Recently, I was chatting with a friend and the topic of self-doubt came up. I was a glass of wine in already so I launched into a probably too honest account of all the hateful things I tell myself at times. I have quite a few things I like to pick on myself about but probably my top three are: body image, intelligence and social skills. I find all sorts of creative ways to tell myself I’m too fat, too dumb, and that people don’t like me.
As I explained this, my friend was really shocked. She said that she couldn’t believe I thought things like that because I seem so confident. (Which I took as a compliment.) And the truth is, she’s right. I am confident, but I also struggle with self-doubt. For me, some days are better than others. Usually some kind of failure or painful event can cause me to really spiral. Trey and I call this “snowballing.” Once I start that negative self-talk in my head, it’s hard to turn it off and it’s really, really easy to keep heaping it on.
And I have a feeling that most of us are in the same boat on this. I thought I’d share the best strategies I’ve found to combat self-doubt, but honestly I am not an expert and I still struggle with this a lot! So I’d love to hear any tips or strategies you might have too!
1. Talk to someone.
This one can help me a lot but it’s sometimes hard for me to do. I’m fiercely independent and I don’t love asking for help. But I also recognize that when I’m feeling really down, isolating myself into a cocoon of shame is not a great strategy (Obviously! But it still took me years to figure that out). So, just reaching out to friends, especially those I’m closest to (my sister and my husband) can help a lot. It brings perspective and can diffuse some of the pain if I actually let them in on how I’m feeling. It’s not their job to “fix things,” but letting people love me when I’m hurting IS a good strategy. 🙂
2. Make positive self-talk a habit.
This is a simple truth but it’s powerful: Good habits can 100% change your life. If you (like me) constantly talk bad about yourself inside your head, then eventually that becomes a habit. And that habit will have a negative impact on your life. I would know. So I actively work to make positive self-talk a part of my day. For example, if I wake up early to go to the gym, as I’m driving home afterward I will tell myself how proud I am that I got up that morning. I hate waking up early, especially during the cold, dark winter months. So I acknowledge this little accomplishment.
And yes, I am that crazy lady who will talk to herself out loud in her car sometimes. Honestly, I do feel sort of cheesy telling you this, but I actually think it makes a big difference.
3. When possible, laugh at yourself.
I can’t always do this. When I’m really snowballing, this strategy is lost to me. BUT sometimes it works. I’ll admit that I am a fairly serious person. I crack plenty of (both good and bad) jokes and love to laugh. But I do take myself pretty serious in that I put really high standards on my work/achievements. So, I take it really hard when I ultimately don’t live up to those standards. Now, sometimes I should take things seriously, like if I’ve actually made a mistake that I need to acknowledge and work on (like snapping at my husband for no reason, or dropping the ball at work because I failed to prioritize). But more often I start to spiral into self-doubt over something that really, if I’m being honest, isn’t a big deal and doesn’t really matter.
For example, the other night I was making dinner with Trey. We were trying a recipe from a new cookbook I got. It was an epic fail. Like, completely inedible and looked disgusting. I could have started down my self-doubt path, thinking things like, “You have a cookbook out and you can’t even follow a recipe? How dumb are you?!” or “Wow, I guess you’ve really lost your touch. You’re just a washed up, used-to-be-talented person but you better not ever try to cook again because clearly you are an imposter.” (Oh yes, I am vicious!) But instead, Trey and I laughed together and pretty much just said, “Well, that didn’t work!” and I promptly made a PB&J on sourdough and it was delicious. Haven’t lost my PB&J skills yet! 😉
Maybe this one could be also be “give yourself as much grace as you would give a friend” because really, that’s what it is. I would never tell a friend that she was dumb, or washed up, or untalented. I might point out a mistake or failing with the goal of helping her grow or making our friendship stronger. But I would NEVER insult someone the way I do myself. So why do I think it’s OK to say those things to me when I would never allow them to be said to someone else? Hmmm. Good point.
