Could confidence be over-rated? What if instead of confidently striding into your next meeting, pitching your new big idea or even owning a large public stage relied less on feeling fearless and more on acknowledging your self-doubt and having the courage to move forward and do it anyway?
You see when we lack confidence in ourselves and our abilities we tell ourselves stories like: "I doubt I'll be successful if I try this", "People will find out I'm not as good as they thought" and even "If I fail my career will be over."
"The challenge is that these beliefs shape our expectations about whether we'll succeed or not, the behaviors we're motivated to take, how we perform and the stories we tell about our performance " explains Louisa Jewell, positive psychology and self-doubt expert.
"For example, in one study conducted by Michael Inzlicht at the University of Toronto when women's beliefs were shaped with a reminder that women are worse at maths than men just before undertaking a maths test, they perform more poorly," said Louisa. "The researchers found that the story fed the women's self doubt and made them feel anxious, which caused them to expend mental energy trying to suppress the anxiety and left them with fewer resources to concentrate on the test itself. Beliefs about our abilities have a tendency to become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
As a result the idea of forever banishing our feelings of self-doubt is an idea that appeals to many of us, is it the most effective way to improve our performance?
Researchers have found feelings of self-doubt often cause us to:
- Become defensively pessimistic in an effort to avoid taking on new challenges.
- Procrastinate and try to put things off.
- Self-sabotage our efforts so we can logically blame our failures on other factors - like "I'm so hungover no wonder my presentation was terrible" - in an effort to protect ourselves from really trying.
- Drive us to overachieve in an effort to prove ourselves wrong and risk burning ourselves out.
- Suffer from the imposter syndrome and are unable to accept praise for our efforts because we believe we don't really deserve it.
And while the idea of ridding yourself of self-doubt forever sounds appealing when you look at this list, the truth is nature has wired your brain with these uncomfortable feelings for the practical purpose of guiding your behavior. For example, studies have also found self-doubt can also help motivate you to improve your performance and avoid making the kind of mistakes associated with having too much self-confidence.
Like any feeling or emotion you have, you never want to feel all one way or another. Psychological agility - the right emotion, in the right situation for the right outcome - should always be your goal.
So what can you do to constructively manage your self-doubt?
Louisa recommends three scientifically-tested approaches to ensure you can swim in the ocean of opportunities that are available in life:
- Acknowledge you're "not there yet" - Professor Carol Dweck at Standford University suggests embracing our self-doubt by acknowledging "I'm not there yet. But I can get there." You see Dweck's research has found that that self-doubt is often fed by a fixed mindset that invests in the belief that we're born either smart or dumb, talented or ordinary. Over the last decade neuroscientific research has confounded these beliefs with the discovery that with effort and practice we all have the potential to improve our abilities.
To help embrace a more growth-orientated mindset which studies suggests lead to ever higher levels of success, try using your moments of self-doubt as a trigger to remind yourself that these feelings just mean you're not there yet, but this is a great opportunity to learn and practice getting better.
- Take one small step - Professor James Maddux at George Mason University has found acknowledging our self-doubts and taking small steps that lead to small successes is an effective way to build our confidence and shift our beliefs about what we're capable of doing. Maddux's research suggests that improve our self-efficacy - our beliefs about what we can do and what we can't - can help to lower our levels of stress and improve our levels of effort, persistence, resilience and ability to achieve our goals. If there was one small step you could take that would you to grow, improve and gain confidence in your life what would you be willing to try?
- Create a mantra of self-compassion - Dr. Kristin Neff has found people who are willing to look at their own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding. Neff's research suggests self-compassion helps to improve our optimism, leaves us feeling happier and acting in ways that are good for ourselves and others.
A simple way to practice self-compassion is to talk to yourself like you would your best friend. To remind yourself that you're not perfect and neither is anyone else. Louisa recommends having a little self-compassionate mantra ready to go when self-doubt threatens to overwhelm you or failure feels like it's sinking you. For example: "In most situations you're better than you think you are so let's see if you can figure this out" or "You know what, you're doing your best and that's all I ask". What self-compassion mantra can you have up your sleeve?
For more ideas on managing self-doubt based on the new science of self-confidence join Louisa for a free 4-day summit with the world's leading researchers from May 11th, 2015 by clicking here.
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