3 Strategies to Stop Doubting Yourself—Especially in Anxious Times

July 27, 2020

Who out there doesn't fall prey to the occasional (or relentless) wave of self-doubt? The internal "am I good enough" battle is something most of us face.

And right now, with so much uncertainty around us, it’s no wonder that the “inner critic” is rearing its head and making us question ourselves. But you don’t have to actually listen to that voice. 

“We have the capacity to both recognize when it shows up and to intentionally shift our brains out of debilitating inner critical thoughts into more supportive and productive ones,” says Denise Jacobs in Banish Your Inner Critic to Unleash Creativity

Learn more in the course “Banish Your Inner Critic to Unleash Creativity."

Use these three strategies from Jacobs’ course to get past the self-doubt monster and get back to doing your best work — even amidst difficult circumstances. 

1. Give your self-talk a reboot

“When you find that your inner critic is working overtime and your self talk has turned more negative, then it's time to reboot your self-talk,” says Jacobs.

This requires two steps, Jacobs explains. 

First, talk to yourself in third person — refer to yourself by name. This is called “self-distancing.” 

Second, channel a supportive voice and speak to yourself with it, says Jacobs. Encourage yourself in the same way that a coach, friend, or mentor would push you towards success.

For example, let’s say I have a big presentation next week, and it’s my first time presenting to the exec team by video call. I may say: “Rachel, you don’t have to worry. Everyone is in the same boat with working remotely right now. You’re passionate about the topic so let that shine through. You’re going to wow them!”

By stepping into the role of being your own “coach of positivity,” you can move from being hyper-critical of yourself to feeling more capable.

2. Quit saying “should”

When we talk to ourselves with “shoulds” — “I should be more creative,” “I should work more hours,” “I should meditate” — we put pressure on ourselves and create a sense that we have to do something. Jacobs calls this the “imposition mentality.”

“Words have power. And when we use this kind of language in our self-talk, we're giving up both our power and our responsibility in the situation,” says Jacobs.

When you catch yourself in imposition mentality, choose different words:

  • Instead of I have to, say, I choose to, I get to, or I want to

  • Instead of I must (e.g. I must do this or I must succeed at this), say When can I? (e.g. When can I put the effort in to make this successful?)

Jacobs also recommends using power phrases like I will... and I decide… to reframe your thinking.

“With this change, you'll start to mentally shift into a place of taking back your power,” she says. “These intentional new phrases indicate taking ownership of your feelings and also embody a full commitment to action.”

3. Break the cycle of rumination

Here's a familiar scenario for a lot of us: you get feedback from your manager on work you’ve completed, and while they shared dozens of positive comments, it’s that one piece of negative feedback you can’t get out of your head. 

This is called ruminating. And you’re not the only one doing it. I am definitely guilty of this. 

Jacobs explains that we’re prone to “taking a negative memory or something that we're anxious about, and then we'll think about it over, and over, and over again.” 

Unfortunately, we’re more likely to ruminate when we’re tired, stressed, or burned out — which we’re feeling in spades in these anxious times.  

If you’re ruminating about something that happened in the past (like the mistake you made with a client six months ago), give your brain permission to let it go. “It's gone, done, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change it,” says Jacobs.

If you’re ruminating on a potential event that has not yet happened (like your performance review next week), remind yourself that you can’t predict the future. Chances are the event won’t transpire as you fear it will.

To calm down these kinds of thoughts, hold a squeeze ball in your non-dominant hand and squeeze it for several minutes. When you’re using a different set of muscles than you’re used to, it activates a different part of your brain and helps you shift your focus from rumination to muscle movement. 

When your inner critic reveals itself use one of these strategies to hush your self-doubt. 

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