10 causes of doubt stopping you from your best (and how to overcome them)

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ― Vincent Willem van Gogh

I’m going to let you in on a big secret that is going to stop you right in your tracks and boost your confidence: You have the ideas, beliefs and courage to live the life you truly want. You may not have every piece of the puzzle just yet. You may not have the blueprint or plan. And perhaps you haven’t yet activated your dreams.

But this whole thing called life — and living it on YOUR terms — isn’t nearly as complicated as WE make it out to be. It’s not others who are culpable of making things more complicated for us. It’s ourselves. It’s called doubt and it can cripple the best of us — even those of us who are motivated, self-aware and full of dreams and positive energy.

As I’ve written about previously, we rarely talk much about doubt. It can be embarrassing. We become self-conscious and unwilling to want to admit to others — much less ourselves — how much it may be robbing us of the life we want. It’s worth opening up the conversation on this pernicious enemy, largely because it’s the secret battle all of us fight — and many of us are (ironically) to fearful to open up about.

According to Merriam-Webster, doubt is, “to call into question the truth of: to be uncertain.”

It is also to demonstrate a lack of confidence. The key to a happy, purpose-driven life is a foundation of faith and confidence. You must believe in yourself. You must trust your thoughts and how you will respond to all the events and stimuli in your life.

When you are confident, you believe that anything is possible. You think more clearly, with an open-mind and heart. You’re willing to reject fear, take risks and better identify with your positive and negative emotions. Confidence permeates your thoughts and drives your actions. Doubt crushes them.

Through deep reflection, we can realize that doubt, when analyzed in isolation, can actually help us frame up what matters most to us. Every time I know I’m on the right track, I intuitively feel it. Hopefully you do, too. You know it’s right, you lean into it and let the positive energy propel you forward. Here, you’re able to dissect doubt and understand that it’s just a part of the human experience.

I’ve learned there are 10 major causes of doubt. It’s not just important to identify these causes, it’s imperative for us to combat them, and have a plan to triumph over what can sink us, if we let it. Read these through. Come back to these during moments of weakness. You already have what it takes. You just need these tools and techniques to help you embrace the challenges of each day.

1. Doubt of what others may think of your new, bold future plans

You want to launch your own consulting business. You want to become an artist or software developer full-time. Maybe you just want to change careers, try out something you’ve always loved but have been too afraid to do, or maybe you want to go “all in” with committing to that special person in your life. And yet, once you find your mind moving forward, it seems like your legs buckle and suddenly you’re stuck.

“How could I possibly let someone else’s spoken opinion, or my own perception, prevent me from moving in a direction my head and heart are leading me toward?”

My coaching work, as well as academic research, has led me to believe that this is the number one cause of doubt that leads to inaction. We doubt ourselves because we worry about what others may think of the ideas or plans that mean so much to us, that they couldn’t possibly have enough knowledge and depth of understanding for.

Solution: Commit to a two-step plan: Speak and write your future plans and desires over your life. Step one is to have the awareness and willingness to communicate these plans. Step two is having the courage and willingness to act on what you believe. Find time alone in solitude to do this exercise. Then, start implementing a routine to ensure you commit to action.

2. Doubt of whether you have what it takes to do what you truly want

This most closely resembles Impostor Syndrome. Either that you’re not sure that you can succeed, or you doubt your previous accomplishments. No matter how accomplished or skilled you are, if you doubt who you are, you’ve already lost.

Solution: Develop a mantra. Mine is, “I’m really good at being me.” I also use, “Today is a big step closer to living the life I want.” These are positive affirmations that we speak over our lives. Their inspirational and encouraging and they help feed our conscious and subconscious minds. They help us creating the story that we want to write over our lives.

“Believe in your infinite potential. Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself. Believe in yourself, your abilities and your own potential. Never let self-doubt hold you captive. You are worthy of all that you dream of and hope for.” ― Roy T. Bennett

3. Doubt about whether you can overcome your past

The coaching work I’ve done has taught me that people get caught living in the past, and forget to be present for today and their future. This is where mindfulness comes in. Take this from the Harvard GSE:

“By approaching [what you do] with mindfulness, you decrease the amount of energy you spend worrying about the past or the future, and you increase the amount of attention you give to present and positive experiences. But because stress and worrying can be so ingrained, you have to practice (and keep practicing) the skills and habits you need to keep your attention on the present.”

