Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” ~Unknown
In order to overcome any limitation, we have to turn around and face it, study it, and watch it. From my experience, self-doubt is associated with three main processes—comparison, becoming fixated on specific outcomes, and feeling like an imposter.
Comparing Yourself with Others
Self-doubt is defined as the lack of confidence in one’s own abilities. When plagued with self-doubt, we believe that we can’t do something, and if we dig a bit deeper, we will invariably find that this belief arises from comparison. We believe we can’t do it the way someone else does it.
We gauge success and failure by the norm, which is always set by others. Think about this. If you never had the ability to compare yourself with others, would you be plagued either by self-doubt or its opposite, over-confidence?
Fixation on a Particular Outcome
Obviously, comparison is not the only fuel source for self-doubt. One of the biggest things that holds us back from forging forward is the fear of failing. When we become fixated on a particular outcome, not only do we become paralyzed by the possibility of failure but we also close ourselves off to all other possibilities.
For instance, if you’re a writer, you may find yourself reluctant to explore your creativity in your art if you have a particular goal of getting a certain number of readers, accolades, or other outcomes. The joy of writing becomes masked by anxiety if you are not open to failure, however you define it.
Feeling Like an Imposter
You’ve probably heard of Imposter Syndrome, which seems to affect women more than men. If you feel like you don’t deserve any of your accomplishments or that you got to where you are by pure fluke, you may be suffering from this condition.
Here, obviously we are not talking about people that do end up with some successes by sheer luck but about those who underestimate their own achievements. It’s where we might feel like a fraud for being successful.
And then there are the issues of not wanting to appear aggressive, ambitious, or assertive that make us take a step back from our full potential.
What Doesn’t Help
Just from my own familiarity with self-doubt, I can attest to what doesn’t help with alleviating it. Things like positive self-talk, affirmations, visualizations, and go-getting strategies can help but they don’t get to the root of the issue--the belief that we are lacking. These techniques remain at the surface level of the mind, never touching the energetic power of the belief that becomes intermingled with our very identity.
How to Face and Overcome Self-Doubt
Whenever we are plagued by beliefs that limit our ability to live happy and fulfilled lives, it’s an indication to look into them. All of our suffering arises from believing our thoughts about ourselves or the world.
These days we hear so much about meditation that we can often lose perspective about what it can and cannot do.
Depending on the technique, meditation can certainly help calm our minds and lower stress and blood pressure—very favorable outcomes.
What it will not do is solve our fundamental problems that arise from limiting beliefs. Instead, meditation creates the space in which we can do the real work of looking within. Most importantly, it helps us cultivate inner silence and the ability to step back from our minds and evaluate our internal processes in a non-judgmental way. If we cannot step back from our beliefs, we cannot work on them!
Writing is a powerful tool for cultivating self-awareness. It forces us to pin down our internal process.
Write without censoring and consider the following questions:
Now that you’ve identified your limiting beliefs, try this. Find fifteen to twenty minutes when you will not be disturbed. Keep your journal close. Sit comfortably and take some deep breaths, giving yourself permission to attend to tasks later. Relax any tense areas of the body.
Now gently bring up your first belief, for example, the one about appearing ambitious. Who decides how you appear? Can you control what anyone else thinks of you? What if you never had the ability to think this thought?
Allow each question to sink into silence without allowing the mind to answer. Take as long as you need to feel the effect of this sinking in. It will feel like a whoosh in your body when you suddenly realize that a thought is completely untrue. You don’t have to let go of anything. When you stop believing an untrue thought, it lets go of you. This is freedom.
Another powerful way of dealing with our limitations is to feel them in our bodies. Start as above, sitting comfortably and taking a few deep breaths. Relax. Bring up the first belief from your list. Where in your body do you feel it? Belly? Chest? Back? Focus entirely on feeling and not thinking. What does it feel like? Is it a heaviness? Contraction? Discomfort?
Feel it fully, without trying to change it. Become curious about it. Does it come and go? Does it move anywhere?
Continue to breathe deeply as the sensations subside. Notice that sensations come and go, but you are here. Our thoughts, beliefs, and sensations are temporary phenomena that become a problem when we hang on to them long after they are gone.
Once you get comfortable with feeling sensations in your body, try the question exercise. Allow each question to sink in while observing the sensations. The energetic signature of a belief is felt in the body as a sense of contraction or tightness. When the belief dissolves through questioning, the energetic signature relaxes and this is felt deeply in the body.
Once you’ve become adept at questioning your thoughts and beliefs in a meditative state, it’s time to put it into practice. Any time you feel paralyzed with self-doubt or when the old patterns start acting up, pause. Now you know that this belief is untrue.
The only way out of this disabling pattern is to surrender to the present moment. Focus entirely on the task and not thoughts about the task, its outcome, or how you feel about it.
The practice here is to drop into the body and observe the sensations as they arise and subside, noticing that all phenomena including self-doubt, naturally pass. Paradoxically, it is when we allow it to arise fully that it lets go of its death-grip and our actions become spontaneous, light, and joyful.
Self-doubt lies either in the past as memories or in the future as imaginary projections. It cannot exist in the now. Action lies in the now, where there is neither self-doubt nor self-grandiosity, both of which are thoughts of the past or future.
In the now, there is only doing what is required. When we learn to ignore our self-doubt and put our best foot forward, it eventually lets go of us. In this newfound freedom, we become fearless, having relinquished the desire for any particular outcome and learned the value of acting for purely the joy of it.
“Love does not obey our expectations; it obeys our intentions.” ~Lloyd Strom
There are many books, articles and research on how to have a great relationship and how to keep your relationship strong. Of all I sifted through, three suggestions have held. They are a great start on how to love with intention and how to build a sound foundation so the relationship doesn’t crumble at the first fight. Single? Definitely a great starting point for identifying how you would like to approach your next relationship and what it is you are looking for.
