Self-doubt: Why It Happens and How To Overcome It

Contrary to popular belief, in some ways, self-doubt can act as a healthy motivator to make changes for the better in certain aspects of your life. It brings forth awareness to your consciousness to make implementations. That said, experiencing enough fear that immobilizes you can impact your life and create troublesome relationships and connections within your environment.

Self-doubt rears its head when we experience negative thoughts and a lack of confidence in something that requires action, which tends to be connected to situations out of our control or when our expectations aren’t met because things haven’t gone the way we thought they would.

However, you wouldn’t be part of the human experience if you hadn’t suffered negative thoughts and self-doubt before, as it happens to the best of us.

Whether it’s related to being a husband, father, son, wife, mother, daughter, or job, there comes a time when we stop and ask ourselves if we’re living up to the role we’re playing and if we’re making the grade.

The key to overcoming self-doubt is to explore the inner critic, establish why it is present, and ways you can overcome this self talk, and that’s what you’re going to learn in this article.

What Is an Example of Self-doubt?

Imagine your mom’s 60th birthday is coming up, and your family has the idea that they want to organize a surprise party for her.

You have been nominated to take the lead and deliver a party to remember off the back of a family meeting.

Panic immediately sets in as you are concerned if you are capable enough to do this and feel immense amounts of pressure as you don’t want to ruin your mom’s big day.

During this time, not one thought comes into your head that your family values your imagination and creative skills to deliver an exceptional party.

Perhaps that is why they suggested you are the better choice to manage it.

As the days pass, anxiety grows.

You feel like you’re drowning in pressure and are so concerned that you will let the family down if it doesn’t live up to their expectations.

You’re beyond analytical and are spending copious amounts of time on even the smallest of tasks, which is stressing you out to the max impacting your mental health.

Now you’re imagining the look of disappointment on everyone’s face, including your mom’s, which is further adding to your stress and anxiety.

Fear has reached the point that it has immobilized you, and you do not feel good.

You are experiencing procrastination, and tell yourself you will revisit this in a couple of days, but this turns into two weeks.

All motivation and drive have left you.

The party is only a few days away, and you’re rushing around like a headless chicken up against the clock trying to get everything organized.

Somehow you manage to accomplish the task, but you’re incredibly disappointed in yourself and tell yourself the quality of everything is subpar and that this is nowhere near the standard you can deliver.

What Are the Causes of Self-doubt?

1. Indecisiveness

The definition of being indecisive is “not having or showing the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively.”

However, there is an underlying reason why indecisiveness creeps in, and the reason is that fear gets in the way of making decisions.

It can get in the way for many reasons, but it is usually because someone doesn’t want to make the “wrong” decision and gets reprimanded.

An example of indecisiveness is when you’re arranging to go on a date and ask your date what they would like to do.

So, thinking on your feet, you suggest grabbing a coffee and going for a walk around the lake.

Before your date gets time to respond appropriately, you immediately retract your suggestion because you’re worried they will say they don’t want to do that, and you’re in fear of messing up any chance of meeting them.

So what do you do?

Play hot potato and pass it over to them to come up with a suggestion, which ultimately is a way of evading responsibility and making you feel at ease.

While this solution is a way to appease your indecisiveness, it only does so temporarily as it will strike again in another situation; however, all the while, your self-esteem is plummeting further and further.

2. Comparing

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” She had a point with this.

However, looking at comparison another way, it’s a very natural human trait as life, to a degree, is full of competition.

Every which way you turn, you face it somehow or other.

We can compare wealth, relationship status, popularity, work performance, and even the likes of how many social media followers one has.

With all this going on in our environment, we can forget all that we have to be proud of and compare our “success” to someone else’s and wish we were living the life they are.

This, however, is a slippery slope to losing your identity. Eventually, you forget who you are, and all that made you great.

3. Imposter Syndrome

The definition of imposter syndrome is “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”

Let’s assume you are a coach helping clients lose weight to become as healthy as they have ever been in their life.

Imposter syndrome works because you feel a fraud, and countless other coaches are better than you.

You fear that if you do not succeed with one client – which is extremely common in coaching – you will be humiliated and ridiculed all over the internet, which could be career-ending.

You think this way because it is a habit of doubting your ability and all you have achieved.

The issue is that it’s a vicious circle to get out of as if you are crippling yourself with self-doubt regularly; how or why would you ever believe that you deserve all that you’ve achieved?

The answer is, you won’t.

4. Past Mistakes

There is a saying, “Experience drives belief.”

The reality is how we act today is primarily attributed to our past experiences. For example, if you have unjustly suffered in the past, this can significantly impact your belief structure.

