How Self Doubt Can Boost Your Confidence


“I can’t do it. What have I got to bring? I’m not ready..”

My mind was saying this in a meeting the other day. I was there as a trainer to be part of an exciting new leadership programme for women.  I was there because of my experience, my reputation and my knowledge and yet as I heard about the ambition and scale of the project, my mind started it’s usual fear-based dialogue and my body started to shrink.

The voice of self doubt is something that most of us can relate to.  It is one of the annoying side effects of wanting to achieve  or do a great job.

The questions is, why do we doubt ourselves and how can we stop it from undermining our confidence?

To reassure you, most people I’ve ever worked with do.  From award winning actors who feel the angst of any potential failure,  to managing directors who quake at the thought of doing a presentation.

Firstly, the reason we have this voice is biological. Neuroscientists explain that it’s simply a hangover from our ancestors who developed a negativity bias in our brain to stop us from taking unnecessary risks and being eaten by tigers!

In my personal experience, it is also an aspect of being ambitious. We may feel confident in familiar situations, but the more we dare to play a bigger game, the more our self-doubt can show up.  (The more our brain sees potential danger).

The frustrating about it is that it can feel like an invisible cloak that blocks us from expressing our truth or being our full selves.

You’re not ready, good enough, smart enough…” or “You’re lazy, you should have got further than you have, you just about got away with that ..”

The same negativity bias in the brain also stops us from appreciating our achievements or ourselves.

I’ve known people to rush from one success to the next challenge, without a moment of satisfaction. The achievement that once felt so important to reach is disregarded for the next summit. There’s no time to fully appreciate the fact that you are really quite brilliant.

So – what do we do quieten this voice down?

Meditate, do affirmations, practice yoga?

Well –  these strategies can all help. It’s good to have ways to manage the affects of the little voice, but I believe it’s actually better to stop and listen to the critical voice.

The thing is,  it’s not the critical voice that’s the problem. We all have one. As I said, it’s part of our brain’s nature to warn us about danger.

It’s the relationship we have with our inner critic that leads us to sleepless nights, down the panic alleyway or potentially towards a deeper feeling of confidence.

If we’re not listening, we can simply feel undermined and anxious. If we do listen, then we actually have a chance of shifting it’s hold on us.

The reality is, If you do observe the voice in your head, you may find that it’s a shadow of a past hurt. A time at school when you were being told off, or when your dad lost his rag.

Mine is the panicky feeling of not finishing my homework. I remember the first time I was interviewed on radio, I felt as if I was gabbling in a high-pitched voice as if I had sucked a helium balloon!

So – after testing every strategy in the personal development book, my belief is that the best route to inner peace is to strike up a relationship with your little critic. Have a chat, an inner cup of tea and give it the reassurance it needs!

Here is what I say to mine:

“Hello self-doubt – nice to see you!”

My self-doubt relaxes. The grip loosens.

“What are you worried is going to happen?”

I listen to my self-doubt with empathy. I give it space to feel safe to talk. I give it a hug!

My self-doubt normally reveals its familiar pattern.

“I’m worried that you’re going to look stupid in front of all those people. I’m worried they’ll find out that you are not very good.”

I acknowledge this childlike fear and say:

“Well thank you for trying to protect me from danger. I really appreciate that you’re worried.”

Then I work with my self-doubt to find some practical solutions.

“If I prepare well and practice a few minutes each day, I should be ready. I’ve done this before, so I know I’ll be fine. Remember how well the last workshop went? Is there anything else you think would help?”

By this time, my little voice of self-doubt has calmed down. Knowing it has been listened to without judgment can be a powerful way to help it feel more confident again.

Put simply, our self-doubt is often a younger part of ourselves that was never listened to or understood.

If we treat our self-doubt as a younger version of ourselves that lives in our mind, then we start to build our own confidence.

If we ignore it, make it wrong or squash it down, then it will most likely run away from problems or behave like a child.

You are an adult of course and learning to be kind to yourself is what will help you unleash more of your huge potential in life. Befriend that inner critic and set your confidence free.


Try it!

Here is a few steps to befriending your voice of self doubt:

“Hello self-doubt – nice to see you!”

“What are you worried is going to happen?”

Acknowledge any of the fears it has. Thank it for bringing them to your attention.

Remind this part of you of some recent successes.

Come up with ways to prepare or feel confident.

“What about we do …. or … to prepare ourselves?”

Over to you:

When you get a moment of self doubt – what helps you?

5 Responses

  1. Hi Nicky. I love this blog. I think it is one of the best things I’ve read on why we have self doubt. Your approach reminds me of “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. She acknowledges that fear is part of the family, it can come on the road-trip but she firmly tells it that it is not allowed to make any decisions.

    1. Ah Cali, I absolutely love Big Magic – I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. Yes – that’s a fun strategy as well. Being aware of it, but treating it like a passenger and not the driver. x

  2. Great blog Nicky,
    I’ve just started writing a booK & my self doubt gremlins love coming out to play. Next time they do i’ll definitely use this really simple technique.

    1. Oh that’s great Lesley. Really helps with writing. I am in the habit of writing every morning now without stopping – really helps with flow. Good luck with the book. x

  3. I love this post, Nicky and the way you work with the Inner Critic.

    Getting our Adult self to sit down with Younger self for a chat and a cuppa tea is likely to have a much better outcome than trying to push it away and ignore it. We can’t sack a part of ourselves but we can find out what it’s been trying to protect us from, and then give it an information update so it can feel safe and see the world from a more resourceful perspective.

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