Anyway, self-doubt. We probably all do it. We might not all talk about it. And geez, does it suck to deal with some days. We’re in this together, friends! Let me know if you have other ways you deal with self-doubt, I would love to hear! xo. Emma
#3 reminds me of one of my strategies, humility. For me, humility is the key to compassion.
This is a vulnerable post, thanks for sharing those real thoughts. I think they are real and relatable. A curriculum I’ve gone through in the past called Core Lies, has really helped me in this area. It asks, “what are some lies I believe about myself? Why do I believe those? What events have happened in my life that reinforce those lies? And what is the truth I need to believe about myself to counter those lies?” Nailing down those lies has been so helpful in my marriage, my life as entrepreneur, and in so many of my work and personal relationships. It’s a Christian-based curriculum so it is probably not for everyone, but all the same, taking the time to consider why we can be stirred up to hurt others and ourselves so quickly is SO SO important. Very cool post to read. Thanks!
I always appreciate your holistic approach posts. I think they are a sign of health and really fill in the mortar between the platform you all have here of “lifestyle “ blog. I lean a lot on Brene Brown resources to find the language for making my abstract felt needs. If you are unfamiliar with her, she went viral with her…
The Power of Vulnerability
To today when I am reading through her book “Dare to Lead.” And she has other amazing thoughts as an Influencer. Blame:
Simon Sinek might be one that is potentially more familiar with: Intensity vs. Consistency
I counter self-doubt with faith. It’s a one-liner here, but having left an abusive relationship it’s really the only thing that has worked for even being able to utilize all the resources I have found. Ty again for sharing.
I tend to be pretty even-keeled about myself (I think the result of older age, finally) but self-doubt in the form of imposter syndrome is VERY REAL. I started my career on a real high, but somehow have found myself laid off + unable to find a job in my market. I’m pouring myself into my decade-old textile business, but realizing that I am way late to this social media game and not understanding how people casually have 15k+ followers when mine hovers around 500 that ebbs and flows but never increases. So I’m weirdly at peace with who I am, but really conflicted and sad about my value to the world in WORK. WHAT! That’s so dreary. And in our capitalist country where “What do you do for a living?” is the first get-to-know-you question I am feeling totally lost!
I think self-doubt + imposter syndrome are two sides to a nasty coin. I really appreciate your being frank & open and wonder if you, too, have found yourself actually walking away from any creatives ventures because you were like – this is too hard!
Thanks for being so honest! It’s so nice to see other women being real about their struggles. Love it when other women reach out and encourage one another!!! I struggle with negative thinking, as well. I work from home a lot and that is when the body image and self worth thoughts creep in. Not my fav! Sometimes just getting outside and having a friendly convo with the barista/random stranger at the coffee shop is a way to break up the thinking.
i totally get imposter syndrome. a while ago i wrote a list of things i wanted to achieve and at some point i thought “well i cant consider myself __ if i dont actually do it!” i’ve since made a super aspirational list: https://tps-steph.blogspot.com/2019/02/0028-i-am.html and no more imposter syndrome feelings, im putting all my energy into making my crazy big dreams a reality. thanks for being so candid, emma!
Great post! You pointed out so many great things.
Hi, Emma. A tool my therapist recently recommended, along the lines of your #2: with regularity, take an accounting of the good [e.g., a moment you recently felt particularly blessed in the looks department; a brilliant idea that you shared and was well received; a beautiful creation] and try to re-inhabit the way you felt in that moment (I think she calls this a “feel state”). Here’s why: according to therapist, evolution has wired us to recall the bad in vivid detail; the more we relive a bad moment, the deeper the groove in our brains, the easier to slip back in and relive it again. This cycle is an amazing tool for brute survival. But sucks for modern woes. But take heart, says therapist; we can manually replicate that cycle for the good things. It takes a lot of intent and effort. I’d be lying if I said I’d succeeded in creating any kind of habit. But, I’ve pulled it off a few times and am gratified to report that the afterglow of the memories I used (a solid workplace contribution and a drawing) cast some light on the darker shadows I am fighting and also stoked that afterglow, making it easier to remember each time. That’s my lengthy 2 cents.