Relationship Mission Statements
Despite having a business, it never occurred to me that mission statements could be for more than businesses and non-profits. Guess what? You can write one for a relationship too.
When you write a relationship mission statement, you're forced to think what you want to gain from the relationship and what you're willing to put in. When two people do them together, they can be powerful.
These are great to do at the beginning of a relationship. These are great to do before there are any fights or hurt feelings, both people know what they want and where they want to go. It can also help you identify your own direction and be more intentional in your relationship.
How Do You Write a Relationship Mission Statement? I believe they shouldn’t be too rigidly defined. They should be natural and truthful, and the structure they take on should vary with your own values.
You should include key things: what you will do, what you won’t do, things you might need help with, and what you want the relationship to be. Beyond that, put in whatever feels right.
Here are some examples:
What will you do in your relationship?
I will be available to you.
I will respect you, empathize with you, and care for you.
What bad habits do you acknowledge that you may need to be called out on?
I will apologize when I’m wrong, although sometimes you may have to drag it out of me, and sometimes it may take me a week before I come to it on my own. And: I will undoubtedly get moody every now and then, but I will try not to take it out on you. If I do, I will not get moodier when you call me out on it.
What do you promise not to do in your relationship?
I will not be petty. I will not be spiteful. I will never speak to you with contempt, dismiss your ideas or opinions, or give you the silent treatment when I’m mad at you.
What do you expect from your relationship?
I will help you grow, and watch you grow through your own efforts. I will stand next to you when you need me there, and stand back when you need to do it yourself. I will be my own person and allow you to be yours.
And I sum it all up with what matters most:
I will not give up when things get difficult, but I will let you go if it ever comes to be what you need to be happy. I will help you find what makes you happy, and help you achieve it. I will do everything with intention.
I promise you, so long as I’m with you, we will be greater together than the sum of us apart.
Weekly Check-Ins: Weekly check-ins are great to do starting in the beginning. Be totally honest and share the things you felt good about that week and the things that upset you, along with a rating of how you currently feel about your relationship (1-10). It is a great metric to do at the beginning.
Why? Because choosing a number is easy starting point for explaining “Why.”
It’s easy to assume everything’s great because you think it’s great, but when you’re hit with an unexpected “I give us a 5 this week,” you’re forced to remember the other person’s feelings.
It can help you from falling into that trap of getting angry, not saying anything, and then blowing up about it months later. These chats need to be a set date, every week—not a “whenever” chat. If you don’t set the date and stick to it every week, then you won’t get comfortable being so open with one another. Then, when you have a major grievance to air, you’ll be more likely to sit on it or get passive-aggressive about it.
Developing strong communication habits early is key. Not only does it help your partner, but it also helps you. Constant, honest communication builds trust and reduces the urge to be defensive. If your relationship’s already in progress, then it’s not too late to start, but the earlier, the better.
It makes your relationship stronger when you’re both able to confidently give and receive feedback. Without it, confidence is hard to come by. Be sure to give feedback with intention; don’t be passive aggressive, don’t be nasty.
Beware of the Four HorsemenDr. John Gottman, a pioneer in relationship work, found that there were four habits in couples that predicted divorce: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. He called these the Four Horsemen.
Criticism:This is when you make it personal. If you have a grievance, make it known directly. Instead of “You never listen to me,” try “This is important to me, and it upsets me when it looks like you’re not listening. Can you set your phone aside for a few minutes while we talk?” (Talking this way gets easier and less awkward.)
Defensiveness: It’s not easy to admit you’re wrong. Learning not to get defensive when the other person brought up a legitimate concern (not criticism) was so beneficial.
We are rarely 100% innocent in fights. Take a deep breath and listen to the other person. When you’re busy trying to defend yourself, you can’t listen. If you can’t listen, you can’t solve the problem.
Contempt: This often shows up in relationships that have had a history of criticism and defensiveness. Mocking, sarcasm, rolling your eyes, and scoffing doesn’t make you the better person. They make you someone who wants to destroy your own relationship. Because that’s what contempt will do. I promise you: Rolling your eyes will not make your partner suddenly see that you’re right.
Stonewalling: You may find yourself tempted to give in to the silent treatment. Do yourself a favor and don’t. Be honest: Does it really make you happier to stonewall your partner? Does it show that you value the other person? Or does it just drag the fight out longer? Stonewalling can also include picking up your cell phone to text while the other person is talking, walking out of the room, and saying things like “Forget it.”
I believe knowing and avoiding these four habits can save many relationships. Being conscious of all of them can encourage you to pause when you get angry or annoyed. You can ask yourself if what you're tempted to say is intentional or lashing out. If it doesn’t benefit your relationship, don’t say it. This has to go both ways, so get your partner on board with communication early and often.
You Get What You Create, Not What You Expect. My relationship isn’t your relationship and each relationship is different, but I hope even one of these suggestions can help you. So many other couples suffer from the Four Horsemen, but it i is possible not to fall into these relationship traps.
You just need to be intentional and respectful to yourself and the other person. Create the relationship you want with your partner with intention. Be mindful and choose a mindful partner. It’s okay if you both have to learn as you go along.
It’s okay if you stumble; acknowledge it, correct it, and move on. Don’t hold grudges. Improving my skill with relationships has helped me in other areas, too. The 4 horseman are also applicable to friends and family.
When you’re not fighting through a toxic relationship (romantic or otherwise), you have the time and energy to grow. You can have passions. You can create legacies.
Don’t forget that you’re one-half of every relationship you’re in. Don’t forget the other person is the other half. It takes both of you to make the whole. Create the whole with intention.
Licensed counselor, outdoor enthusiast, yoga lover and passionate about wellness.