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How to Believe in Yourself in the Face of Overwhelming Self-Doubt

Stand Strong

“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.” ~Honore de Balzac

You know what that voice in your head says…

You can’t do it. You’ll never be good enough. You’re going to fail.

This voice taunts you whenever you set a goal. It criticizes you when life gets difficult. It beats you down when you struggle to stand up against its running commentary.

You know you shouldn’t let self-doubt bother you, but it’s a sneaky critter. Sometimes, you just can’t contain it and it slips past your barriers.

And self-doubt is greedy. When it’s loose, it devours your confidence, strips logic and reason from your mind, and steals happiness from your heart. In return, it leaves you with only fear and insecurity.

You try to remove self-doubt by forcing yourself to “think positive,” which usually doesn’t work as well as you think it should.

The more you fight your self-doubt, the more it fights back. However, with self-knowledge and understanding, you can use self-doubt for your benefit.

A Story about Crushing Dreams and “Being Realistic”

When I was a child, I was in love with drawing. For me, drawing was as exciting as going to the playground.

At some point in my childhood, I decided I’d become an artist of some kind. But the critics in my life were quick to cut me down. I’ll bet you’ve heard the same kind of clichés:

“Art is great but not a ‘realistic’ future goal. While it’s a nice hobby to have, you can’t really make a living out of it. You’ll just be another starving artist.”

As children, we internalize these negative messages and parrot them back. If the adults say so, it must be true, right? By adulthood, every time we have a small hope, we’re the first to snuff it out: 

“Drawing is nice but not necessary. I’ll never be as good as the real professionals anyway. I don’t even have a degree from an accredited art school.”

For years I stopped myself before I even tried. I did it because I was afraid.

I was afraid of what people would say. I was afraid everyone would hate my art. I was afraid of failing as an artist.

When fear grabs you, your beloved goal forever feels out of reach. But it doesn’t just stop there, does it?

If left unchecked, the infectious bite of fear and self-doubt can spread. You unconsciously start questioning your knowledge and abilities in everything you do. And if you’re like me, you desperately want to find a cure.

One fateful day I realized that trying to beat out my self-doubt wouldn’t rebuild my confidence.

If I wanted to believe in myself, I needed to face my self-doubt and be willing to take care of it.

Before, I imagined self-doubt as a life-sucking monster. Now, I realize it’s actually a fearful, angry, and lost creature secretly crying for help.

Like fear, joy, and sadness, doubt is part of human nature, and it needs understanding. If you want to improve yourself, you need to tame your self-doubt, not fight with it.

That means paying attention to how you react to things, understanding the root of your insecurities, and taking steps to address your fears.

Now I no longer tell myself, “I’ll never be a good enough artist.” Instead, I ask myself, “What can I do to become better?” And I take baby steps.

I went from drawing every few weeks, to every week, and now every two to three days. Re-framing self-doubt has also helped me cope with other challenges, like successfully starting a small business.

Self-doubt doesn’t have to be as monstrous as we make it out to be. It’s all about perspective. The following tips will help you manage your self-doubt.

Identify and ease your doubts.

Learning how to recognize when your self-talk takes a turn for the worse is crucial. When you hear yourself saying, “I can’t,” or, “I don’t know,” or, “What if,” a red flag should go up.

Instead of telling yourself, “I can’t do X,” say, “I can’t do X yet. But I’m working on it.”

Or if you start wondering, “What if I fail?” you can respond by saying, “Then I’ll try again.”

Doing this transforms a negative situation into an opportunity for growth. In the end, it’s about giving yourself a chance.

Stop listening to toxic people.

Toxic people are convinced that everything is impossible, and they are quick to shoot down ideas. They’ll poison your mind into a state of hopelessness.

Don’t let them steal your energy just because they’ve lost theirs.

Instead, surround yourself with supportive and passionate people who can both inspire you and bring out the best in you. You can find them among friends, family, books, or blogs like Tiny Buddha.

They will lift you up when you feel down and help you see the bright side of your darkest fears and doubts.

Recall your successes.

This one is tough. When you’re down, you’ll more easily remember the bad instead of the good. And oftentimes, the “rah-rah” pep talk just doesn’t cut it.

So, I suggest writing a list. Grab a piece of paper or small notebook, or open a blank document. Now write down your successes, big or small.

If you’re a bit bashful about your achievements, ask someone you trust to tell you the great things they think you’ve done. It’s refreshing and a great confidence boost.

And finally, keep your list with you at all times. It will help you find your way back to yourself whenever you get lost.

Trust and love yourself.

You probably spend more time being your own worst enemy instead of being your own best friend.

But you deserve to treat yourself better. After all, you have the rest of your life to spend with yourself.

Think of it this way: Would you mentally abuse or condemn your loved ones? Would you let them suffer in their time of need? If not, then why would you do it to yourself?

So, be kind to yourself. You are more capable and worthy than you give yourself credit for.

Give yourself permission to try…and try again.

Self-doubt never disappears. Over time, you just get better at dealing with it.

It will greet you every time you fall out of your comfort zone and whenever you strive to do something great.

But know that it’s not something you have to fear or resent. Your doubts are only thoughts, not your future.

Sure, something may go wrong. But if you never try, you’re losing an opportunity to improve your life.

Are you willing to risk that instead?

Photo by GS+

Avatar of Melissa Ng

About Melissa Ng

Melissa Ng [Eng] is the co-founder of PianoVerse, a place to play, learn, and love music in New York. She is also the creator of inspirational blog PlayLearnLoveLife.com and motivational doodle-blog Lumecluster.com, where she helps entrepreneurs and purpose-seekers believe in their potential.

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  • bettina_rae22

    This is very timely for me, thankyou.

    Bettina @ http://www.littleoldsouls.com

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Thanks for sharing your story Melissa.I think recalling one’s past successes is a powerful technique to break through self doubt. If we’ve done it before and succeeded hundreds of times before at various things, we’re likely to succeed this time as well.

    But each time we take on something, doubt comes up to rattle our cage:) We just have to remember we’ve conquered self-doubt before as proof that we can do it again. So glad to hear you’re following your dreams and making art.

  • Martin.L.

    Thanks for this post, it’s really helpful! It’s good to know that other people are going through the same challenges in life and that we are not alone. I’m going through a similar situation, I would like to make a living with music because it’s my passion and my corporate job is killing me.
    Thanks again and good luck with you art projects! ;)

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    I’m glad it was helpful. Hang onto your music! Best of luck :)

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Thanks, Vishnu ;)

  • http://www.inhealthyhabitswetrust.com/ Alicia C

    Thank you for this! It gives a practical list of things we can do, which is so much better than thinking we have to do a complete 180 and be positive all the time.

  • rarnedsoum

    Well written. Awesome. Inspiring.
    Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/SnowballinHi Andi S

    “Being your own best friend.” I love this, I know day in and day out I am my own worst enemy. Time to start turning things around and lifting myself up!

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing this. This post came at the right time for me–I just received my grades for last term, which makes me doubt whether switching majors was the right thing for me to do (Previous major had higher marks compared to current major, but i wasn’t as happy). I am constantly plagued with self-doubt, and it’s such a difficult thing to overcome, especially since I am constantly comparing myself to other people, like the people I care about the most. This year, I am hoping to be less critical of myself, although I know it will definitely be one of the most difficult things, but I am willing to try.

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Something that might also help is learning more about self-compassion. I know it’s done wonders for me.

    Good luck on your next term! Hang in there :)

  • Anne

    Thank you for this post. I’m an artist (with a day job). Have dealt with the comments that art is just a hobby (at least for the person who said it). Every now and again, this comments gets under my skin. I realize that it’s a wake up call to be true to myself. People will say what they want (and it’s their opinion which they are entitled to). The drive to make art and use my hands to make things is very strong and one day will make a living by it. Right now, I work at my day job and do commissions. Will keep going and creating. Glad to see there are others in the same boat as me and will encourage others to go for their dreams.

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    It’s not going to be easy but nothing of value ever is, right? Artists stand strong and unite! ;)

  • florabrown

    Melissa,

    I’m so happy you finally learned how to deal with the well-meaning but misguided people who discouraged the artist in you.

    The points you shared are so-o-o on target, especially the need to rid toxic people from our lives, even if they are relatives. Discovering this long ago has increased my productivity and happiness.

    Since self-doubt never completely disappears, we must learn to accept it and tame it. I’ve named my inner critic Susie. When she pops up I send her to the corner for timeout. She doesn’t always go willingly, nor does she stay there forever, but knowing I’m in charge is comforting and effective.

    Thanks for reminding us of our own power and how to wield it.

  • http://www.madlabpost.com/ Nicole/TheMadlabPost

    Your observations on dealing with self-doubt was nice to read. I especially like the part where you said “Don’t let them steal your energy just because they’ve lost theirs” when addressing how to deal with dream crushers.

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Thank you for your thoughts, Flora. Now, I’m off to figure out a name for my inner critic too ;)

  • Daniel

    Thank you for the post Melissa, an excellent and very positive read.

    “What if I fail?” you can respond by saying, “Then I’ll try again.”
    - Definitely an answer worth keeping on the ready for that voice of self doubt.

    Much appreciated.

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Good luck on your journeys :)

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Thank you, Nicole. Hopefully the line is memorable enough during the times you need it most!

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    I’m so happy it’s helpful! Thanks, Alicia :D

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    It takes practice but it’s well worth the struggle. Best wishes to you!

  • Sophiya Aden

    Amazing article it boosted up my moral. I can do it if i fail i will try again.

    Thanks for this beautiful writing loved to read it again and again

  • http://www.facebook.com/ikvakars Ilze Cirsliete

    Thank you ;]

  • Lisa

    I wanted to become a Nurse when I was younger, now at 43 I am close to becoming one! Don’t ever give up, believe in yourself and surround yourself with positive people. Exercise your body and your mind becomes stronger.

  • http://twitter.com/rainbowframe Sheila McCann

    Thanks for sharing your personal story and insights about self doubt. It’s amazing the shift that occurs when we manage our fears. I too had to walk through those fears about being art and writing and I find that taking time to explore creativity keeps the self doubt at bay. Cheers!

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    That’s wonderful, Lisa! Congratulations!

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Thank you for reading it again and again ;D Good luck on your endeavors!

  • Cocoa

    Going through it and for a moment wanted to give up. But I found my fight and this piece very timely affirms my decision to believe in myself and fight through this. Thank you!

  • Liz Roberts

    Thanks for your post Melissa. Sending you much light for a wonderful 2013! Liz

  • blossom

    thank you

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Same to you! Best wishes :)

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Thank you, Cocoa. I’m glad this helped!

  • Stephanie Black

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m beginning a new career and your words really fit me. I’m saving this article to my Kindle, so I can read it whenever that old self-doubt returns.

  • Potty Marky

    This inspired me, thanks Melissa and by the way, i like your hair. ;)

  • anika

    hey melissa!

    this is a very nice and well-written post, thank you!
    it’s so good to be reminded over and over again!

    i would like to invite you on a little mind-trip with me.
    this is also helping me to clarify my view, so thank you for your time in advance!

    the process of dealing with self-doubt, which you’ve described so well, works exactly the same as in dealing with “toxic” people. why?
    “toxic” people are most of the time not conscious about themselves. if they would be, they couldn’t be toxic anymore. so they suffer from the consequences without knowing the cause, and they will do everything to make others suffer as well. that’s what’s referred to as” forgive them, for they know not what they do”. we have to understand, that up to a certain realization it is not really in our choice to be toxic; it is an ongoing self-perpetuating circle of destruction.

    i would like you to imagine now a scenario with toxic people around you.
    you have the choice to either go out of their way, or stay with them.
    compare it to your situation with your self-doubt.

    if you choose to get out of their way, what is actually happening?
    who is giving way for whom? isn’t it the self-doubt, that’s winning?
    to say it clearer, it is the personified self-doubt, that gains power here.
    the unconscious, toxic people gain control over you, because you say:
    i can’t stay here, this is too much. again, you are only the little girl with
    no power, that can only run away.

    let’s look the other way round. what happens, if you choose to stay with
    the toxic? you have to understand, that they can only do any damage to you, if you are still struggling to identify your true self (=your loving, dreaming, care-taking self).
    only as long as you’re not sure about yourself, toxic people will be a problem.
    only as long as you still jump into the circle again, this will go on.

    maybe, something like this is now bubbling up in you:
    sometimes it really is too much, too much toxidity, i HAVE to leave!
    i don’t deny, that it is like that sometimes.
    you have your own wisdom to choose.

    if you are amongst toxic people, and you see yourself for who you really are,
    there will be no need to fight the toxic or run away from them.
    they are “just” unconscious about their true self. they haven’t seen its power yet,
    that’s why they still believe in self-doubt etc.

    if you can be with them, you have a chance to create a break in their self-destructive circle. when you don’t fight or run away, you don’t cooperate in repeating the circular pattern anymore. suddenly, there’s no pattern for them to follow, nothing to do or say, that is known to them.

    if they’re totally unconscious, this can scare their wits out.
    why are they scared? they’ve never seen themselves as something great and powerful. they only know self-destruction, know themselves only as a self-destructive being. they don’t know who they are yet. but the possibility for further discovery is little more open for them, now.

    this is a great responsability for you. you can kick ass! :)
    we need people like you.

    love from germany,
    anika

  • http://twitter.com/Ms_MelissaNg Melissa Ng

    Thank you for such an empathetic analysis.

    “If you are amongst toxic people, and you see yourself for who you really are,there will be no need to fight the toxic or run away from them” is a very valid point.

    At the same time, we must be wary not to condemn those who are “toxic” for they may be unaware of their behavior.

    Practicing our self-awareness and self-compassion is an invaluable to our well-being. But, as you have pointed out, so is practicing our awareness and compassion for others and their struggles– a very important point we would do well not to forget.

    Again, thank you for your insight. We need people people like you too :)

  • Amanda

    This was so helpful. Thank you!

    WithLoveHandmade.etsy.com

  • Jenny

    What has thrown me off so much in life is the fact that I haven’t become the person I thought I would be. Not even close..worse. I went to college and studied journalism, my passion. I believed in myself, I was happy. Then I graduated from college and I couldn’t find a job. I couldn’t do anything with my degree. I couldn’t afford to work for minimum wage or for free either. I tried for 2 years and nothing. Now I doubt myself because I believed in myself so blindly that I didn’t think of the reality of life… Not everyone will be a successful reporter or host. Times are hard and it’s soo rare now to find success in journalism. I ended up finding a job as a receptionist & this company which I completely disapprove of.. The way they carry their business is immoral. I haven’t been able to find any better job offers though and I feel like I’m losing myself more and more each day…

  • Ashwin

    Hi Melissa,

    I’m not sure if this is the right forum to post but I surely have a problem with my self confidence right now. I”m 23 and I’ve been chosen to travel. I’ve my visa interview in ten days. And though I should be happy, I’m down with self doubt. I’m so not confident of myself. I feel I’ll screw it up and my visa will get rejected and I’ll be a laughing stock. Other people will succeed and I’ll remain a failure. Though I know I’m very good at what I do, I still have this overbearing self doubt. Please help !

  • B Mich

    Thank you for these uplifting words

  • chu

    thank you so much for this article. i’m battling with self-doubt right now.

    i’m currently shifting from an engineering course to a fine arts course because it’s what i love. predictably, a lot of people where disappointed and skeptic of my decisions. also, i found out that the fine arts people are really good and it made me realize the gap between my level and theirs. i got a talent test next year and i fear that i will fail it.

    but reading this made me feel better. thank you.

  • AjitKamboj

    It is really helped me. Thanks.

  • Jolion

    If you ‘fail’, just tell yourself that you will simply try again. In reality there are no so called failures in life but only experiences. Failures are simply vague ideas which toxic people cling to and judge you with – its a societal blindness – simply a label. it’s got nothing to do with your experience and the real you. ;)

  • Modest Treasure

    Wow, thank you so much for this post! I usually read posts about “think positively”, ignore negative thoughts, and keep on chugging. But you actually give techniques to try instead of regurgitating the same empty messages seen on other sites. I’m sharing this link with everyone I can. Thank you!

  • Semhal

    Hi Melissa
    My name is Semhal and well there is this play in my school it’s macbeth and I want to play lady Macbeth but I doubt myself a lot am I good enough am I even good but I’m a good actor fine good at that and I’ve been told things like you’re meant to act you’re a natural things like that but I choose to listen to the bad instead of the good please help overcome this deadly disease called doubt

  • rajprashanth r

    I love what you said mostly. They appear so close to heart. I am remembered of ‘The Alchemist’ book. Particularly on reading “Think of it this way: Would you mentally abuse or condemn your loved ones? Would you let them suffer in their time of need? If not, then why would you do it to yourself?”
    I felt “Oh boy what the hell have you done by being angry on you??” . So thanks for your grt thought. I wish I meet you.

  • Filip

    Thank you, very inspiring and so true!

  • Josh Ingram

    Thank you for this encouraging article. I feel better after reading it. Next time I hear thoughts of self-doubt I will challenge them and if I start thinking about failure I’ll say aloud. “then I’ll try again”

  • meerkat

    OK but I don’t have any past successes and it’s irresponsible to tell me to take risks when I’m the one who has to deal with the fall-out if I fail, not you.

  • Leah

    Wonderful blog. One thing this reminds me of is a saying that someone once told me during a time of great uncertainty: “if it doesn’t work out in the end, then it isn’t the end yet”.

    Of course, not everything is in your control but you have the power to decide how you will respond to a situation. Taming self doubt and having self confidence is the first step.

    To the poster who said they have no successes, I disagree. Success is not the absence of failure. You are reading a tiny buddah blog in efforts to better yourself and your well being, and this alone is a courageous act. You commented on the post explaining your self doubts, which shows your ability to examine yourself.

