Overcoming Self-Doubt

How we can face ourselves with greater equanimity, and cultivate self-acceptance.

What is self-doubt?

Self-doubt is incredibly common. People often describe it as a feeling of being judgemental, uncertain, insecure, or lacking in self-esteem, confidence and self-expression.

Self-doubt results from the way you judgementally think about yourself and your life situation.

This sort of self-non-acceptance can be thought of as a disconnection from some aspect of yourself, in order to avoid the psychological pain, distress, or discomfort of judgement.

How can you work to overcome it?

Although self-doubt can be paralyzing at times, if you can reduce the stress caused by self-doubt to a degree that's manageable, your mind has the natural intelligence to begin learning a new way of thinking about yourself, as well as finding productive solutions to improve your situation.

You are then able to face yourself with a calm state of mind, as opposed to reactively judging your situation, and turning away.

This is called observation. It is the opposite of judgement.

How to get the most from this exercise

The following self-reflective exercise is designed to help you explore, in a productive manner, the aspects of yourself that you are most critical of.

There are two steps to the exercise. In the first step you will be asked to choose the habits or aspects of your personality that you currently struggle with.

In the second step, you will be asked to examine your PERCEPTION of yourself across these various traits, as well as your IDEALS for how you would like to be (see the Mood Balance for more insights on how the relationship between your perceptions and your ideals can impact your state of mind). You will also have the opportunity to explore practical ways to improve your situation.

Step 1: Select the habits you would like to explore

We are going to use the OCEAN (Big Five) model of personality for this exercise. You can read more about personality theory here, if you would like.

In this first step, review the habits that fall within each of the five personality traits. Select 3-5 habits from each personality trait and write them down on a separate piece of paper or digital notepad.

Don't worry if you are not sure about some of your choices. Try to be over-inclusive, as you will have the opportunity later to review and narrow down your choices to a smaller group of habits to analyse.

Extraversion / Introversion

Select 3-5 habits from the list below and write them down in your notebook.

  • Sometimes I act without thinking
  • Sometimes I talk too loudly
  • I can spend too much money
  • I may exaggerate the truth
  • I may dominate the conversation excessively
  • I find it difficult to spend time alone
  • I could be a better listener
  • I may spend too much time pursuing fun and excitement
  • I may attract too much attention to myself
  • I do not let the quieter people have a chance to talk
  • I try too hard to be the centre of attention
  • I can be too theatrical or dramatic
  • I may be too dependent on the admiration or attention of others
  • I can be a little grandiose
  • I talk about myself a lot
  • I often feel uncomfortable around others
  • I keep in the background
  • I have too little to say
  • I lose opportunities because I am too isolated
  • I am too quiet around strangers
  • I find it difficult to approach others
  • I don't laugh much or have fun
  • I bottle up my feelings
  • I am a very private person
  • I wait for others to lead the way
  • I feel drained by social interactions
  • I am not very enthusiastic
  • I could be more socially skilled
  • I have a difficult time starting conversations
  • I have a social circle that is too small

Openness / Traditionalism

Select 3-5 habits from the list below and write them down in your notebook.

  • I pursue too many activities at the same time
  • I am interested in so many things that I don't know what to focus on
  • I have a hard time planning for the future because I am interested in everything
  • I am sometimes attracted by ideas that are radical but have not been thought through
  • I sometimes see meaning in things that probably isn't there
  • I jump around too much from topic to topic when I am talking to people
  • I have a hard time making up my mind because I can always see all the sides of an argument
  • I am so interested in creative activities that it is hard to concentrate on things that are practical
  • I can become possessed by an idea
  • I daydream too much
  • Sometimes every thought I have immediately suggests an overwhelming number of ideas
  • I have had experiences or thoughts that were strange enough to frighten me
  • I have had a hard time forming a clear identity
  • I see connections between things too easily
  • I have done crazy things just because I was curious about what might happen
  • I am good at a too-narrow range of things
  • I am seldom interested in abstract, philosophical ideas
  • I avoid sophisticated fiction and stories
  • I do not attend movies or plays
  • I am unimaginative
  • I do not care for change
  • I do not involve myself in creative activities
  • I do not like to read challenging material
  • I do not really understand or value art
  • I seldom seek out new experiences
  • I try to avoid complex people
  • I will not probe deeply into a subject
  • I am unlikely to initiate a new project
  • I tend to think that creative people are strange
  • I always do things the same way once I have learned how to do them

Conscientiousness / Carelessness

Select 3-5 habits from the list below and write them down in your notebook.

