3 Ways highly successful leaders manage self-doubt

“I feel like I’m always doubting myself” Sarah told me. “As soon as someone questions me, challenges me, or even just looks at me in a funny way I start to doubt my own abilities”.

Do you ever do that? Question yourself in a way that judges you negatively. We are sensitive and emotional – we’re designed that way. It’s worth remembering though that no one is confident all the time. Self-doubt is normal.

Too much self-doubt leads to fear.

Too much confidence leads to arrogance.

The secret to know is that you need confidence and self-doubt to achieve your goals.

The Australian Open tennis tournament kicks off this week in Melbourne. If you’re like me and enjoy tennis, it’s an exciting time of year and you may even have a favourite player. I’ve always thought Rafael Nadal was a bit of a hunk and his accomplishments have established him as one of the great players of all time. What you may not know is how much self-doubt Rafa experiences. In a recent 60 minutes interview he said:

“If I don’t feel doubt, I’m going to be in trouble. Doubt is very important to my success” and he went onto add “If you don’t have doubt, it probably means you’re being arrogant. Doubt is good for me because then I feel alert. Because tennis is a sport where things can change very quickly”.

Most people have a negative relationship with self-doubt where it leaves them feeling uncomfortable and uncertain. When we feel like this, we perceive we lack the confidence to put our thinking into action.

When we stay too long in negative self-doubt our self-doubt moves into fear.

Fear stops us from having go, having a voice or reacting in the way we want. Instead we procrastinate, stay in the certainty of our comfort zone and hold off until there’s a better time, or we’ve got more confidence or when something else changes.

The road to success is paved with self-doubt.

Reframing your relationship with self-doubt can help you show up as your best.

Self-doubt makes us alert – it’s about using that energy and focus in the right way.

1. Expand your thinking

Self-doubt can be a useful catalyst for: challenging your thinking (your beliefs, assumptions and biases for example); asking more questions; seeking more information; tapping into strengths.

Yesterday when I had a “this is too hard” moment I stopped and asked myself “Is that really true?”. Deciding the answer was no, I decided to keep on going and to get it done.

A CEO I know whose strategy for self-doubt, is to ask herself “What if” questions. Thinking through the likely consequences helps give her the confidence she needs to make a hand on heart decision and move forward.

2. Become more self-aware

Use self-doubt as an opportunity to step back to see yourself (and your blind spots) and understand how other people might be viewing you with more clarity.

Quality self-reflection is an attitude. When you can look at yourself through the eyes of someone else in real time, you’ll see different perspectives that will help you lead yourself and others better. Carlos Schafer, Executive General Manager, Open Universities Australia.

3. Improve your relationships

When you’re experiencing self-doubt, you’re more likely to reach out to others who can benefit you. Be vulnerable enough to ask for the help you need.

Self-doubt also makes you more aware of the cues around you – which can help you read the energy, be present, listen more, and tune into nuances that can help you respond or react better.

Remember, self-doubt is normal. How are you going to reframe your relationship with self-doubt to help yourself succeed? I’d love to know.

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