Self-Doubt

That irritating, condescending voice in the background of your thoughts, questioning your every move and decisions. “Are you really going to wear that out?” “Are you sure you are smart enough to do well on this?” “Do you actually think they like you?” Thoughts like these that pretend to help you be your best or protect you in some way, but really put you down and ultimately confirm your fears you just aren’t getting it right. Have you experienced thoughts like these before?

If you said yes, you are being honest with yourself. According to Michigan State University Extension’s Stress Less with Mindfulness program, a person has 80,000 thoughts a day and 80 percent of these are negative. Having these thoughts then seem to be part of the human experience – if you are living and breathing, you know what they are like, and how they can influence your mood and your behavior. For instance, you might hear them say “you are not attractive” when you look in the mirror, getting ready for a night out with your friends. As you can imagine, this might result in you feeling sad, insignificant, or just not good looking enough. You might then cancel your plans with your friends that night, and stay in and feel sorry for yourself, and even worse about your appearance and attractiveness.

It’s a downward negative spiral, that tends to start at the source – believing this voice of doubt automatically when you hear it, as if it’s 100% true all of the time, no questions asked.

But what if you could start to slow down this chain of events, notice on purpose when the self-doubt voice is activated, and detach from it to decide if it’s helpful or not in the moment? Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based treatment approach for various mental health concerns, teaches us how to do just that. To take an intentional step back from our thoughts, as a way to de-fuse from them (fusing with our thoughts means that we are taking them literally as truth, which is quite dangerous, since many of us tend to have more negative than positive self-statements moving around in our mind).

Said another way, we actually benefit the most when we DOUBT self-doubt.

The first step in the process of de-fusing from, or separating from your thoughts, is to practice awareness. Paying attention on purpose to your thoughts, as if you are a scientist collecting information and noticing it for the first time. “How fascinating that my mind is telling me I don’t look good in the these jeans” or “How curious that my mind is saying James doesn’t think I’m interesting.”

After you identify your self-doubting thoughts and their impact, you can try out stepping back from them, and looking at them instead of through them. Almost as if you have pasted the thought on a whiteboard, and are seeing it just as it is – a stream of conscious, a collection of words and syllabus. You aren’t trying to change it, stop the thought, or make it in to something else, but you are noticing it as it is, unconnected from you. Then you can start to respond to it in a more productive way, that doesn’t harm you or make you believe you are lesser than your worth. For example, you might stick with the curious scientist approach, with a bit of sarcasm – “How interesting my mind is having the thought I am unattractive, thanks mind!”. You may also want to try out the thought as a lyric or line in a rock song, singing it out loud in your head to one of your favorite tunes, noticing how its meaning fades when blended in with the chorus. You could give your thoughts a shape or structure, texture or temperature, noticing how it morphs and moves in your mind’s eye.

These simple, somewhat humorous strategies can help give you some distance from the doubt, facilitating you to experience it as it is, a line of words with no connection to you or your happiness.

Imagine applying this philosophy to our initial example. Instead of cancelling your plans, you try a defusion technique. You might then decide the voice of doubt is just a thought, not something to take literally, and instead enjoy a much-needed night out with your favorite group of friends. Doing the things you value the most with the people you enjoy, and leaving self-doubt at home.

 

*If you like what you read and are interested in other ACT strategies, or to learn more about how I could help you conquer self-doubt, please feel free to call me at 813-658-8754, or visit my website at drczimmertherapy.com to schedule a free phone consultation. I am a licensed clinical psychologist serving the South Tampa, FL community, and am accepting new clients today!

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