  • I am too perfectionistic
  • I get obsessed with details and lose the big picture
  • I insist that everything be in perfect order
  • I dislike deviation from the rules, even when it is necessary
  • I have to plan everything
  • I seriously dislike having my routine or schedule upset
  • I cannot stand to be late for an appointment
  • I feel that I am being unproductive if I relax
  • I can be very judgemental
  • I get upset at myself when I misplace something
  • I will work on a project beyond what is useful and necessary
  • I believe that I have to be flawless
  • I always believe that failure is a consequence of insufficient personal effort
  • I cannot tolerate having to finish a task imperfectly or quickly
  • I can be contemptuous of other people and of myself
  • I do things in a half-way manner
  • I don't like to tidy up
  • I find it difficult to get down to work
  • I make a mess of things
  • I leave my belongings around
  • I surf the web or watch TV or waste time in other ways even if I have a project due
  • I am without real ambition
  • I neglect my duties
  • I frequently make excuses
  • I often procrastinate
  • I waste my time
  • I am sometimes willing to bend the truth to get out of an obligation
  • I feel unmotivated to complete my work
  • I have few clearly defined goals
  • I have no stable daily routine for sleeping or eating

Emotional Stability / Low Stress Tolerance

Select 3-5 habits from the list below and write them down in your notebook.

  • I am sometimes not afraid of things I should be afraid of
  • I have found myself in dangerous situations because I was not paying attention
  • I might have done fewer stupid things if I felt shame more often
  • Things that should bother me don't seem to
  • I am easy-going to a fault
  • Sometimes I think if I was more worried about things I might do better in life
  • I don’t appear to learn as well from my mistakes as others do
  • I can do careless or inappropriate things without seeming to experience guilt
  • I don't worry about things that should bother me
  • I don't pay enough attention to costs and potential future dangers
  • I am sometimes too calm about things
  • I am often too optimistic
  • Criticism, even when warranted, does not seem to affect me
  • I often take counterproductive or unnecessary risks
  • I do not seem to benefit from negative feedback
  • I am easily disturbed and upset
  • I am frequently irritable or angry
  • I am too moody and emotionally unstable
  • I am too self-conscious for my own good
  • I blow little things out of proportion
  • I feel ashamed of my body
  • I feel hurt often, even by little things
  • I feel inadequate when introduced to new people
  • I feel too fearful, afraid and anxious
  • I compare myself unfavourably to other people
  • I get stressed out easily
  • I grumble and complain about things
  • I have a hard time calming down after becoming upset
  • I let my fears stop me from doing things I want to do
  • I often feel depressed and blue

Agreeableness / Assertiveness

Select 3-5 habits from the list below and write them down in your notebook.

  • I avoid conflict even when it is necessary
  • I find myself making excuses for other's inappropriate behaviour
  • I cannot negotiate for myself very well
  • I will sacrifice my own feelings for the comfort of others
  • I can bottle up my feelings until I become resentful
  • I can be overly sentimental
  • I am polite to a fault
  • I feel sorry for people who may not deserve it
  • I find myself too upset after I have a conflict with someone
  • It would probably help me if I could be more competitive
  • I am sometimes dominated by other people
  • I don't know how to deal with mean people
  • I trust people too easily
  • I find myself believing that people are basically good, even when there is evidence to the contrary
  • I am loyal to a fault
  • I have a hot temper
  • I can be indifferent to the feelings of others
  • I am not interested in other people's problems
  • I am too suspicious of other people's motives
  • I will charm people to get my way
  • I can be detached and cold when others are hurt and upset
  • I am quite critical of others
  • I don't generally show gratitude
  • I can be vengeful
  • I am willing to manipulate others for personal gain
  • I infrequently help others
  • I insult people
  • I can be aggressive and domineering
  • I tend to always put myself first
  • I could be better at cooperating

Once you have completed this, you should have approximately 15-25 habits on your list.

Review your list and filter it down to the 5-10 most important habits you feel you are struggling with and would like to improve.

You are now ready to continue with your exploration.

Step 2: Explore your habits for insight

With each of the 5-10 habits you have selected, you can now systematically analyse them and explore opportunities to make improvement.

Use the following four prompts to reflect on each of the habits you have chosen, one at a time. Again, it is best to write down your thoughts in a journal, or some sort of digital notepad for future review and ongoing exploration.

1. Describe the impact through an experience

Write a short story or summary about a time when this habit led to a situation that had a negative impact on your life.

2. Exploring potential alternative outcomes

Write about what you might have done differently in that past situation, to minimize the effect of this habit.

3. Exploring potential positive impacts

Even aspects of ourself that we find difficult can be positive sometimes. Are there any positive impacts, however small they may be, of the habit you have just described?

4. Opportunities for improvement

Now step back and think about this habit more broadly. What could you start to do to help improve this habit in general, so that the experience you described earlier is less likely to repeat itself in the future?

Continue learning and growing

Congratulations on completing this exercise. It takes energy, curiosity and commitment to do this sort of self-reflection.

Changing these habits is possible, and we have found that through setting clear goals, as well as discipline and practice, you can make meaningful progress.

If you'd like to discuss your own personal situation as it relates self-doubt and self-acceptance, you can do so here, with Open Dialogue.

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