Let’s Talk About… Doubt

By Jeremy Godwin

Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple things that you can do every single day to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, based on quality research.

This is Episode 70 and this week I’m talking about doubt. I’ll be discussing what doubt is, why understanding it is important for good mental health, and how to overcome doubt (including self-doubt). So, let’s talk about mental health!

Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the article/transcript version.

Find links to other available podcasting services here.

Watch Episode 8 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV — in this latest episode I’m talking about five of the biggest positive lessons from the last 12 months and what they mean for your mental health, both now and in the future. Even if you’re sick of talking about the pandemic I highly encourage you to check this episode out, because it’s an opportunity to reflect on the positives that we can take away from all of the challenges we’ve been dealing with over the past year. Watch it here:

This podcast episode was originally released on 14 March, 2021.

Hello and welcome to Episode 70, and thanks so much for joining me! 2021 is The Year of Wellbeing here on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast, and each week I’ll be exploring lots of different things you can do every day to make a positive difference in your own life.

This week is all about doubt. Doubt can be a healthy mechanism for helping us to assess how suitable something is or is not, however it can also have a negative effect, especially when we are dealing with self-doubt on a regular basis or are unable to move forward because of excessive doubt and worrying about external events or relationships. So why does working on doubt matter? And how do you actually do it? Well, that’s what I’m going to be talking about this week.

Before I get into that, Episode 8 of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV is out now on YouTube where I’m talking about five of the biggest positive lessons from the last 12 months and what they mean for your mental health, both now and in the future. Even if you’re sick of talking about the pandemic I highly encourage you to check this episode out, because it’s an opportunity to reflect on the positives that we can take away from all of the challenges we’ve been dealing with over the past year. The content I post on YouTube is completely different to the episode you hear on the podcast, so if you’d like some more Let’s Talk About Mental Health goodness each week then head to YouTube or watch it now at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/YouTube — and while you’re there, if you like what you see then please subscribe to the channel.

So, now, on with this week’s episode about doubt… 

Introduction

Have you ever found yourself being riddled with insecurity and feelings of self-doubt? Have you ever needed to make a decision about something big, like buying a house or a car, or something smaller, like what to wear, and found yourself plagued with so much doubt that you’re unable to make a decision, or it takes ages to reach a point of deciding? (Or you just pick something because time has run out, but you still keep on questioning your decision afterwards?). Doubt can hold us back from achieving things that matter or moving our life forward in a positive way, so being able to identify when you might be dealing with unhealthy doubt (and knowing how to tackle it) can make a big difference for your mental health and wellbeing.

So what is doubt and, more specifically, self-doubt? Well, let’s get into some definitions.

What is doubt and self-doubt?

Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty or having a lack of conviction about something, either internally-focused (like a decision you have to make for yourself) or externally-focused (like a decision about someone or something else).

According to GoodTherapy, “Self-doubt can be understood as a feeling of uncertainty regarding one or more aspects of the self, such as confidence or likability.” (Source: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/self-doubt). At its most basic, self-doubt is about having a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities. Common forms of self-doubt include indecisiveness, self-sabotage and imposter syndrome.

In general, doubt is a form of filtering that we do both on ourselves internally and with regards to our external world, and it can be very helpful in terms of getting us to think through the consequences of our actions and behaviours before we proceed. But sometimes we can find ourselves becoming too doubtful, either of ourselves or of external factors (or both), which can make it hard to move forward — and I’ll come back to that in a moment.

I would just like to say here that when I’m discussing ‘doubt’ today, I’m not talking about doubting others and whether they’re telling the truth — that is a very different conversation and in fact I’ll be covering ‘truth’ in its own episode in a few week’s time.  

Why is understanding doubt important for good mental health?

Like I said before, healthy doubt can be a good thing in the sense that it leads you to stop and think about things so that you can identify the course of action that’s potentially going to have the best outcome — so in that sense it’s a really important filter. There was a great line in an article by MindDoc that I read while researching this episode: “self-doubt exists… to help us recognise that we’re not always right” (and the link for that is in the transcript – find it here: https://mymoodpath.com/en/magazin/self-doubt/). 

