When Doubt Takes Over

"Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt."

William Shakespeare

I feel like it won’t work. That thought has been echoing through my mind all week. Blogging, finances, health - I’ve let that fear permeate almost every bit of my current life.

Photo Credit: Minimography

Photo Credit: Minimography

It’s my lizard brain’s way of saving me from failure (which, to the lizard brain, means certain death). But we know that more often than not, a simple failure doesn’t mean it’s all over.

So how do we recognize our doubts and fears? What do we do about them? To be honest, I don’t have a nice way to wrap this post up. But I can let you into my mind to see my current process and where I think it will take me!

It’s always comforting to know that somewhere out there, even on the internet, there’s someone who’s experiencing the same feelings as you are. So I hope that I can be that person for some of you.

How to spot doubts

I think the easiest way to spot when we’re letting doubt or fear drive is by hearing ourselves when we speak. Saying things like:

  • It won’t work
  • I feel like I can’t…
  • It’s difficult because…
  • I don’t know about…
  • I’m not able to…
  • I don’t have the time…

I started really hearing myself mid-conversation making excuses, explaining why things were too hard, telling a sad story that was only sad because I made it sad. That specific conversation was about growing up and pursuing your passion.

Not exactly the ray of sunshine you want to hear when contemplating your future.

Another way you can see this manifesting in your life is to take a look at what you aren’t doing. Why aren’t you doing it?

There are obvious limits, but ask yourself if those are real limits or if you are just making them up. I often let financial limits stop me from doing things, but those aren’t always real.

Thousands of dollars for yoga teacher training? Not going to happen right now. Ten dollars for a calligraphy pen? I can make that work, but it still took me hours to convince myself that I could spend that money to pursue an interest.

Talk to yourself like you would a friend

Positive self-talk has been such a focus for me lately. My closest friends might still beg to differ, since I easily spiral into a negative “can’t-do” attitude. But I’m getting better.

Once you spot the hesitations in your progress due to fear or doubt, the next step is to be unbearably kind to yourself. Cozy up with a cup of tea and your favorite blanket and start to address these things in your head.

Think of what you can do, right now that is one single step in the right direction. Do you want to exercise, but afraid you don’t know the best way to do it? Put on your shoes and step out the door. You don’t even have to do anything more than that, just start by getting out of the house.

Do you want to write a book, but are afraid your idea is dumb? Tell someone about it. Or write it down - create a mind-dump document where all your ideas can live.

I’m not saying to suddenly just “stop being afraid” and just do it. Take that first step in spite of the fear, not because you are no longer afraid.

Here’s a little tip I’ve learned (although not implemented) in my few adult years: fear is always going to be lurking around anything you do. Learn to live with it.

Living with it

Here’s the tough part. How do you embrace the fears you feel the most?

Those strongest fears, I think in my case, are actually pointing straight in the direction I should explore: writing. 

You might be the most afraid of traveling overseas - maybe that’s what you should do. Because if you’re that afraid of it, then it’s probably often on your mind.

Like I said, I don’t have a nice way to conclude this post. I don’t have the answer to how you can take the wheel and let fear and doubt take the back seat for a while.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a great bit from her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” that hits home for me. She takes issue with this question: what would you do if you knew you could not fail? 

It’s not about eliminating the fear or the failure all together. It’s about embracing it as part of the process. She challenges us to ask ourselves this instead:

“What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?”

So what is that for you?