9 Ways To Overcome Doubt

Stop dreaming and start doing.

The hardest part of doing anything is getting started. The moment before you walk into the interview, the minutes before your final exam, the very first day of school... all of those experiences are prime opportunities for doubt.

Doubt's a game-killer. If it sinks in deep enough, it'll make you give up battles you can win, make you turn away from goals that were within your grasp, and poison the way you see yourself and the world.

When it comes to facing challenges, doubt will always be there. It's a part of doing anything... but it doesn't have to control you.

Here are nine ways that you can work around or even harness your fears and anxieties to accomplish whatever you want or need to. 

Here are nine ways to overcome doubt.

1. Mentally rehearse.

Whether you're asking someone out on a date, interviewing for a job, getting ready for a test, or learning a new skill, it's vital to get your mind into the right groove by mentally rehearsing what you need to do. It's a good way to locate the friction points in your plan and to develop contingency measures for worst-case scenarios.

Do not just focus on everything going according to plan. You need to know exactly what your options are if things go sideways. Don't approach this exercise with fear, but rather with a sense of preparation, because that's what this is. 

Start with a checklist. Visualize the details: what you're wearing, where you're going, how you'll be feeling, what you'll eat beforehand... there's no detail too small. Repeating it over and over again will prime your mind to be ready for the task and increase your confidence as you proceed.

2. Positive programming beats positive thinking.

"Positive thinking" is a good thing, but it can degenerate into denial. A better approach when it comes to overcoming doubt is positive programming: a way of calming your nerves that is particularly useful when it comes to entering into any new endeavor or learning a previously foreign set of skills.

Start by telling yourself two things: 

1) What you're about to do is fun and will be enjoyable. Doesn't matter if it's building a rock wall or learning calculus — it's going to be fun. It might be difficult, but you're going to enjoy it. 

2) What you're doing is a process. There are steps to doing anything. You will learn to do each step. You will build on each new part of the process. Say to yourself, "This is an acquirable skill set and nothing more. All I have to do is pay attention and keep doing it."

Once you've started programming yourself that way, you'll start seeing things in a very different light: with curiosity and interest rather than doubt. 

3. Have a mantra.

Reinforce your positive programming and mental rehearsal by adding a simple phrase that you say to yourself along the way that will remind you to keep going. It can be anything that resonates with you, even something as simple as "baby steps" or "just keep moving."

You don't have to say it out loud if you don't want to: it's all yours. Whenever you feel doubt creeping up on you, think of your mantra as a life vest or a rope to shore. Use it to get to the solid ground of self-confidence. 

4. Build your resistance to stress.

Just as you build bigger muscles by increasing the amount of weight that is pulled or pushed, you build confidence and competence under pressure by slowly subjecting yourself to greater amounts of strain. Now, obviously we're not advocating working 80 hours a week or taking on more classes or work than you have to. Instead, build a healthy mind and a healthy body by increasing your resilience via exercise.

It doesn't matter what the exercise is. What matters is that it is physically taxing and that you increase its intensity regularly, even if it's by a tiny bit. Did you run for an hour last week? Run for an hour and ten minutes this week. Did you do 30 pushups a day yesterday? Aim for 35 today. 

Above all else, aim to exceed yourself.

You'll find that increasing this kind of stress has the psychological benefit of putting things in greater perspective: you'll realize that you're capable of going a lot farther and doing a lot more than you thought.

5. Know your "why."

Your "why" is your reason for doing something. Your "why" needs to be important to you, first and foremost. If your "why" is weak, you're going to fail before you even start. You can make yourself believe something is important to you, but if it's of little actual consequence, you will subconsciously self-sabotage. 

Maybe you want to get rid of the feeling of having left something undone. Maybe you want to become a master at something. Maybe you want to be the best in the world. Whatever your "why" is, know it. It will remind you that there's a reason for whatever sacrifices you have to make.

6. Develop discipline in addition to motivation.

You can listen to all the speeches in the world, but unless you have the discipline that comes with creating good habits day after day, your motivation will only carry you to the point of discomfort.

Motivation is a great way to start, but discipline is what will keep you going. 

Start with little things. Set an alarm and set aside time for yourself every day, whether it's meditating, reading, or even just making the bed. Find a way to make and enforce "you time." 

Schedule your day: make to-do lists. Whittle down distractions. Create order out of your hours. Do not allow any time for doubting to take up residence in your life. 

Get into the habit of getting busy. 

7. Have a plan.

Would you try to build a house with just a pile of wood and some nails? You might be able to build a shelter, but you'd probably fail at building a house. 

To create or accomplish anything, including a meaningful life or a set of goals, you need to have a plan. You need to be able to track progress, organize tools, and understand what will be necessary in order to get the job done. 

Map it out. Chunk it up. Break it down. 

Make a plan. 

8. Refocus and reframe your failures.

Failures are inevitable. There will be setbacks. There will be things beyond your control. Sometimes your best will not be good enough. Unless you are dead or you quit, however, you haven't really failed. You've just gained experience.

Learn from your failures. Reframe them as experiences. Use them to refocus and carry on. 

Throw yourself a pity party if you want, but then get off your ass and take a look at where things went wrong. What can you recover? What did you do well? What was unexpected? How would you have done things differently? Where did you screw up? 

Failing might make you doubt yourself, but sometimes failing is exactly what you need to get to the next level, to reach down deep and find the strength to finish. Let failure only make you stronger. 

9. Celebrate your successes.

When you succeed, you owe it to yourself to recognize that you've overcome obstacles, beaten the odds, and conquered your doubt. Reinforce your confidence and faith in yourself by celebrating your successes. You don't have to throw a party or even tell anyone: just take some time to bask in the glory of finishing a task, accomplishing a goal, or overcoming a fear.

At Strayer University, we've been breaking down barriers and making college possible for working adults for over 120 years. Giving you the power to learn anywhere. Online, on campus or on the go. Strayer makes it possible. Find out more at strayer.edu.

Cover image via Yoal Desurmont / Unsplash.