What's holding you back? Ten habits that highly successful people use to overcome self-doubt – and how you can apply them to your life
Self-doubt can strike any of us at any time, from the junior worker at the start of his career to the high-powered businesswoman pulling in seven figures.
And when it does, the effects can be crippling.
'Self-doubt manifests itself as anger, worry, self-deprecating thoughts and words, sleep disturbance, or maladaptive behaviors to cope such as overeating or drinking,' says business psychologist Dr Jude Miller Burke. 'It has common threads, but we each wear it differently.'
In fact, the question is not whether we experience self-doubt, but how we deal with it.
So to make sure these feelings don't hold you back, we've teamed up with Strayer University to gather advice from experts on how the most successful people eliminate their innermost doubts.
Crippling: Self-doubt manifests itself as anger, worry, self-deprecating thoughts and words, sleep disturbance, or maladaptive behaviors to cope such as overeating or drinking - all of which will hold you back
1) Expect it
Entrepreneur Caren Merrick, founder and CEO of Pocket Mentor, points out that self-doubt is common, especially among goal-oriented people and high achievers.
'Recognize if it's really a form of resistance,' she says. 'When you are headed in the right direction, expect resistance to the very decision or commitment you have made. It is familiar to anyone who has set and achieved a significant goal.
So rather than worrying that you're doubting yourself, think of the doubt as a clue that you are headed in the right direction, and it will become a lot easier to manage.
2) Don't wallow
When self-doubt creeps in, it can be all too easy to get lost in negative thoughts instead of addressing the real issues at hand.
So Emily Miethner, founder and CEO of FindSpark, an online and in-person community dedicated to helping young professionals find career success, advises taking action as soon as you start to worry.
Whatever you choose to do or not do, you will be better informed by interrogating your doubt.
She says: 'It's easy to think of all the things that could go wrong, but then you're wasting time that you could be working to make sure it does happen.'
3) Challenge it
Ms Merrick agrees that you need to tackle negative feelings head-on, and suggests that you take the time to interrogate your self-doubt.
She says: 'Question it, so that you know if it's pointing to a legitimate fact - what is the real fear or doubt? What is the worst thing that can happen? What will become possible for you if you don't give in to the doubt?
'What will you miss out on if you do give in to doubt? What outcome would be blocked? Whatever you choose to do or not do, you will be better informed by interrogating your doubt.'
4) Learn your triggers
We all have triggers that cause us to doubt our abilities, and recognizing these can go a long way towards eradicating their effects.
Dr Miller Burke explains: 'While many are of the philosophy of 'fake it until you make it' (and this can be helpful in a pinch), the longer term goal is to know what situations trigger your self-doubt, come to an understanding of how these situations affect you emotionally, and make proactive choices to reduce the amount of time and energy self-doubt detracts from your career.'
In the first instance, it is important to recognize the behaviors, thoughts and feelings that indicate you are experiencing self-doubt. This could be anything from feeling anxious and having self-deprecating thoughts to repeatedly talking about the same issue or experiencing difficulty sleeping.
Dr Miller Burke, who is a self-made millionaire and author of The Millionaire Mystique, says that you also need to take note of situations or people at work and in your personal life that activate self-doubt.
She says: 'Usually there are specific situations for an individual such as workplace conflict, general irritability, work overload, or new responsibilities.
'Identify things going on in your personal life that may be creating more self-doubt, such as health problems, becoming a parent, trouble with teens, fatigue, or toxic relationships. Use trusted friends and family for support.
'Write notes in a journal about 1) what happened specifically, 2) your feelings, and 3) irrational thoughts.
5) Practice new behaviors
Knowing your triggers for self-doubt means that you are in a position to practice alternative choices when these stressors occur.
If you are having difficulty imagining new behaviors, emulate a role model that you respect.
Dr Miller Burke advises: 'Continue to write about your automatic behaviors in those kinds of situations and alternative, wiser behavioral choices you could make in the future.
'If you are having difficulty imagining new behaviors, emulate a role model that you respect. Study how he or she handles difficult people and situations.
'Realign your priorities to ensure you are getting enough sleep, nutritional food, exercise, recreation, and time with family and friends,' she adds. 'This helps you have the physical stamina to not be reactive and choose and be successful at new behaviors.'
6) Look fear in the face
Ms Merrick points out that courage is not the absence of fear, and most courageous acts are done before our doubts are banished.
She says: 'Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said, you must look fear in the face. You must: "Do the thing you think you cannot do".
'I had that quote on a post-it on my mirror as I achieved my goal of putting myself through university. When the inevitable challenges came, I leaned into it and it worked! What if I had given in to doubts and quit?'
7) Don't retreat
'I don't doubt my ability, but I do analyze the situation to see what mistakes I may have made,' says Jan Jones, former executive assistant and author of The CEO's Secret Weapon.
'Even if I'm bruised by the experience, I don't retreat, I find a way to move forward.'
She also suggests questioning the scale of the problem: 'If it is a catastrophe like an earthquake or war, that puts it into perspective. . . If it is a blip, it is easier to handle and it doesn't wipe you out or your confidence level.'
8) Know yourself
Ms Merrick says that not knowing your strengths is often at the heart of doubts, so working on self-knowledge and self-discovery can help banish them.
'I find that doing a scientific assessment like Strengthsfinder helps you know your strengths and value,' she adds.
9) Avoid perfectionism
We can drive ourselves crazy striving for perfection, but this can actually be counter-productive as we end up feeling like a failure if we fall short.
'Recognize and avoid perfectionism,' advises Ms Merrick. 'Just because something isn't perfect does not mean you should doubt it.
'To achieve any significant goal or success, a series of imperfect steps is the only way to arrive. The imperfect steps give us insights that are essential to achieve our goals.'
10) Recall previous success
'What I admire about highly successful people is the way they respond to setbacks or challenges,' says Ms Jones.
Think of those times when things turned out better than you expected.
'In situations of profound setback I've watched them rebound through sheer tenacity. They do what Trump advises: "Focus on the solution, not the problem".
'Because they've succeeded in the past, they know they have what it takes, and this is something everyone can call on in times of self-doubt.
'Remind yourself of previous successes. If I'm experiencing a challenge, I tell myself: "You did it before, you can do it again".
Ms Merrick agrees that recalling your past successes can be an effective tactic to banish doubts.
'As you break down your decisions and actions, you'll find many good and right steps that added up to the outcome you aimed for,' she says.
'Think of those times when things turned out better than you expected. It will remind you can that you can trust yourself.'