On the other hand, unhealthy levels of doubt and self-doubt can have a detrimental effect on your self-confidence and also your general ability to make decisions and take action. To quote MindDoc again, unhealthy self-doubt means that “we often begin to ‘stand in our own way’ and [we can] have a hard time seeing that there are also good things about ourselves.” 

So the thing about self-doubt is that it can lead you to sabotage yourself, such as by not doing something even though you know that completing the task will make life easier. A prime example of this is procrastination, where you leave things until the last minute and that creates much more stress around it than there might need to be. 

For example, this is something I’ve been doing a lot over the past few months with this show where I’ve been leaving the writing of the episode until the 11th hour and then having to rush to get it all completed before it goes live; last weekend I finished editing the final audio and got it uploaded just six hours before it was due to be released which just added to my stress. Now to be fair, I had been really sick with a head cold (and you would have heard me croaking along in last week’s show) so I do need to cut myself some slack, but the fact remains that it’s not the first time that has happened. I just started therapy this week and I mentioned this in my first session because it’s a pattern I’m really aware of, and I think a lot of it does stem from self-doubt because that’s often what tends to sit underneath procrastination — we can sometimes delay getting things done until the last moment because then it’s putting off the consequences of whatever it is, but of course we ignore the fact that in the meantime we end up stressing ourselves out about not getting it done in the first place!  

You might be wondering how you tell the difference between regular self-doubt and unhealthy self-doubt, and I came across this list from Nick Wignall, a psychologist and blogger who covered a few general principles to keep in mind:

“If self-doubt is always your first reaction, it’s probably unhealthy.

If self-doubt shows up in many or all areas of your life, it’s probably unhealthy.

If self-doubt is persistent or “sticky” and you have a hard time managing it or moving your attention off of it, it’s probably unhealthy.

If you frequently regret decisions you made because of your self-doubt, it’s probably unhealthy.

If your self-doubt gets in the way of important relationships in your life, it’s probably unhealthy.

If self-doubt has a major impact on your ability to focus and do your work well, it’s probably unhealthy.

In short, use common sense to evaluate whether self-doubt is an unhealthy habit in your life. And when in doubt, you can always assume that it’s a bit unhealthy, try to improve it, and see what happens. If your life improves, that would suggest your self-doubt was unhealthy and possibly that you could benefit even more from working on it.”  

Nick Wignall

And the link for that article by Nick is in the transcript (https://nickwignall.com/self-doubt/). 

I think that, like most things related to mental health and wellbeing, understanding what drives doubt within yourself is a really important part of growth, because it’s about knowing why things might be happening which then allows us to deal with the root cause, instead of just going around in circles and repeating the same behaviours over and over again. Often that requires a lot of hard work and it can mean that you go backwards before you go forwards, but you absolutely can change these types of thoughts and feelings with time, effort and perseverance. 

How do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode…

How to overcome doubt and self-doubt

See it as a habit — I’ll be totally upfront and say I had never thought of this before, until I read the article by Nick Wignall that I mentioned earlier. At the end he said, “self-doubt is a habit—nothing more, nothing less. And regardless of where it came from, you can work to free yourself from chronic self-doubt by building better habits.” I had a massive ‘a-ha!’ moment when I read that because I think we can tend to see stuff like self-doubt as being so deeply ingrained that it feels almost impossible to address it, but when you look at it as a habit that makes it easier to feel like it’s something you can address over time, with effort and perseverance. I explored habits back in Episode 29 and there are many different things you can do to tackle habitual behaviour, starting with replacing unhealthy habits for healthy ones. Speaking of, my next point is a healthy habit… 

Self-gratitude practice — again this one is from Nick and it might make some of you recoil in absolute horror; you know how I’m always suggesting that you spend a few minutes a day in gratitude practice? Nick’s advice is to also spend some time every day making a list of things about yourself that you are grateful for. Now for some of you that might feel a bit woo-woo and touchy-feely, but hear me out: if self-doubt is a feeling of uncertainty regarding one or more aspects of the self, such as confidence or likability, then wouldn’t it make perfect sense to challenge those thoughts by focusing on your positive qualities? Something to think about. And that leads me to my next point, which is highly related…

