“The more you hide your feelings, the more they show. The more you deny your feelings, the more they grow.” ~Unknown
Self-doubt has been a companion that has followed me around like a trained dog follows his master. Every step I’ve made outside of my comfort zone, it’s been there, right beside me.
Moving from Germany to England to attend high school, I was full of high hopes and aspirations. But despite my intensive English course and hard work, I could hardly understand anyone in the first few weeks.
Feeling left high and dry by my so-called “English skills,” I started feeling shy and nervous. My German accent made me sound different, and doubtful thoughts like “Can I ever cope here?” and “Do I belong?” entered my head.
Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, should that be starting a new chapter in your life like I did, doing creative work, or changing your career, self-doubt and fear can creep up.
The problems start when fear and self-doubt take over, when they stop you from doing what you once loved to do or from taking the actions you know you need to take to move ahead. This kept me wondering: What’s the right way to deal with self-doubt and fear?
Entering the War
I was taken over by society’s notion that self-doubt and fear were bad things that I urgently needed to eliminate.
At the beginning of high school, I avoided interacting in class and kept away from meeting new people to calm down my fear.
Today, I see I was simply running away from these difficult feelings and thoughts. I did everything to avoid being in the horrible situation of having to repeat myself because the person I talked with didn’t understand what I was saying.
But trying to avoid difficult feelings and thoughts can become a trap, if we start constructing our life in a way that allows us to avoid them instead of constructing our life around our desires and dreams.
What’s known as “experiential avoidance” can take over our lives.
For me, avoiding uncomfortable feelings meant avoiding fun opportunities such as being part of certain sport teams or going out with friends. By avoiding situations that could bring discomfort, I enormously reduced the amounts of joy and fun that I could have had.
But who says we need to eliminate or run away from our feelings and thoughts?
Eckhart Tolle wrote, “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.”
So, what if we could stop striving for elimination and learn to accept self-doubt and fear as our companions? If we let the dog be where it wants to be?
Diving deeper into the philosophy of ACT (acceptance & commitment therapy), I discovered that there was an alternative way to deal with self-doubt and fear: the path of acceptance.
The 3-Step Process to Deal with Self-Doubt and Fear
Self-doubt and fear are normal human reactions that we all experience, no matter how “far ahead” or successful we already are. So, why we are still surprised when they show up? Here are three steps that I wish I knew back in high school.
Become aware of what’s going on inside of you; witness the voice inside your head when it speaks from a place of fear and doubt. What is that voice saying?
The majority of your daily thoughts are repetitive. Sometimes your mind just tells you different versions of the same old story.
Observe your thoughts and feelings. Witness when you’re playing your “self-doubt story.” Like an internal observer, simply watch and notice in a loving and self-caring manner, without harshly criticizing yourself for anything that shows up.
Accepting means allowing your fear and doubt to be within you, to give them room, and not try to escape them. Whatever thoughts and feelings come up inside of you, start to be okay with them.
Stop resisting what you feel and think, and soon you’ll develop the capacity to hold your difficult feelings and thoughts inside you.
As Russ Harris, author of the bestselling book The Happiness Trap wrote: “Your capacity to accept pain directly related to your long-term happiness level.” Because anything that matters to us comes with a whole range of difficult thoughts and emotions. Avoidance is not the answer.
Despite them being painful, they are not the problem; your reaction to them is. Problems arise when you try to get rid of or control your self-doubt and fear.
Today, I’m still sometimes in the situation where people don’t understand my English or I don’t understand what they are going on about. But I accept that’s just the price I pay for talking in a language that’s not my native one.
When you start accepting how you feel and think in any given moment, you start noticing that feelings and thoughts are just like clouds in the sky—they are merely passing by.
Also, become aware of the urges that may come up to escape or eliminate this fear or doubt. Simply notice the urge, hold it inside you, and realize you don’t need to act on it.
Whenever I feel the urge to not talk to someone or not take part in something, I try and catch myself and act on what I truly desire: making meaningful connections and enjoying life to the fullest.
3. Shift your attention.
Your mind isa past-future based machine designed to keep you alive and alert of dangers. Your doubt and fear are there to keep you within your comfort zone and, therefore, safe.
So, whenever unhelpful thoughts enter your head, thank your mind for doing its job. It is just trying to keep you safe! Next, shift your attention back to the activity in hand.
I had to learn to shift my focus away from worrying and hoping that I did not have to repeat myself to focusing on the actual interaction and on what I wanted to say.
Venerable Wuling, author of Path to Peace, wrote, “In a task, we can control the effort but not the outcome.”
So, let go of the need to control it, because you can’t. I can’t control if my counterpart understands what I am saying. But I can control how well I articulate myself.
When you cling onto the idea of how something should turn out or should come across, you create stress and fear. Have an intention of what you want to do and achieve, but stay open to the actual and maybe even different outcome.
Today, I believe acceptance is the best way to deal with fears and doubts—to witness and not resist what’s showing up inside and instead shift focus back to the task at hand.
What’s your experience with doubt and fear?
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