10/04/2012 11:52 am ET Updated Dec 04, 2012

3 Steps to Overcoming Your Self-Doubts


I have been a faithful follower of and participant in Rhonda Britten's Fearless Living Boot Camp for the last two weeks. Although I feel I've made some progress, I also feel like something has been holding me back. When I read the following quote, I realized what it was:

Your idea of the world (what you believe the world is) manifests everything in your life. When you change your idea of the world, the world itself changes. Essentially, your mission isn't to set the world right, but simply to set yourself right. The world does not change, we change. -- David Wolfe

Can anyone guess what's been holding me back? Me. Yep, I have been holding myself back. And that's when I realized it's not about conquering our fears or becoming "fearless" -- the latter one is impossible. As human beings, fear is ingrained in us, and we want it to be. It can be a very useful emotion. But, being human, we can also use fear as an excuse to hold us back from figuring out what we really want in life -- you know, the big questions like, "Why are you here?"

And so I find myself at the halfway point of Rhonda Britten's challenge more afraid than ever, because what I've realized is that I don't actually know what my potential is. I've never allowed myself to discover that. I'm afraid of myself, which makes absolutely no sense. After all, fear and anxiety signal danger. Do I really think I'm dangerous to myself? No -- being a psychologist that thought evokes words like suicidal thinking, which I clearly don't have.

So what's going on? What am I actually afraid of? According to self-help author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins, I'm afraid of failing. Of putting myself out there only to fall flat on my face. Robbins argues that, as humans, we'll do just about anything to avoid pain -- physical or psychological. We hold ourselves back so that we don't get hurt.

While that idea makes sense on the surface, it's also a ridiculous notion. Why wouldn't we want to succeed? Why wouldn't we want to challenge ourselves to be better than we are? Are we really that self-centered? Afraid of our own shadows?

According to Marianne Williamson, we are. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?"

Good question. So what do we do? It's time for a lesson in self-improvement. I call it three steps to overcoming our own self-doubts.

1. Figure out what you want in life. That's right. It's time to tackle the big question, but we're going to do it in baby steps. First, I want you to complete the Circle of Life exercise:

If you're like me, when you connect the dots, your "circle" looks more like some weird constellation than an actual sphere. So what does that mean? Well it means there are areas in your life that need work. Maybe you're not satisfied with your career or your relationships or your home environment. Now that you've got your circle, for each area where you expressed low satisfaction, ask yourself "Is this area important for me? If I improved this area would I be more satisfied with my life?" If the answer is no, then forget about it. If the answer is yes, then ask yourself, "What would it take to improve this area of my life? What would it look like for me to be fully satisfied in this area?" Now we've got to figure out how to get you there.

Okay, last part of step one. Go back through your circle and pick the three areas that are most important to you. For me they were: relationships, creativity, and social life. Now ask yourself, "Are these the three areas where I spend most of my time?" I'm guessing not. My top three time commitments look like this: career, career, oh, and career. Sound familiar? Here's the rub. By doing this -- by short changing ourselves and giving time to things that aren't important -- we are not being true to ourselves. More importantly, we're holding ourselves back by not allowing ourselves to envision what life might be like if we devoted our time to the things that make our hearts sing. Instead we are horribly out of balance -- with ourselves and with our priorities. No wonder we're unhappy and afraid! We're letting other people -- our bosses, our significant others, our mothers -- tell us what our priorities should be, and in turn, who we should be. It's time to stop.

2. Get your house in orde. The biggest problem with my non-circular circle is finding time in my busy schedule to devote to the areas that I value, which also happen to be my areas of low satisfaction. Of course, there are only 24 hours in a day. Where is the time going to come from to devote to my high priority areas? The more I thought about it, the more I found myself not really sure where I'm spending my time. Take this morning, for example. I got up, exercised, showered and got dressed, messed around on the Internet, checked my email, Facebook, Twitter, and then before I knew it I'd lost an hour. Social media is like that for me. I tend to get sucked in and lose track of time. But that valuable time is time I could be spending working on my high priority areas. What to do? The first thing you (and I) need to do is figure out just how you are spending your time. That's easy. For the next week commit to conducting a time audit. Don't try to change anything, just keep track of how you are spending your waking hours. I think you'll be surprised at all of the little things that don't really matter but seem to take up a lot of time. Like email. Social media. Standing in line. Doing chores. All of these are time killers.

3. Get ready, get set, GO! Okay. This is it. The final step. Are you going to change your circle and become 100 percent satisfied overnight? No. Of course not. But in this final step, I want you to think about how you can make small changes in your life that will improve your overall satisfaction and get you where you want to be. How? First take a look at your time audit. Notice any time killers that can be quickly eliminated? Nix them!

Next, are there any time killers that you could delegate to someone else? For example, could you ask the kids to take over dishwashing duty or ask your spouse to do the laundry or decide to shell out the money to have someone clean your house once a month so you don't have to? Finally, are there things that you could ask for help with so it takes you less time to do them? Or things that you are making too complicated that you could cut time in half if you simplified? I have a friend, a busy mother who works full time, that decided she would make up batches of individual ingredients (e.g., rice, beans, salad, boiled eggs) on the weekends and then let her husband and kids be responsible for combining them into edible lunches and dinners for themselves. Now she has time to go out with friends for a drink once a week and take that weekly Pilates class -- fulfilling her social life and physical activity needs -- and she's much happier for it. Does this mean she's quit her energy-draining career? No. But, those extra hours she found have allowed her to start exploring what her dream career might look like. This summer she took the plunge and enrolled in an online education program with plans to build her business while she's still employed so that when she graduates from school she can cut back to part time. Then when she has enough clients to pay the bills, she can quit her mind-numbing, unsatisfying, stressful job altogether. See? Baby steps.

Ready to start owning up to your true potential? Take that small step today. Download the circle of life worksheet. See what your "circle" looks like. Try the time audit and see what you find. Later -- maybe it takes a month, a year, five years -- you'll look back at this moment and be glad you took that first step to change your life. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, "[Never forget that you are] the change you want to see in the world." Go out there and change it!

For more by Mary Pritchard, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.