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How to Overcome Self-Doubt

What is self-doubt and what we can do to get rid of it?

Key points

  • If you have self-doubt, you may have difficulty confidently stating your level of competence.
  • Unconscious ways you might deal with self-doubt include self-handicapping, overachieving, and imposter syndrome.
  • Strategies to help overcome self-doubt include cultivating self-worth, building on your strengths for growth, and using positive self-talk.
Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Do you struggle to feel sure of yourself? Do you often question your beliefs or attitudes? Or do you often wonder if you've made the right decisions? Then you may be experiencing self-doubt.

Self-doubt is a state of uncertainty about the truth of anything about ourselves. It could be about our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, opinions, decisions, self-views, or any "truth" we hold in our minds. Overall, we may feel that we’re not stable, and we may question our self-competence (Braslow et al., 2012).

If we are someone who has a lot of self-doubts, we may vacillate when judging our abilities. We may expect poor performance and sometimes expect excellent performance. In other words, we have difficulty confidently stating our level of competence (Braslow et al., 2012).

Do You Have Self-Doubt?

Here are some questions (Oleson et al., 2000) you can ask yourself to see if you’re experiencing self-doubt:

  • Do you feel unsure about yourself?
  • Do you lack confidence in the outcomes of your efforts?
  • Are you uncertain about your level of competence?

How We Generally Deal With Self-Doubt

Because self-doubt is such an unpleasant experience, we often deal with it in automatic and unconscious ways—some of which can be good and others bad.

Here are a few of these ways:

  • Self-handicapping. Self-handicapping is a defensive strategy that helps us blur the reasons for our mistakes or failures. Using drugs, alcohol, and procrastination are examples of self-handicaps that enable us to blame our struggles on something other than our incompetence. Unfortunately, this strategy often leads to worsening self-doubt.
  • Overachievement. Overachievement is a strategy that helps prevent mistakes and failures. If we are self-doubting, we might not believe that our regular efforts or competence alone will be enough to succeed. So we put in a tremendous amount of effort. Unfortunately, we still might struggle with self-doubt because we have no way of knowing whether the extra effort or our competence made us successful (Braslow et al., 2012).
  • Imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when we feel like the success we've experienced is not an accurate reflection of our underlying abilities. We've done well, but we're afraid we can't keep up or compete with other people at our level. We might credit our success to luck, timing, or good fortune (Braslow et al., 2012).

How to Overcome Self Doubt

  • Unconditional self-worth. Try to cultivate a sense that your worth is neither increased nor decreased by external factors like how people treat you, your decisions, or the amount of money you make.
  • Unconditional love. Have permanent love for yourself.
  • Growth. Develop desirable personal qualities and build your strengths.
  • Use positive self-talk. Say things to yourself that are kind, positive, or supportive.
  • ​Use affirmations. For example, you might say, "I am strong and capable," "I am doing my best, and that is enough," or "I am capable of anything I put my mind to."

You may also want to ask yourself these questions:

  • How might you maintain confidence in yourself even when you make mistakes or experience failure?
  • How might you maintain self-confidence even when you are treated poorly or not given unconditional love from others?

Thinking through these questions and developing a mindset that helps maintain your self-worth may help prevent self-doubts from taking over.

In Sum

Self-doubt can be an uncomfortable and problematic thought process. Luckily, there are some things we can do to start overcoming self-doubt and moving forward with more confidence.

The Berkeley Well-Being Institute published a similar version of this contribution.

References

Braslow, M. D., Guerrettaz, J., Arkin, R. M., & Oleson, K. C. (2012). Self‐doubt. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(6), 470-482.

Oleson, K. C., Poehlmann, K. M., Yost, J. H., Lynch, M. E., & Arkin, R. M. (2000). Subjective overachievement: Individual differences in self‐doubt and concern with performance. Journal of personality, 68(3), 491-524.

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