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Can Self-Doubt Be The Devil in Your Life?


Can Self-Doubt Be The Devil in Your Life?

How does science inform what we know about the potential for achievement, and how can people put these learnings into practice when overcoming doubt for positive change?

I recently participated in a Strayer University piece in the Washington Post about how we can use “brain science” to expel doubt. It’s an idea with merit, but it is not something that can happen overnight. The transformation requires a mindful approach and, even more importantly, a clearer appreciation of the basics of judgment and conscious choice-making.

Success is largely the product of daily choices, yet many of us are conditioned to believe it is the long-term, big decisions that have the greatest impact. The problem is that individuals and organizations overemphasize performance and leadership development while overlooking the value and impact of cultivating an effective choice-making skillset aligned with defined core values, a prerequisite for strong leadership. In cultures that believe winning is everything, it is imperative that we establish the discipline of making choices that enable us to perform at high levels without compromising our values. The fact of the matter is, our choices do play a role in how our brains develop over time, and our choices play a role in our capacity to be successful. 

While many may argue the amount of free will that an individual possesses, it can also be argued that we do have the ability to exercise a certain amount of our control in the choices we make. The extent to which we can impact our choices depends on how aware we are of the hidden influences that work in the background. Self-doubt has been stated as one of the most paralyzing forces; by shaking out confidence, it can get in the way of taking a position and making a choice.

Neuroscience has made it clear that our brains can change over time–– they are not simply static. This news should bring widespread hope. Our futures aren’t written at the moment of birth; nobody is divided into the two fixed categories of the talented and those who will remain without talent for their entire lifetime. 

In plain language, Neuroplasticity is our brain’s ability to re-wire itself.  Focusing our attention on certain tasks can actually strengthen our neural circuits over time and make us more capable of executing that task, much like how our muscles can be strengthened at the gym.  In the past, we credited good judgment and success primarily to one’s experience.  Today, we realize that the school of trial and error need not be the only teacher we rely on. In fact, even experience can prove to be an ineffective teacher if we don’t deliberately choose to reflect on and learn from it. It is possible to harness this new knowledge about how our brains work, and about how we make choices. Once we understand the inner workings of those processes, we can accelerate our experience and improve the quality of our decisions.

These findings mean that the potential for achievement is available to everyone.  While it technically provides an equal opportunity to all, it does, however, depend on the person’s openness to engage in reflection and learning. There is an old adage that goes something like this: “Dumb people don’t learn from their own mistakes; smart people learn from their own mistakes; and wise people learn from other people’s mistakes.” 

Making a commitment towards reflection is the first step to generating realizations. Putting the learnings into practice start with developing some initial practices which can further be developed into habits if appropriately rewarded and approached in a systematic way.  While our human tendency to move toward pleasure and away from pain is usually exploited by marketers for their gain, they can be leveraged to cultivate good habits as well.  Increasing your awareness of your assumptions, beliefs, conditionings and drives is a fundamental step to enhancing achievement while curbing doubt.

One of the key impediments to achievement that I have noticed over the last 20 years of coaching is one’s inability to believe in possibility and succumb to self-doubt.  I have often considered fear and doubt to be the real evils.  My two favorite expansions I have come across for the acronym FEAR are False Experiences Appearing Real and Forget Everything and Run.  What we need is to develop a conditioning that transforms us to believing that FEAR stands for Face Everything and Rise. It is our choice to cultivate the habit of facing our fears and doubts with the firm belief that hard work, coupled with a keen attention to outcomes and feedback, and a willingness to change and try again and again is the key to achievement.

A great way to live is “Two Days at a Time”. Ask yourself two questions at the end of each day: “What did I learn today?” and “What can I do different tomorrow?” Since life is a series of todays and tomorrows, I am confident this philosophy and practice is bound to bear fruit.

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