Solution: The truth is, most people aren’t really watching, or they’re so wrapped up and absorbed in their own affairs, they’re not even aware of any of your past struggles or stumbles. The doubt that plays on our minds is the perceived care that others are remembering us or thinking of us for our failures. They’re probably not. But even if they are, isn’t that great motivation to re-write the ending to your Hollywood script?

4. Doubt that the closest people in your life will understand and support you

For so long in my life, I was afraid to speak my biggest dreams to some of the people closest to me. Perhaps you have shared that same experience! It’s primarily fear-based, but also based on doubt that we will either be understood or accepted by those who love us the most.

Have the courage to tell the people that love you the most to stand by your side with love and respect. It’s your job to summon the conviction inside of you to believe in what you’re doing so much, that you’re willing to give it everything you have each day.

Solution: Overcome yourself and show vulnerability around what matters most to you. When you open up and show courage, peeling back the doubt that clouds your mind, you’ll find greater acceptance and love.

5. Doubting yourself for the times that you’ve failed or made mistakes

I love this from Denzel Washington, “Fail BIG!”

And from Jeff Bezos: “I believe we (Amazon)are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins,” he said in his 2015 shareholder letter. Source: Forbes

Think about that! One of the world’s most successful companies, as well as the richest people, thinks that failure and invention are inseparable twins.

Solution: Never be afraid to fail. Especially when you’ve given things deep thought, planned for what you want and given your all to your efforts.

6. Doubt and loss of trust over how you communicate and interact with the people in your life

It’s a great thing to put ourselves in our mind’s eye and to look at ourselves objectively, but not to the point where it drives us crazy. The people who do this are overly analytical — to a fault. “Let the game come to you,” is one of my favorite quotes. It basically means, don’t force things. Let things play out naturally. Be yourself and don’t get too nervous.

Solution: You can’t analyze your every move. You just have to proceed with confidence.

7. Doubt about your appearance (both in your mind and how others may observe you)

So you’re not the famous image of yourself that you dreamed about. No one is! The way to overcome this doubt is through acceptance. Accept who you are, faults and all. Exercise positivity to think of yourself in a more encouraging light. Practice self-care.

Solution: Draw up the exact image that you want of yourself. Not what others want. Who you really are. Start building toward that. Take a picture of yourself dressed, ready to go and living your best life. Put it on your desk and over your bed at night. That’s who you are.

8. Doubt about finding a job opportunity or entrepreneurial path that will sustain you

This one resonates with me because I’ve lived it. If you’ve struck out before, or if you find yourself staring with a blank face at your computer screen each day, knowing that you’re not doing what you want to do, and you don’t have the direction you need to change it, take heart and don’t doubt. You just haven’t found the answer yet. And you’re still on the journey.

Solution: Start with this very basic question: What do you want? Not what you think others expect of you and not what may seem to be the next logical step for where you’ve already been. What do you want based on your passion, skills, experience and natural talents? Once you know that answer, you’ll know the right way to go for making money and supporting yourself.

9. Doubt about your biggest strengths and weaknesses

Sometimes we don’t get started because we fear our weaknesses will hold us back, or that our strengths aren’t strong enough.

Solution: I highly recommend the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment to better understand your strengths. Solicit feedback from people that you trust around areas where you need to improve. Write down what you believe your strengths to be and have that validated by other people. Get honest with yourself. Tell yourself the truth about what you’re good at, and what you need to improve.

Once you have this clarity, you’ll have the direction you need to move forward.

10. Doubt that you can overcome the everyday temptations and negative desires that offer only temporary pleasure, but long-term pain

This last one requires a steady heaping of faith, discipline and perseverance. A winning combination for anyone looking to overcome that which holds them back. We want to get better and improve our strengths and continue living our values and building toward what we want. But so much of life is about mitigating and reducing our weaknesses.

Solution: Be honest with yourself and do some self-examination. What are the things that you’re doing in your life each day that hold you back? I like to think of this in the form of vices. It could be laziness, lustful thoughts, anger, even envious behavior. You are always empowered to take control of your own life and begin writing your masterpiece.

Eliminate that which holds you back. Make it a habit to stop doing the things that are adding only temporary pleasure. Because these very same things are causing long-term pain. Life is so much about eliminating the negative — the mistakes and turnovers — and empowering yourself to build off the positive things that you do each day. That’s the mark of a champion!

Believe this is your best year!

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This article first appeared on Medium.