I had heard somewhere that most infants function at a genius level until the age of 1. When you think about their mental and emotional growth in that first year, they learn that their 10 fingers and toes are a part of them; they learn that when they cry, Mom picks them up; they learn that when Dad makes a funny face or touches them in a certain way, the sound of laughter comes out and makes them feel good; they somehow are able to decipher strange utterances into meaningful expression of language and no matter whether they fall 10 times, 100 times, or 1000 times, the thought of "it is too hard" or "I can't" never enters their tiny minds as they learn how to walk. However, as children get older, the ability to process and absorb a tremendous amount of sensory input slows down significantly, and by adulthood there are few among us who can truly be called geniuses. This raises an interesting question: If there is truth to this decline in cognitive function, what is the cause?
Research has postulated that the steady and rapid decline in this high level cognitive function is the learned behavior of self-doubt and self-judgement, often imposed on us by meaningful parents that have taught us, "You can't be a firefighter, it's too dangerous," "You can't be a doctor, you're not smart enough, you don't focus enough, and besides, medical school costs a lot of money," or "Honey... there is no money in being an artist, why don't you be a lawyer instead?" It is no wonder that our sense of wonder and our sense of invincibility has evaporated with the genius in us.
Self-doubt is one of the major obstacles to living the life you truly deserve. This unhealthy food for the soul drags down your spirit, crushes your ambitions, and prevents you from achieving all that you can. We all have those inner voices inside our heads that tell us we are not good enough, not strong enough and incapable of doing the things we dream of. Often, these feelings of weakness or incompetence stem from childhood and become ingrained in our very being. Over time, self-doubt can lead to problems with anxiety and depression, which in turn can lead to serious physical ailments like weight gain, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and even increased mortality rates among those with heart disease. It is important not only to be aware of the destructive nature of these feelings, but to incorporate methods to counteract this negativity so that you can enjoy a joyful, productive and fulfilling life.
Tips for Dealing With Self-Doubt
1. Live in the Present
Most of the time, feelings of self-doubt are attached to memories of times in the past when you failed to achieve something or when somebody else told you that you were not good enough. Don't dwell on those moments. Try to ground yourself and think about the now. Just because you weren't able to accomplish something before doesn't mean you can't do it again. Every day is a new start and a new chance to go for what you really want.
2. Trust in Yourself
Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. If you tell yourself that you cannot do something, then you probably won't even try it in the first place. Have faith in yourself, tell yourself that you are just as capable as the next person of achieving your dreams, and stop listening to the voice inside that keeps saying "I can't." As Norman Vincent Peale famously said, "What the mind can conceive and believe, and the heart desire, you can achieve."
3. Counteract the Negative
At times it may seem as though the negative voices in your head are stronger than the positive voices. Try to be aware of this when it happens, and make a concerted effort to counteract these negative thoughts with positive energy. When you feel a negative thought coming on, simply remind yourself about the things you like about yourself, your strengths, and all of the things you have achieved in your life and are proud of. Try reciting empowering affirmations.
4. Find the Source of Your Self-Doubt
If you find yourself constantly telling yourself you are not good enough, you may want to delve into the root of the problem. Where did these feelings originate? Was there a specific event that has caused you to harbor such feelings? You can choose to do this on your own or with the help of a professional therapist. Once you identify and understand the source of the problem, you can begin to work toward eliminating those negative thought patterns.
5. Spend Time With Others
Friends and family are an invaluable source of strength, reassurance and encouragement. In fact, studies suggest that people who have strong social support have fewer cardiovascular issues and lower levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone, when compared to people with fewer friends. Even strangers can be surprisingly positive and helpful when it comes to self-doubt. Simply voicing your self-doubt to others can often put it in perspective and make you realize how illogical this negativity can be. In addition, other people can offer advice and support that will motivate you and give you a huge confidence boost.
Wouldn't it be amazing if you could rediscover the genius in you? The simple act of believing in yourself, trusting the process, and trusting that you will know what to do when the time comes can greatly relieve your self-doubt. Practice staying present in the moment and try not to regret the past or worry about the future. If you can do this, you may just see your genius reemerge.
This is part of a series—see earlier postings.
© 2013 Dr. Cynthia Thaik