If you are interested in finding out more about self doubt, and how it’s just your brain trying to keep you safe, Sas Petherick is the oracle of all self doubt knowledge. I’ve found her insight through her website and podcast so helpful, I have learned how it functions and how to acknowledge it but then move forward. she is FASCINATING – there is even a self doubt quiz! https://www.saspetherick.com
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us.
The thing that has helped me most and that I think would help you (from the little bit I “know” you from having followed the blog for almost 7 years) a lot is the daily practice of meditation and mindfulness. Developing a different relationship with our thoughts and feelings is so important, even more so if you are experiencing such painful thoughts every now and then.
I use Headspace. If you don’t know the app, watch some of their YouTube videos. It’s a life changing app, seriously.
Thanks for sharing! I’ve been working on this a lot over the past year. I had an “aha!” moment when I realized that I am completely in control of my inner dialogue. I am the only person saying these hurtful things to myself. I absolutely would not tolerate another person speaking to me this way yet its how I speak to myself all the time. Realizing that I am in control and that these thoughts do not serve me in any way has made a HUGE difference.
I recently admitted to my husband that even though I am 30 years old, I don’t know how to have friends. I am good at being a friend. But I lack the vulnerability to let others be a friend to me because I fear rejection and disapproval on the deepest possible level. Therefore, this year I am working on letting people love me and getting over the fear. This begins in super small steps for me, like answering honestly when people ask me how I am and not immediately flipping questions back to them to avoid talking about myself.
Self-doubt is a bear, but through my faith, people who love me, and conscious decisions to ignore “that girl”, it is getting better day by day :).
thank you so much for this. honestly it’s reassuring to see someone who is so successful admit they are still plagued with self-doubt. we’re all just humans trying to get by!! 😀
I needed this post today so bad. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!
Wow, this couldn’t have come at a better time! Thank you so much for your honesty, Emma.
I just finished graduate school and yesterday accepted a job offer that’s a great opportunity, but is paying below what I’d like to be making for a highly accomplished 30 year old. I was still quite proud of myself for fiercely negotiating my base salary, but that faded quickly when I happened to find out what a few friends of mine were making. They work in a different field, and there’s not a ton of six figure salaries in environmental sustainability, but that didn’t seem to matter. I found myself spiraling (or “snowballing” as you write), feeling like a total failure who shouldn’t have bothered trying so hard her entire life.
I find that a lot of my self-doubt (and there’s A LOT) comes from making comparisons to other people and ultimately stems from envy. They have more friends (and they’re not even that nice!), they get paid more (and they don’t even work that hard!), they have a wonderful marriage (and they’ve only been together two years!).
Every New Years I make monthly resolutions for the year, and this month’s resolution is to address my constant social comparisons by getting off all social media apps and to do a guided meditation each day. Even a few days in I’m feeling the positive effects of taking the time once spent speculating about the lives of others, and turning towards self-reflection and clarity. I’d definitely recommend it!
Here’s another Thank You to add to your bundle. When the mind is cycling with self doubt I find a way to get outside! Anyway anyhow open a window if you have to and just breathe. Changes your perception plus, it’s free!
Oh man, I personally have two states of mind: 1- I’m the most amazing person in the world, bow to me peasants! and 2- I’m utter trash, a garbage human being and I should just hide under a blanket and never show my ugly mug again! I hover between these two state of minds throughout the day. I agree, I would never say that to someone else ever (in fact I would never think that of someone else ever) but I can be harsh on myself……..probably because I know I can control the way I look to a certain degree…….but I’m too lazy to get shit done!
Like everyone else, I struggle with this. The best way I’ve found to combat negative self-talk is to put a photo of myself as a toddler on my dresser. It helps to think ‘if I wouldn’t treat the child in the photo that way, why would I treat myself as an adult that way?’.
Awesome and important post, Emma! Thank you for being so open about this topic. I think it’s worth noting that only going to friends and family for reassurance might not be enough – for those that struggle deeply with this, therapy is a great tool and helps quite a bit 🙂
This was a very well timed article for me. Thank you for your insight and honesty! Keep up the great work!