The most significant component of success is self-confidence, and the number one killer of confidence is self-doubt. This includes self-defeating habits. Part of this comes from focusing on pleasing others rather than pursuing your own goals or fulfilling your own needs.
If you are stuck in this cycle, you will have to recognize your self-defeating habits daily, and then focus on changing those habits. This serves to retrain the emotional pathways of your brain, a process known as neuroplasticity, in which the neurons and pathways are actually changed and reward centers are increased for positive, self-affirming habits rather than negative, self-defeating ones.
One of the sources of self-doubt is the guilt we are made to feel from an early age. Guilt is the appeal most parents use to train children: from eating, to behaving, to not taking other people or their actions for granted. A little bit of guilt can actually be a benefit to society, as it works toward a general morality and group-policing—as long as the guilt occurs in small doses or to prevent bad acts. Once you let guilt take over your life, you can find yourself in a debilitating cycle of regret and apprehension of repeating the same mistake, leading to inaction, thereby increasing guilt because of a lack of productivity or feelings of worthlessness.
A maybe not-so-surprising source of self-doubt is the practice of being a perfectionist. Oftentimes, the rigidity of perfectionism leads to self-doubt and then to self-defeating patterns of behavior. In fact, one study found that perfectionists have higher rates of depression and suicide. Perfectionists are also diagnosed with high rates of physical ailments such as chronic fatigue syndrome and even fibromyalgia. While perfectionists often seem confident, that confidence is usually conditional, as though they constantly have to prove themselves, or they are in perpetual fear of being exposed as a fraud in some way. If you find yourself in these patterns, or suspect that you are a perfectionist, try an exercise with yourself to not see your mistakes as faults. Realize that mistakes often happen, especially when trying something bold or risky, and reward yourself for taking action instead of dwelling on any mistakes from that action.
Seeing mistakes as something natural brings us to the topic of failure. If you see every mistake as proof of your failings, then you will never have the self-confidence to pursue goals—or even be fully productive. Remember that failure is all in perspective. Many people view failures (mistakes) as part of the learning process. Viewed differently, a “mistake” is simply another step in getting you to where you need to be. It might help to think of yourself as a scientist, continuously doing research and trials, getting closer to the desired result with each experiment. “Failed” experiments are merely rungs in the ladder to reach the top. Said another way, “to reach your full potential.”
Perhaps the most subtle confidence-killer is the practice of social comparison. As a society, we function by this practice; as a learning practice, we see how someone else does something, or in a social setting, we behave according to the model of those around us. Most of the time, such comparisons serve us well. However, comparing ourselves negatively with others can lead to habitual comparison and feelings of inadequacy. A recent Cal Tech study discussed the link between social comparisons and destructive emotions. The overall assessment was that frequent comparison to others (and consistent self-focused attention) lead to chronic dissatisfaction. While social comparison evolved as a coping function to create a sense of well-being, repeated use of such comparisons instead reinforce a negative cycle of uncertainty, greater social comparison, and further diminished well-being. One way to break this cycle is to see yourself as having a style no one else has. Ask yourself: Are you self-conscious because you want to fit in? Or to be better than those around you? Want to simply please others? Getting at these answers can help you get to the root of self-doubt and on your way to a better, more confident you.
If you find yourself in the cycle of social comparison, self-doubt and guilt, contact me at Stephen@PfeifferPhD.com or visit my website www.pfeifferphd.com.