However, the point of past mistakes is to learn and grow from them. We mustn’t punish ourselves or consciously project our pain towards others.

A great way to settle the mind is to practice regular meditation, which helps you live in the present moment.

You also learn to appreciate that there are no past failures, only lessons.

5. Your Upbringing

Similar to the point above, your childhood upbringing plays a prominent role in shaping you into your current person.

Suppose you were raised in an environment surrounded by negative people who didn’t believe in themselves or were told you weren’t good enough.

In that case, it is without question that many of your doubtful thoughts may arise from experiencing these types of situations.

When we hear something enough – especially at such a young and impressionable age – we start to believe it and develop habits of self-doubt.

How To Overcome Self-doubt

1. Self-compassion Is Your Friend

You will make mistakes, face failure, and be involved in difficult situations throughout life. It is part and parcel of being human.

However, if the instantaneous knee-jerk reaction is for self-doubt to take over when this happens – and it’s a conditioned habit – then, of course, how else do you expect to stop doubting yourself?

A powerful tool to try is self-compassion.

The idea behind self-compassion is to be more understanding and gentle towards yourself and not beat yourself up after you experience a setback, difficult situation, or make a mistake.

It takes the place of self-doubt in the driver’s seat, and you treat yourself as you would a close family member or friend.

The key to self-compassion is learning to understand yourself and that it is absolutely fine to be a person who inevitably will never be perfect and not a robot.

A great way to use self-compassion after a challenging situation is to ask yourself what would you say to a close family member or friend if they had experienced the same thing as you?

How would you treat them?

Be honest with yourself and use those very same words towards yourself.

Nobody else is more worthy than you; remember that.

2. Remember: You Are Not Your Thoughts

Sometimes the mind will get lost in a “thought loop,” meaning the same repetitive thoughts circle throughout the day, which eventually becomes a habit.

Many people who encounter this say things like, “I can’t stop thinking of this; it’s driving me insane!”.

Thankfully, you can; you think you can’t.

Why? Because:

  1. You are not your thoughts.
  2. Repetitive thoughts are habits. They can be undone.

So if someone forgets to pick up potatoes at the grocery store, the reaction can be met in one of two ways:

Ah, no worries, I’ll grab some from another store tomorrow; there’s no urgency for them.”


Why can’t I remember something so simple?! I’m such a loser!”

Reaction number two is another habitual response, and not all thoughts are true.

Observe your thoughts and reactions as if you are witnessing them. Then it becomes clear that you are the one in control, not your thoughts.

3. Choose a Healthy Environment

Assess your current environment and the people that are in it, and ask yourself:

Are these people good for me?

Do they offer warmth, compassion, understanding, and motivate me?

Are they my biggest fans and successful people in terms of being “well together”?

If they aren’t, you may need to focus on meeting people who are.

We are the byproduct of our environment, and when self-doubt is an issue, it can become a bit dicey because people choose to spend time around those they wish to prove themselves to as a way of turning down the volume on self-doubt.

However, when this happens, you end up attracting people who don’t have your best interests at heart, so this has a knock-on effect on you.

4. Avoid Seeking Validation

There’s a difference between asking for others’ advice or opinion on something and having a habit of them being your first port of call before even attempting to do anything yourself.

When the latter is the first thing you do, you give away all power and reinforce that you lack faith and confidence in your decision-making and abilities.

Learn to go with what feels right for you, not them.

You can ask ten different people their opinion on something, but ultimately, even after all the feedback you get, if it still doesn’t feel right to you, trust your judgment and roll with it.

5. Excuses, Begone!

Self-doubt has a close relationship with making excuses.

When a situation arises that places you outside of your comfort zone, you think the repercussions may be to fail, look inadequate, or think that you’re taking on more than you can chew. It’s easy to find many excuses not to go ahead with it.

Excuses can be your saving grace.

Now isn’t the right time to do this.”

It just seems a lot to take on right now.”

I’ll be ready to give this a go in another few months.”

We’ve all turned down opportunities because of excuses, so think back to how you rationalized it to give yourself a pass to avoid discomfort.

Excuses will prevent you from experiencing potentially life-changing situations.


Self-doubt is normal, but it’s essential to watch out for getting trapped in a thought-loop as you will never make progress otherwise.

Self-doubt is nothing more than a habit, and habits can be broken.

About the author

Chris Jones

I'm Chris. I have a vast interest in all things relating to health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition. I also love to improve my mindset and learn how to increase my productivity. If you'd like to say hello or ask me a question, please visit my contact page, and I'd be glad to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter (@liveliftlife).