Learn how to like yourself — look, everyone’s different with this and I know that as an Australian it’s not really in our nature to give ourselves pats on the back for the things that we’re good at or focus on our positive qualities, but regardless I think we need to actually like ourselves and we do that by acknowledging and celebrating the great things about ourselves — because quite frankly, if you don’t then who will? The bigger piece there is about how you get your validation, because I don’t care who you are — we all have a desire to be seen and feel validated and worthy and liked by others. But if you can’t do those things for yourself, then you’re relying on external factors to get your fix of validation… and when you do that, often it leads us to doing things to please other people or following along with the unhealthy things that others are doing, because we want and need to feel accepted. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be liked (actually it’s pretty standard for most of us!) but there is a huge difference between wanting to be liked and needing to be liked. If you need it then you’re reliant on it, and then if it’s taken away you’re stuffed. You’re the one who has to live with you for the rest of your life, so the relationship you have with yourself is the most important one you will ever have and and that means learning how to like yourself. One way you can do that is to…

Focus on the present — you know, in the early days of this show I used to talk about this point a lot and I don’t think I’ve brought it up much for a while, so it’s well overdue; you live in the present, so live in the present. The past has passed so there’s no point kicking yourself repeatedly over something that you said or did (or didn’t say or didn’t do); all you can do is accept it, learn from it and move forward with an intention to grow from the experience. I truly believe that the only mistakes in life are the ones that we don’t learn from, because if we just repeat the same actions over and over again without learning from them then all we’re doing is banging our head against the wall. The same thing applies for the future: you can think about it until the cows come home, and play out countless different scenarios… but you have absolutely zero control over what does or does not happen other than your own words, actions and feelings, so what you’re actually doing is expending a massive amount of energy fretting and doubting about something which is very likely not going to happen or may turn out completely different to how you envisage it. Let go and just focus on the now. I think this whole self-doubt thing often goes hand-in-hand with overthinking (which I explored back in Episode 4), and it takes daily work to process through those feelings so you can get to the heart of why it happens. One great way to do that is with… 

Journalling — if you want to get to know yourself a bit better, journal. I avoided it like the plague for many years for a couple of reasons stemming from childhood that I won’t go into now, but suffice it to say that it’s been something I just did not want to do. Recently I felt compelled to just get past my issues and do it, so I did and… wow. It’s a way of just getting out the stuff in your mind and nobody has to read it other than you, so it can be messy and unstructured and it doesn’t matter; for me, I’m definitely someone who needs to get things out so that they don’t just sit inside me taking up valuable headspace, and often once they’re out that’s it, they’re done. And for the more complicated stuff, I find journalling to be a really simple and effective way of working through things, especially if you’re focused on digging deeper into issues so you can reflect on them and identify the root causes. Speaking of, my next point is…

Take the time to understand the why(s) — and it just might surprise regular listeners that I didn’t bring that one up first, since I usually do, but I thought I’d keep you on your toes! I don’t really want to over-analyse this one as I talk about it a lot, but the main point here is to actually seek to understand why you might be feeling doubtful, so you can get to the heart of it and address the root cause (otherwise you’re likely to see it repeat in one shape or form over and over again). 

Practice self-compassion — why can we be so mean to ourselves sometimes? Is it just me? When I’m feeling really overwhelmed or anxious, the things that go through my mind about myself can sometimes be just so nasty and I would never speak like that to another person, so why do I do it to myself? There’s a good reason why I remind you often that the whole do no harm, be kind and give more than you take thing is about how you treat others as well as how you treat yourself… because if you can’t be compassionate towards yourself, how are you going to be compassionate towards other people (to paraphrase RuPaul)?! The other week I was feeling really shitty about the fact that in the last six months the only things we’ve done on our house have been to install a couple of cupboards and one wardrobe; I’ve mentioned before I live in a fixer-upper (which needs a lot of fixing-upping) and we’ve just made absolutely no progress for ages. And you know what? That’s OK. The past year has been a shocker in terms of dealing with the pandemic, working through intense grief and dealing with not just talking to my mother again after seven years but now working through her being moved into a home and lots of guilt around that and the fact that she has changed a lot in seven years with the dementia… quite frankly, I’m amazed that I managed to keep on showing up to do this program every week and somehow managed to find time to launch my YouTube show, especially when my self-doubt was telling me not to because I felt too insecure about my weight issues. So considering all of that, I think I’ve done pretty well, and if that means I haven’t made progress on my house then whatever; it will get there when it gets there. We need to be kinder to ourselves and more compassionate, because the kind of pressure we put on ourselves can be exhausting. One of the ways you can do that is with… 

