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How to Deal With Self-Doubt

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I woke up feeling a little strange this morning. It’s not the first time, but it’s usually associated with having a little too much fun the night before. Sadly, that was not the case. So I did what I usually do – ignored it and hoped it would go away. It didn’t.

As I sat down to work, it was still there, like a cloud inside my head. So I sat quietly and tried to listen to whatever it was that was bugging me. After a while the fog started to coalesce into beads of thought – concern over a project I’m working on. But there was something else, so I dug deeper.

Finally, there it was. A feeling. Fear. And the fear had a name. Self-doubt.

Not to sound melodramatic, but the truth is it’s been a long time since I felt that way. Fear I’m used to. Every time I pick up a chainsaw to drop a 60- or 70-foot tree that can end my life in an instant, I feel fear. Then there was that nasty unidentified infection a few months back. That was a bit scary.

But it’s been a very long time since I felt any kind of self-doubt. After all, I’ve been around for ages. I’m more or less a veteran at the work I do. And back when I was a senior executive in the tech industry, there was simply no time or place for self-doubt.

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Don’t get me wrong. There was no shortage of unknowns, tradeoffs and risks. But you made the best call you could and went with it; let the chips fall as they may. That’s how you run a big company. You strategize, capitalize and turn the crank. If it works, you keep doing it. If not, you come up with a different plan.

But when it’s your own business, when you’re committed to doing something you’ve never done before – challenging your own comfort zone and taking risks with your family’s money and the one and only reputation you worked decades to build – that’s a whole different story.

When you’re all alone in your own little office without the hustle and bustle of a crowded workplace, there’s nowhere to hide from self-doubt. And that can be a little scary. So how did I deal with it? How should you deal with your own self-doubt?

The worst thing you can do is give in to the powerful urge to distract yourself. Don’t pick up your phone, write a blog post, read an inspirational quote or get on Twitter to see how many new followers you have. Self-doubt is important. It's not something you want to sweep under the rug. You want to pay attention and see where it takes you.  

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Just sit quietly or go for a walk and ask yourself three very pointed questions”

1. Are my goals true?

We do everything for a reason. Our goals are what drive us to challenge our own status quo and risk failure. If it’s something you know you have to do or really want to do, then that’s one aspect of doubt you can put to rest. If not, you probably have some more thinking to do.

2. Am I capable?

Only you know if you’re capable of accomplishing what you set out to do. If you believe you are, then you should be reasonably confident. Some doubt is normal. Some people use coaches, family members or close friends for this sort of thing, but they’re really just reinforcing what, deep down, they already know.

3. What’s the worst that can happen?

Usually the downside risk isn’t as bad as we make it out to be in our heads. If you’re driven to go for it and you’re not risking something critical you can never get back – like financial security or your health – it’s probably OK to throw caution to the wind, especially if you’re particularly risk averse.

The insights you’ll gain by answering those questions will help determine if you’re on the right path or perhaps need pivot or change direction. As you can see, this isn’t rocket science. As long as you’re honest with yourself and deal with it head-on, there’s nothing to fear from self-doubt. It’s actually a good mechanism for keeping you on the right track.   

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