes, another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell