“It’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald
Have you ever let your doubts get in the way of feeling happy?
I left my soul-sucking corporate job to live my dream, teaching yoga in Thailand.
I was the happiest woman on earth—or was I?
It looked that way from the outside. But each time I opened my mouth to teach a class, I was mired in self-doubt. Why wasn’t I charismatic, funny, or charming?
I stumbled over my words. I wanted to be as chatty and charming as the retreat center owner, but I’m naturally quiet and thoughtful, more of an introvert. I secretly wished I could morph myself into a sparkling extrovert.
Have you ever felt like you had to be more like someone else in order to be successful? As if your own natural voice wasn’t good enough? That’s how I felt.
And I wondered if I’d made a gigantic mistake in pursuing my passion for teaching yoga.
My wise Indian teacher noticed and asked me why I worried. He told me to stop comparing myself to others and focus instead on what gifts I had to offer.
It was hard. I still harbored doubts. But as I faced my doubts, the clouds cleared from my mind and allowed the sun to shine.
I was empowered to teach from my heart, with compassion and honesty. And I strongly connected with the students.
Ten years later, I continue to practice and teach, and I live each day energized, happier, and fulfilled.
I’ve managed to keep my doubts at bay and achieve lasting happiness by following a collection of simple methods.
Your Cheat Sheet To Finding Enduring Happiness
1. Downsize your doubts.
Many of your doubts are irrational fears that you must expose for what they are. You can do so by breathing deeply and then carefully reconsidering.
Doubts can trigger your stress response, putting you into fight-or-flight mode. You’ll feel anxious and panicky, and your anxiety can stop you from following your deeper intuitions.
When you stop and breathe deeply, you put yourself back into rest-and-digest mode. You allow yourself to discern what’s real from what’s imagined.
For years I’ve thought of offering a teacher training course, but I’ve been stopped cold in my tracks by my fears. Am I a good enough teacher? Do I have the skills?
Then I stop, I take a few breaths, and I think, “I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga for more than fifteen years, and taken multiple trips to India to study with the masters. I’m qualified.”
I’m still scared, but if I listen to my doubts I’ll never take a step closer to this dream. So I take a few breaths, accepting and acknowledging my fears without letting them derail my initiative.
With practice, you’ll develop a deep-breathing habit that dispels irrational doubts. Just stop. Inhale. Exhale. And repeat three times.
2. Stop trying to make everyone else happy.
Do you feel personally responsible for other people’s happiness? If you do, when things don’t go well, their frown will add to your self-doubt. Lighten up your load, and don’t automatically assume that you need to make them smile.
I remember someone who looked for wrong in everything I did. She was deeply unhappy, and I was the target for her internal strife.
I tried to make her happy and I inadvertently took responsibility for her happiness. When I finally accepted that her unhappiness wasn’t up to me, I quit wasting my energy and questioning my self-worth. And that was a relief.
Want to feel happier and more confident? Let go of your need to be a people pleaser. Take responsibility for your own inner world, and quit trying to control everyone else’s.
3. Kill your inner critic.
Imagine fingernails scraping a chalkboard.
That’s what happens in your brain when you criticize yourself.
When you criticize, your mind develops a negative thinking pattern. You should reflect on your actions, but you shouldn’t criticize yourself. Inner-harshness is a bad habit that can be changed with practice.
Try this exercise to break your habit. Make a few lists: times you’ve shown compassion or kindness to someone, another of your positive attributes and skills, and a third of instances when you’ve coped with a difficult challenge. Keep the lists close at hand.
Next, try to notice your self-critical thoughts. Take a deep breath in, then release the breath slowly. This breath draws your attention away from the criticism. Then think about an item from your list.
It may seem unlikely that simply recalling positive things will change your thinking. But it will, because over time your brain will rewire itself. Self-doubt and criticism are replaced with patience and understanding.
When I see photos of my younger self, I recall how critical I used to be about my looks. Ten years later, I see small lines developing around my eyes. Rather than criticizing these signs of aging, I embrace them. My forty-year-old self is happier and hopefully wiser than my thirty-year-old self.
Work on breaking your habit of criticizing. Over time, you’ll cast away your doubts and cultivate a serene inner space.
4. Meditate to replace self-doubt with self-compassion.
Meditation makes you happier and boosts your self-confidence.
With practice, you begin to notice your mind’s patterns of self-limiting thoughts, and you can let them pass without believing them.
I found that practicing loving-kindness meditation was a powerful tool for releasing self-doubt and criticism. The first line of this type of meditation elicits sentiments of compassion and kindness for ourselves. (Note: I’m tweaking the language slightly from the standard meditation)
“I am filled with loving-kindness. I am well, peaceful and at ease, happy and free of suffering.”
I used to have many crazy thoughts: “You’ll never find a partner,” or “You’ll never make a living as a yoga teacher, because who’d want to learn from you?” Using this meditation, over time I was able to notice and mostly let go of the doubts and fears.
The importance is to build the sentiments, not on the specific language. Feel free to tweak this as you see fit.
5. Celebrate success.
Our minds are sneaky. When you envy someone’s success, your deep feeling is, “They’ve achieved this, but I can’t.” You’ve limited yourself and created more doubts. The inherent thought is that you don’t have enough.
Envy keeps you stuck in a self-doubting cycle. Remember that the amount of success or happiness in this world is limitless. And you have what it takes too.
Change your jealousy to genuine joy for others, and lift your self-imposed limits. You’ll feel energized and inspired—ready to channel your energy into achieving your own goals and dreams. Then take one step toward that goal. Even a tiny one.
6. Move your body every day.
Daily exercise keeps your mind and body healthy. The increased blood flow nourishes your body and brain. You’ll feel stronger and happier from the inside out.
I’ve seen hundreds of people start yoga and gradually develop self-confidence. They start to do things they thought were impossible.
I’m one of those people. A daily practice of yoga, where I progressively try new things, has helped me to see my pattern of self-doubts and gradually let go.
Feel clear and confident with a little daily movement—yoga, walking, or dancing. Choose something that you love, and do it a little each day. Develop inner strength, and cast away your doubts.
7. Nurture your passions and strengths.
You’ll feel alive and confident when you do what you love.
When you’re passionate and absorbed in your task, you can easily release your doubts.
For brief moments you’ve felt it — when you forget about censoring yourself and let yourself flow.
8. Accept and love your shadows.
To let go of self-doubt, you must accept all aspects of your self—including your pride and your shadows. No one is perfect.
In order to let go of your doubts, you must learn to be grateful for your limitations and challenges. We all carry baggage; it’s a part of being human.
Starting from a place of acceptance rather than shame will make all your efforts easier.
Most people don’t know that I can be short tempered and critical of my loved ones. I’m not always a perfectly zen yoga teacher. But I accept these parts of myself. Instead of fighting them, I work on noticing when I’m impatient or overly critical and gently try to remind myself to be more accepting.
Remember that we are all human. And we all have our messy sides.
9. Embrace your own authentic voice.
For me this was the hardest step, because being authentic means letting your guard down. You let others see your true self, and if you harbor doubts (like I did), this is terrifying.
Looking back, I see that I was afraid to let people see the real me. It was safer to adopt a way of being that I knew was liked—a charming, chatty persona (that wasn’t me). I was petrified, but when I was able to drop my mask, my words flowed like sweet honey.
Embrace your own voice and never try to masquerade as someone else.
Unleash your sassy, sarcastic, or comedic inner child, if that’s the real you. But there’s nothing wrong with being thoughtful, observant, and careful with words either.
It didn’t happen overnight, but as I practiced breathing, changing my thoughts, and being kind to myself, slowly my inner voice got stronger. I started to feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and authentic.
You can do it too.
The Key To Long-Lasting Happiness
You know what would be horrible? Looking back in twenty years and thinking, “Why did I waste so much time doubting rather than doing and connecting?”
Don’t read this post and think, “Oh, that was good advice.” And then open Facebook and read about your friend’s lunch.
Don’t keep yourself locked in a prison of illusionary self-doubt.
Your actions start in your mind with your thoughts. And just because we can’t see your thoughts doesn’t mean they aren’t crucial to your health and happiness.
Lock your doubts away and don’t let them out. You’ve got work to do.
Connect with those around you. It’s your key to unlocking long-lasting happiness.
You have unique gifts to share with the world, and only this lifetime to do so.
Man and the sunrise image via Shutterstock