Daily positivity boosts — I’m talking about doing one or more positive things every day to lift your mood. That could be listening to a few uplifting songs, spending 20-30 minutes with a book or a podcast that inspires you (like this one, hopefully!), watching positive stuff on YouTube or whatever. The point is to find positive content and make space for it every day, because positive energy breeds positive energy. If you focus on things that make you feel good about yourself, you’ll find more things to feel good about!

And then as always, if you’re finding this stuff challenging and none of these ideas are helping you (and even if they are), then consider therapy — and of course I want to highly recommend working with a therapist or counsellor, who can help you to work through this stuff in an objective way. Personally I think it’s fantastic and now that I’m doing it again I wonder why I haven’t done it sooner; I get to talk to someone who keeps what I say confidential and so I can just say whatever I need to say without filtering myself; we spend so much time in conversations with other people where we censor ourselves because we worry about what they might think or if they will judge us or even share what we tell them with other people, so the benefit of talking to a professional is that you’re paying them to listen and you’re paying them to guide you. 

Then if you’re dealing with serious and crippling self-doubt, a trained psychologist can work with you using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other techniques — which can help you to work through the root cause of issues and reframe some of the underlying beliefs that might be contributing to your self-doubt. I went through this with my therapist back in 2012-2013 and it helped me to get past a lot of the stuff that had been crippling me emotionally from childhood, so if you’re dealing with serious and traumatic stuff that you’re finding difficult it is absolutely worthwhile working with a trained professional — at the time I was so worried about the cost because psychologists aren’t cheap, but in hindsight it was the best investment I have ever made — because if you don’t have your health, what do you have?

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to doubt and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Sometimes a little doubt can be good for us because it keeps us focused on wanting to do the best and it also takes into account that we’re not always right about everything (because we’re not). But when we second-guess ourselves continuously or find it hard to make a decision or take action, we’re creating more pain and suffering for ourselves. Self-awareness, which I talked about in Episode 62, means getting in touch with who you really are and being able to celebrate your strengths rather than focusing on the things that you might not be so great at, and when you do that you begin to see that self-doubt is simply a way that fear shows up to try to hold us back. Instead of letting fear control you, it’s up to you to take back your control. 

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the American writer Suzy Kassem, and it is:

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

Suzy Kassem

Next week I’ll be talking about shame. Continuing on from this week’s theme of doubt being part of your self-belief system, shame is something that can show up for many of us time after time both internally and also in external terms, such as the judgments other people put on us, and a lot of it stems from factors like cultural norms, religion, family conventions etc. Shame can have a damaging effect on our self-esteem and our ability to be the best and most honest version of ourselves possible, so next time I’ll be talking about what shame is, why understanding it is essential for your mental health and wellbeing, and how to confront and overcome shame.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 21st March. And join me for Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube, with new episodes released every Wednesday. 

Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for links and past episodes (including audio links and full transcripts) and while you’re there join the Let’s Talk About Mental Health mailing list to have exclusive updates land in your inbox — those of you on my email list receive the full transcript for each episode every week and you also find out about new stuff related to the show and my work at least a week before anybody else, so if you like this show then sign up at the website: letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.

You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth, where I post extra content throughout the week, and if you follow me on Instagram then you’ll notice that I make a point of interacting with as many people as possible there so it’s a great way to continue the conversation!

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.

Jeremy 🙂

Did you like what you just read? Then please share this with someone who might appreciate it, like a friend, family member, or coworkerbecause word of mouth helps other people to find Let’s Talk About Mental Health! Thank you 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2021 Jeremy Godwin.

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