Self doubt – grip it and use it
How much self-doubt have you handled this past week? And when you doubt yourself, what’s the impact? I ask because a research paper I read recently concluded that self-doubt could lead to good outcomes.
A couple of my current coachees have explored a specific doubt in recent sessions and that’s whether they can reconcile their values with their current jobs. One coachee has been questioning consumerism (she works in a marketing role, encouraging people to spend, spend, spend on the run up to Christmas) and another has been wondering how long she can stay working as part of a team that’s slow to make a difference to clients when self-employed consultancy could get results for clients much more quickly. (The salary stops her from stepping out).
Perhaps you can relate to other coachees who doubt their capability at work? Maybe you’ve thought you should pass the head-hunter who’s called you, onto a colleague? Or perhaps you’ve watched other people’s kids in the playground and decided you’re a bit crap at this parenting lark? Well to all you doubting Thomasina’s I say this: doubt can make us better. A study in Norway of 70 psychotherapists and 255 of their mental health clients found that the best client outcomes were seen for those therapists who expressed self-doubt and greater self-compassion than other therapists in the study. The researchers (Nissen-Lie et al, 2015) explain their findings: “This combination seems to pave the way for an open, self-reflective stance that allows psychotherapists to respect the complexity of their work, and, when needed, to correct the therapeutic course in order to help clients more effectively with their challenges.”
Now a word of caution (because the world of scientific study is rarely straightforward) if you’ve got a tough challenge ahead other research by Luszcznska et al (2010) tells us that you’ve got to find a way to eradicate self-doubt in order to be successful. That’s because their study found that the best predictor of success is not – as is often said – past behaviour or attainment but how self-efficacious you feel (basically whether you think you can do something or not). We don’t attempt tricky tasks if we harbour self-doubt.
5 Tips for Gripping Doubt
- Think “doubt is normal” – and go merrily on your way. Nothing else needed. Skip suggestions 2-5.
- Use it constructively to upskill and plug gaps in your knowledge – so doubt has helped you work out you could be better than you are today? Great. Now go and find some ways to learn the things you think it would be useful to know. Read a book, listen to any Radio 4 podcast (I don’t know why but I always feel more capable after I have) chat to someone you think has nailed it.
- Focus on being completed committed to trying to attain the desired outcome – when we concentrate on putting the effort in, rather than worrying about the end result, we reduce ‘interference’ as well as making the act of a trying a more enjoyable one.
- Focus on what you do know and how that could be valuable – instead of worrying about not knowing the answer to every question you’re asked at interview/client meeting/appraisal/PhD viva, remember that it’s all the knowledge and experience you’ve amassed to date that’s got you in the position you’re in.
- Know that no one gets a job they can do standing on their head – only fools employ people who can do a job standing on their head, and you don’t want to work for one of those do you?
Luszcznska, A., Cao, D.S., Mallach, N., Pietron, K, Mazurkiewicz, M. & Schwarzer, R. (2010). Intentions, planning, and self-efficacy predict physical activity in Chinese and Polish adolescents: Two moderated mediation analyses. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 10 (2), 265-278.
Nissen-Lie, H., Rønnestad, M., Høglend, P., Havik, O., Solbakken, O., Stiles, T., & Monsen, J. (2015). Love Yourself as a Person, Doubt Yourself as a Therapist? Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy DOI:10.1002/cpp.1977