Self-doubt is a tender subject. I suspect this is because most people aren’t especially fond of looking introspectively and clearly stating “I am unsure of myself, of my future, and of my decisions.”, when that is in fact the case.
Correspondingly, I think we do not generally appreciate the level of self-doubt those we admire experience, or experienced during their life time (if they are now dead). We do not appreciate it because we are quite often, only seeing the tip of the ice berg of that individual, in their work, in their writing, in their speaking, in their actions, etc …
We don’t see the long nights that individual spent alone, teetering on a nervous breakdown, crying, head spinning, feeling utterly alienated from the world, having something akin to a never ending panic attack.
Both before and after tremendous success, and sometimes, completely independent and irrelevant of it – for no apparent reason at all maybe.
This is the kind of self-doubt I am speaking of in the title of this post. The kind of doubt an individual experiences when they are matching themselves up against obstacles that will challenge the best within them.
The challenges that will make or break them, and drive them insane on both accounts.
Personally speaking, I’ve gone through doubt like this and to this degree on a number of occasions. This blog, on rare occasions, is a testament to it, sprinkled with posts that reflect my mind at those difficult times.
And do I have some sort of “how to guide” for dealing with self-doubt today?
No. Such a post doesn’t interest me. As I see it, people have to discover their own way for dealing with stress, anxiety, and doubt anyway. What I do may be of less than no interest to you, and vice versa.
On the flip side, I would like to share some personal experience today in regards to self-doubt.
1. Doubt comes in short term and long term rhythms
So far as my experience has shown, mild “doubt dips” come about somewhat frequently. A few days feeling really certain of myself, of my goals, of my actions, and so on, followed by a short stint of a general feeling of uncertainty.
Such an experience usually lasts less than half a day. Rarely does it last more than one full day.
Unless it is a more severe “doubt dip”, as part of a time of year when I am experiencing them more frequently than other times of the year.
While this is incredibly unscientific, this is usually in the late Summer and then Fall seasons. While I can experience severe bouts of feeling uncertain of myself other times of the year, those are almost always event/environment related.
Quite simply, there are damn good reasons I am feeling that way, and to that degree. Where as in the late Summer and Fall, there is never an apparent reason, yet the degree of the experience is almost or is in fact the same.
I don’t feel that way every day of course, but the frequency seems higher, the duration seems longer, and the degree seems greater.
This has been flawlessly consistent since the Summer of 2007. And while my best friend died in the Summer of 2008, surely contributing to to feeling doubtful of my self, of the world, and the strength of my relationship to it, the pattern/rhythm has held outside of that year all the same.
2. The mind needs to experience what the mind needs to experience
I read a quote earlier this year by Nathaniel Branden in The Psychology of Romantic Love. It was in regards to his experience of his wife suddenly dieing of a freak drowning accident. He stated that for days, perhaps weeks on end, he could barely control his body.
He would feel suddenly joyful – to the extreme – followed by something akin to physical convulsions, and endless crying. He was emotionally torn apart by her death, to say the least.
His quote during the writing of the book was something like “I learned to let the body experience what it needed to experience”.
This is what has come to mind very vividly for me this year when I am feeling doubtful, unconfident, anxious, nervous, unsure of myself, etc.
That the mind needs to experience what the mind needs to experience – independent of physical/chemical/biological/environmental factors.
Human psychology is unique because human beings are volitional beings. Other than breathing and a beating heart, very little comes automatically to us.
Everything, for the entire course of your adult life, comes from your mind. Every decision, every action, every judgment, every hope, every wish, every idea, from your thinking mind.
With force, fraud, and chance removed from the equation, everything depends on you.
Correspondingly, I think it is fair to say we do not generally appreciate that error and doubt come with the territory of being highly conscious, non-instinct manipulated, volitional, rational beings.
No one has all of the knowledge available in the entire universe for every single decision, or even a majority of the decisions we need to make.
Nor is rationality dependent on it. To be rational is to act on the total sum of your knowledge by the best of your judgment.
“Perfection” is no where in that sentence, nor does it need to be, nor should it be. So long as it is not the dominant conclusion or mode of your thinking, and so long as you continually strive to improve upon it, there is nothing wrong with making an error, or doubting your decision before (or of course after) it is made.
To say so would be to conclude there is something wrong with being human – which is not a far cry from hating yourself and damning the world.
I bring this second point up because, as I just stated in a different context, so long as it is not the dominant state of your mind, there is nothing inherently wrong with doubting yourself.
If you’re making hard decisions, facing difficult problems, and choosing goals in life that challenge the best within you, it’s an emotion that should be expected, even if there is no clear reason for it’s severity, frequency, duration, etc.
It comes with the territory, and what I’ve chosen to make matter is that I never let self-doubt affect my long range decisions and thinking process.
I don’t act on doubt, the same way I don’t act on fear. And neither would any other man of reason, purpose, and self-esteem.
– Anthony Dream Johnson