    Success can be anything. You can do it.

  • Jason Holborn

    “Before, I imagined self-doubt as a life-sucking monster. Now, I realize it’s actually a fearful, angry, and lost creature secretly crying for help.”

    Top-notch! This is wonderful. Thanks

  • Jia

    Amazing post Melissa Ng. I feel better when i read it again and again..:)

  • veronica

    Beautifully written , simple and very effective . Thank you . I needed this.:)

  • Benito

    How can anyone believe something like finding a job if they don’t see any evidence of it???

  • mumusen

    Incredible article. Very vey well written

  • HHPDA

    I really needed this at the moment….. My problem is that I don’t have enough belief in myself, and that I if others say I can’t do it, I believe them…. My mum bless her is one of them too….. Although her way is to protect me as when I fail to achieve I get very low, and my mum worries for me….. I know in my heart I can achieve what I want to do but my depression and self doubt is holding me back and I don’t know how to get out of this hole….. Time and time again

  • Cressa

    At some point, we need to stop analyzing & trying to find a label for every emotion, that may appear not normal. We all go through stages of self doubt, loss, anxieties, & pain. What we choose to do with what we create or what life gives us to handle is key. We are all toxic to a point, but not for myself or others to judge. The biggest problem I see now, and saw as a child is worrying about what others think–who cares, I don’t, I find it a waste of my energy, also my power to waste my time on others thoughts, actions, and belief. We may all get life right some day, possibly reaching self actualization, or we may leave this earth unhappy. Do what you want, make yourself happy, be kind, compassionate, desire, and just do it. There are not any right answers when it comes to self reflection, just human nature.

  • Ron

    Hi,

    This was well written and perfect for me. I always doubt
    myself, and it doesnt help at all, its killing me inside, it makes me
    jealous, it makes me hate, it make me angry, at my self.
    Thank you
    for this, today, I had finally admitted to myself that I needed some
    help about this, and I was lucky to have found this article. I hope I
    can help myself more understand why I doubt myself always. I dont know
    if its the way I was brought up, or its just in me, or im just really
    nothing. or im really no good at all.

    Anyways this was a great
    help. I realized that I am not the only one whos like this, I thought I
    was abnormal, bad, egoistic. Im gonna try your advice to understand more
    of my self doubt.
    Its not healthy, its killing me and my dreams. it needs to just stop.

    Thank you.

    Rou

  • https://www.facebook.com/amprofessionalslimited AMP-Limited

    Well ! I found lots of interesting stuff in your blog. Keep it up.
    Accountants in London

  • kavin paker

    This post and the comments have helped me tremendously in deciding what’s right for me.
    Munchen hotel

  • Edin

    Doubt is toxic, it cannot see the way out, it limits your view to zero if you let it. I imagine it like it creates a circle, you create doubt, it creates fear, and fear to doubt and so on, well, snapping out of it would only go with you forgiving yourself, but there’s doubt too, “how do i forgive myself”, how do i “snap out of it”, when you finally do it, your mind says, wow , I’ve been worrying about that stupit stuff all the time, it’s so apsurd, and you only hear ” that stupid stuff that’s apsurd” ,and well, it creeps into you again.

    One thing is possible though, if we admire the possibility of self doubt on every single step, the things our brain does, we get the picture of how powerfull we really are, and basically become objective of the whole process, not giving it power anymore, just letting it slip away, you must admire yourself, not feel bad for having the doubts to get out of it.
    Feeling bad makes them stronger, same as really insecure people, if you admire them in what they do, they feel gratefull, joyfull, relieves them of their insecurities.
    Let’s say it’s a kid, your inner child, by the act you forgive him for the acts he did while in doubt and insecure, and give it another chance, it makes him happy.

    May seem absurd and apstract, but well, it makes sense in some way, same as this whole story ( doubts don’t make sense, they’re a paradox )

  • Diamond

    Thank you I needed this! I have a similar story and I literally looked up “how to believe in yourself and this is what popped up. Thank you.

  • Alison

    This is awesome at a time I need it! I’m having a difficult time because the “seeds” of my doubt seem to be planted by my mother. How does one not be around that? I’ve gotten better, but it’s amazing how she can lay me flat in a second. And anytime I try to not have her in my life and to surround myself with more supportive people, she knows how to act/what to say to reel me back to her- usually stuff that’s on the verge of supportive so I get hopeful I’m wrong about pushing her away, then “bam”…
    Anyway, went on a search to lose another seed planted and found this :) I really, really appreciate it!