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Many of us are familiar with the gnarly voice in our heads, questioning if we are capable of achieving our goals or worthy of reaching our dreams.
It’s called self-doubt, and it can find many forms and take many shapes.
It can appear as a nasty inner critic (mine comes with a whip). Sometimes it shows up as procrastination, other times as a pure terrorizing fear.
Many of us live lives run by self-doubt. We don’t make that move or reach for that goal because we don’t believe in ourselves. We might give up before even trying.
And if we don’t try, how can we ever get anything in life that we desire?
Self-doubt keeps us in our comfort zones, and it loves stagnation. It enjoys making us smaller and encourages us to hide our talents and gifts. It can build a home in our heads and start painting dark shadows in our minds.
It can be a nasty companion, but we can learn to collaborate with it. I don’t think we should even try to eliminate it completely; a healthy dose of self-doubt can keep us grounded and humble.
But we should not let it run the show. When we recognize it and acknowledge its existence, we can start developing a relationship with it and find empowerment through the process.
1. Develop a relationship with your inner critic
I’ve had my fair share of dealing with self-doubt. While I’ve tried to welcome all the feelings and experiences that are part of the human experience, I’ve also tried to find ways not to let the darker parts of my being lead my life.
One of the loudest manifestations of my self-doubt has been my inner critic. It’s the nagging voice in my head that’s never satisfied. It questions my work, my creativity, and sometimes even my worth. And one day, I had enough.
I remembered Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, where she encourages every recovering artist to name their inner critics. So, I figured I’d give it a try.
A peculiar encounter followed.
It was late autumn last year, and I was in the middle of some serious November blues. I felt stuck, and I found myself being unnecessarily hard on myself. I could hear the nagging voice inside my head criticizing me, and then suddenly, I could see him.
My inner critic showed up as a middle-aged arrogant gay guy. He had couperose skin, pale green eyes, and he was wearing lederhosen.
The next thing I knew was that a name popped into my mind just like his image had. This nagging thing introduced himself as Ruoska-Jari. His name is Finnish, as that’s where I come from. It can be casually translated to Whip-Jari.
And no, a whip is not a name in Finland; Jari is. And yes, sometimes he’s carrying a whip.
While my relationship with Whip-Jari is still a work in progress, I think we’ve found ways to co-exist in better harmony. Acknowledging him and his tricks have helped me to ignore him. These days I get to choose more often if I listen to him or not. I’ve also learned to tell him to bugger off.
We’ve spent the winter in Mexico and El-Salvador, and I think he appreciates the tropical climate. It’s good for his skin. Sometimes he still resists the siesta nap in the hammock, as he sees it as nonproductive nonsense, but he has started to give in. Sometimes he sneaks out for a Mezcal Margarita. After a good surf session, he stays quiet for days. Even Whip-Jari can’t resist the high followed by a good, long ride on the wave.
2. Be selective about your people
The people around us make a huge difference when dealing with self-doubt. If we get the right support and encouragement, we can reach the sky.
That’s why we need to be selective with our people. The thing is that self-doubt is more likely to come haunting us when we step out of our comfort zones and try something new. The new and unknown is fertile soil for self-doubt. Pursuing our creative dreams, moving to another location, or changing careers—anything out of the ordinary can trigger our insecurities.
When self-doubt takes over, we are sensitive and scared. And that’s when the right support can make all the difference. We want to stay away from people who don’t get us and avoid the energy of harsh criticism, jealousy, or competition.
Instead, we turn to people we know will have our backs, deliver constructive feedback, and celebrate our small victories. They are the people who remind us about our progress when we most need it. Their faith in us pushes us forward when our own faith is ghosting. I’m eternally grateful for having people like that around.
3. Move forward despite the fear
Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of change. We all fear something, and I’ve noticed that fear feeds self-doubt. It sounds like this:
“Not possible for me.”
I remember a funny drawing in James Victore’s fantastic book, Feck Perfuction. It describes a gravestone that states: Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda. I think it’s a spot-on summary of what self-doubt fed by fear can do to us. Or, more precisely, what it can prevent us from doing.
Instead of laying on my death bed wondering what I coulda, shoulda, woulda have done, I’d rather just try while I’m still alive.
Who cares if we f*ck up when trying? We can always course correct and try again. Most successful people have tried and failed tons of times before finding the sweet spot that brought them success.
If we fear something, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. Vice versa. Some of the best decisions I’ve made have been bloody scary: taking a leave of absence to travel solo in Latin America, starting my own business, and following my creative urges. I haven’t become fearless by facing my fears, but I’ve become more comfortable with discomfort and uncertainty.
Instead of letting fear paralyze us, we can walk toward it. When we learn to do things despite the fear, miracles can happen.
This is true courage: being afraid and doing it anyway.
4. Have some faith
This one is easier said than done. However, reconnecting with faith has been a game-changer in my life. For me, faith is twofold: trusting myself and trusting the universe. Being part of a bigger plan. Often, I still find it easier to trust the universe than myself, but it’s a work in progress.
I found faith when I started the process of discovering my authentic self—by looking inside and reconnecting with my inner power. What I’ve learned in the process is that faith has the power to move mountains. Because faith is more powerful than fear.
Which one will you choose to guide your actions?