Self-doubting is an underrated source of much needless misery and this misery is made worse when self-doubting co-occurs with anxiety and procrastination to form a triple trouble pattern. Here is how this triple trouble pattern unfolds: (1) You don’t feel confident about your coping abilities, (2) You feel anxious when you face difficult situations, and (3) You procrastinate on coping. What is the outcome? You miss opportunities to develop the confident self that you suspect is hidden under all the doubts.
Here is some good news. In the triple trouble pattern, doubts, anxiety, and procrastination flow together. Positive changes in one area can favorably affect the others. You can use a divide and conquer technique to free yourself from the triple trouble pattern. It follows.
Coping with Self-Doubt Thinking
The automaker, Henry Ford, had something to say about how thinking affects doing: “Whether you think you can or think you can't — you are right.”
A bit of doubt can be motivating1. The excesses are the problem where you doubt yourself, second-guess yourself, hesitate, and down yourself2. Excessive self-doubting negatively affects your judgments and decisions3.
If you are in a painful triple trouble pattern, the odds are that your dominant doubts will range from negative partial truths to self-defeating fallacies about what you can’t do. These beliefs affect how you feel and what you do. For example, if you believe that you can’t cope, you’ll probably feel and act as you think.
One way to break the self-doubt pattern is to look for exceptions to the doubts. Recall a situation where you did what you thought you could not do. What was the catalyst for the action you took? What resources did you mobilize? What can you repeat doing to help yourself build a fact-based coping perspective?
Another technique is to strip your self-doubt message of exaggerations, false assumptions, and unreasonable expectations. What is left?
At first, you may not see circularity in your self-doubt thinking. Here is an example of this circular thinking. You doubt your coping ability. You don’t cope. You believe this result is proof that you can’t cope. You can start exiting the circle by doubting your self-doubts.
Coping with Anxiety
The words of the longest serving First Lady of the United States, activist, Eleanor Roosevelt, might help: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” That assertion carries over to what you think about yourself.
If you believe you don’t have what it takes to cope, your anxiety alarm goes off when you anticipate encountering a threatening situation 2, 4. Here, anxiety is an emotional extension of self-doubt thinking.
Anxiety has many reasons and causes including viewing yourself as inferior and unable to cope. Let’s look at the messages behind inferiority beliefs and how to debunk them.
Pretend that you are carrying on a conversation with inferiority. What would you want to know? Here are some sample questions. “In what ways am I inferior?” “What are the absolute, universally, accepted standards for this conclusion?” “Are there exceptions?”
If inferiority’s views prove questionable or bogus—as they eventually will—can you correct the record? For example, if inferiority gives a great deal of credence to an “I can’t cope,” belief, look for exceptions. It won’t be long before you can compile a long list of exceptions, such as when you stood up for your rights when a clerk short-changed you at a grocery store. Coping events like that count!
Coping with Procrastination
A quote attributed to the ancient Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, may help with procrastination. “Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”
If you regularly doubt yourself and feel anxious, the odds are that you’ll put off dealing with both your doubts and anxieties. What do you need to know about procrastination to get past this change barrier? Here are a few basic ideas.
1. Procrastination is a process, not an event. Unlike a knee jerk that is over in a flash, procrastination is a multifaceted process that goes on and on with each phase propelling the other. When you see the process, you can change from procrastinating to productive action at any phase in the cycle. Look within to find the will to act despite your doubts.
2. Procrastination starts with a perception and a feeling. You perceive a difficulty or threat and feel uncomfortable about what you perceive. Look within and think it out. You gain little of value by dodging a challenge that you will eventually need to meet. Meanwhile allow the feeling to be. If you learn to accept discomfort as a normal prelude to problem solving, you may no longer fear and dodge it.
3. To dodge feeling uncomfortable, you discharge tension by doing something you feel more comfortable doing. These are your behavioral distractions. You watch television. You dust your abode. You pace the floor. You bicker with your mate. Look within. Find your foresight. Refuse to engage in distractions that will only reinforce what you seek to change. Then all that remains is coping and conquering your doubts.
4. You mentally distract yourself. Here are three examples: (1) “I can’t think about my problem right now (the thinking procrastination approach).” (2) “I’ll take care of this later (the tomorrow is another day approach).” (3) “I can’t help myself (the resignation approach).” Look within and find your categorizing ability. Categorize this thinking with a single label: procrastination thinking. This labeling has a purpose. It is easier to change a process once you can see it. It’s reasonable to assume that this thinking is misleading. For example, if someone offered you everything that you ever wanted if you were to start acting against your doubts now, would you say that you can’t start until later?
In a paradoxical way, combatting the triple threat pattern opens an opportunity for you to strengthen your reasoning skills, emotional resilience, and behavioral coping skills. These changes can build over time and then grow on their own volition. Eventually, you may wonder where the triple threat pattern went.
For more on how to combat self-doubts and anxiety, click on The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety (Second Edition)
For more on how to combat procrastination, click on The Procrastination Workbook
1. Woodman, T., Akehurst, S., Hardy, L, and Beattie, S. (2010). Self-confidence and performance: A little self-doubt helps. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(6): 467-470.
2. Knaus, W. (1982). How to Get Out of a Rut. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.
3. Mirels, H. L., Greblo, P. and Dean, J. B. (2002). Judgmental self-doubt: Beliefs about one's judgmental prowess. Personality and Individual Differences, 33(5): 741-758.
4. Bandura, A. (1988). Self-efficacy conception of anxiety. Anxiety Research, 1(2): 77-98.
(C) Dr. Bill Knaus. 2015. All Rights Reserved.