Who among us hasn’t launched into a new role only to quickly find ourselves bruised and battered by unforeseen challenges and the doubt that immediately follows? It’s natural. Our brains are inclined towards negativity. Research shows we each have between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts every day, and as many as 98 percent of them are repetitive. Even more significant, 80 percent of those same thoughts are negative. Not to be a Debbie Downer – but additional studies indicate that it takes 3 positive thoughts to neutralize just one negative thought. That’s downright depressing!
Or is it?
Awareness Is Your Secret Weapon Against Doubt
Yes, life happens. That doesn’t mean we are doomed to be Life’s victims. We also are not the hapless victims of our own thinking. We are conscious beings and can use our awareness to shift our thinking at will. To be blunt: we get to change our minds whenever we choose.
But first, we have to be aware what we are thinking. When a thought arises, we are the ones that get to decide what happens next:
OPTION 1: Just follow the thought wherever it goes
OPTION 2: Redirect the thought to a more useful direction
Neither option is wrong. The practice of observing and choosing, however, absolutely transforms us. We develop an awareness of the constant dialog running in the background of our minds. Our thought train is quite literally shaping our experience of the world. Deciding to observe thoughts neutrally puts our consciousness back in its proper role of choosing.
I was recently building content for my upcoming class on intuition and came across a rather startling set of research by Dr. Tasche Eurich that stated 95% of us believe we are self-aware, while only about 10-15% of us are actually self-aware. She explores many facets of self-awareness, including how internal awareness is framed the level of clarity on our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others. This internal self-awareness creates higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness; without it we sink into anxiety, stress, and depression.
In brief, self-awareness is the key to overcoming negativity and doubt. But first, you must embrace the whole you – what you actually care about and what motivates you uniquely. If you are unclear on how to hone your self-awareness, there are many tools available. I will be exploring these in this month’s blog series, as we learn to love ourselves just as we are.
Hello, Doubt, My Old Friend
If you are alive (never mind launching a new business, or taking on a new leadership role) you are going to feel uncomfortable almost daily. Some discomforts are barely felt, like a particularly annoying song on the radio, which causes you to flip the channel. Others can send us reeling, like someone whose opinion you value highly rejecting you. Regardless of its scale, we hate being uncomfortable to any degree, and most of us reach for the nearest thing to soothe us immediately.
Often the desire to sooth ourselves from our discomfort can slide rapidly into addiction – food, shopping, alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, relationship hopping, entertainment, and even addiction to emotions, such as blame, shaming, gossiping, or anger, as a defense. Worldwide, over 240 million people are dependent on alcohol, and more than a billion people smoke. That’s only two forms of addiction. Of course, the irony of addiction is that it does nothing to address the real discomfort, and the greater the addiction, the greater the discomfort becomes, expanding into other areas.
But here’s the even greater irony: What if our discomfort was actually a powerful ally in our process? What if, in our race to shut down the pain, we were actually shutting down the very opportunity to be strengthened by it?
What Our Doubt Wants Us To Do
High-profile life coach, Alyssa Nobriga was working with a client who was grappling with a sense of “not being enough” as they were stepping into a higher level of business. During the session, Alyssa asked the client, “Can I speak directly to your doubt?” When the client gave her permission, she asked The Voice of Doubt, “What do you want to hear from her (the client)?”
The client’s answer was startling, and deeply powerful, “I want her to say she can do it.”
Paradoxically, doubt is actually on our side, cheering us on. Rather than wanting our dreams to be obliterated, before it destroys us, The Voice of Doubt is daring us to love the tender places where we are uncertain.
The Voice of Doubt is not an invitation to slap some puffed up affirmation on our mirror when, in reality, we can’t pay the rent. This isn’t about denial of reality. It is much deeper than that. If we can’t pay the rent, our doubt is asking us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and affirm that wherever we were headed was important enough to us to try a different route to get there.
The Voice of Doubt is asking us to acknowledge that perhaps the direction we chose isn’t going to take us to the destination we desire, but we are willing to find another way.
“She can do it,” is a mantra that successful entrepreneurs hear, even if their first, second and third attempt fails. They don’t associate a failed effort with they themselves being a failure. Instead, they see each attempt as a learning opportunity. They know they are smarter – and stronger – because they failed.
Doubt Builds Momentum
There is a saying, “If you aren’t uncomfortable, you aren’t growing.” I personally feel doubt every single day. I suspect I’m in the majority. It tugs at my awareness. But I know that where it is tugging most fiercely – in that direction is my greatest possibility for expansion…
…The doubt that keeps me from sitting down and writing.
…The doubt that says, “If you are vulnerable, they won’t like you.”
…The doubt that says, “You’ve never done this before and the crash that’s inevitably coming is going to be excruciating.”
…The doubt that says there’s not enough of me, of time, money, or customer demand.
So, instead of slapping another “I’m a badass!” successory statement on my desk (and yes, I DO have a few!) I do what was suggested to me by a very wise mentor, and hasn’t failed me yet:
I recognize the doubt that is very quiet, but still audible. I see it and really hear it. (Note: I haven’t died yet from doing this!)
I stop what I was doing when the doubt (worry, fear, anxiety) was triggered.
I check in with myself by asking, “What am I actually afraid of here?” I know it is not really about the “thing” – such as someone being angry with me. I’m not even afraid of failing. It always comes down to one of two things – that I am not (smart, fast, talented, insightful, brilliant, powerful, etc.) enough, or there is not enough of something I want.
Once I recognize the fear, I step away from the situation, or email, or train of thought.
I step outdoors if possible, and consciously breathe deeply, since I cannot breathe deeply and be anxious simultaneously. It is physically impossible. Try it. The breath is my “reset button.”
I remember that nothing is permanent, but when I relax into the anxiety, instead of running from it, it seems to dissolve and resolve much easier than when I resist it.
I then can choose a response that is as inclusive and helpful – to myself and anyone else involved – as I know how to be at that moment.
And you know what – my days are pretty amazing as a result. I am counting my wins. Not my losses. I am building relationships, not burning bridges. I am getting more done, and helping more people.
Does it mean I am never anxious any more? Of course not!
Does it mean doubt never crosses my mind? Hardly!
What this simple, mindful practice does for me is diffuse the doubt without destroying it, so it is the teacher it is naturally meant to be. Befriending my doubt has energized my life, my work, and given me a deep sense of my true power. This is how I tell my doubt, “Yes. We can do it.” And then we do.