Though it often gets a bad wrap, doubt is a natural and necessary part of one’s life, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to experience any kind of meaningful growth without encountering some level of doubt along the way.
Unfortunately, much in the self-help space makes us feel as if we’re doing something wrong if we feel or express doubt. Quotes like “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will,” or “Never doubt yourself;” don’t exactly encourage one to lean into the uncertainty of life.
Yet, the reality is when you are willing to acknowledge your doubts and consciously investigate them, you can learn how to leverage those moments for greater growth.
Here’s four ways you can start making doubt your ally today:
1. Use doubt as a catalyst for radical self-inquiry.
Rather than focusing your energy on never doubting yourself again, consider using moments of doubt as opportunities to develop greater self-awareness. This type of self-inquiry is “radical” because it requires us to take an honest and often humbling look at the ways we may be contributing to our own unhappiness.
The next time you experience doubt, consider reflecting on the following questions:
- What benefits am I receiving by still holding onto this feeling of doubt?
- What might I have to take responsibility for if I were to give up believing in this doubt?
- What’s a small step I can take today to put these new insights here into action?”
These questions may not be so easy to answer at first, and quite frankly, that’s the point. We need to be willing to look at some of these hard truths in order to find a different way to be with our doubt.
2. Use doubt as an opportunity to get clear on your values.
When we are given moments of doubt in our life, we are also given moments to reflect on our values and what we believe in. Once you’ve identified what you believe to be your core values, they can act as your inner compass. They can be like a personal GPS helping you navigate those moments of doubt to move towards greater alignment with your truth.
To practice this strategy, the next time your doubt arrives, ask yourself “How would I act, speak, and think in this situation if I were acting in alignment with my highest values?” Inevitably, the guidance you receive will give you more clarity about where to go next or at least you’ll become more aware of any incongruencies between your stated values and how you’re actually living.
For example, you may claim you value family and health, but you find yourself constantly staying late at work and not prioritizing time with loved ones or your own self-care. In this case, the next time you doubt whether or not taking on that extra work project is a good idea, you can check in with your values first, and the decision becomes a lot more clear.
3. Use your doubt to “practice” being vulnerable.
It can help to think of doubt like a contraction that we have to have before we can give birth to the next phase in our personal growth. These contractions, though often painful and very vulnerable feeling, are a necessary part of our growth process that give rise to the latest evolved version of ourselves.
To practice vulnerability in these moments of doubt, the first step is to try not to get seduced by the drama of the contraction. It can feel very appealing to stay stuck in something simply because it’s familiar and safe. For example, many folks stay in a dead-end relationship or job long after they know it’s time to go because it feels less scary to do that than to choose the unknown.
The next step to practicing vulnerability is to embrace the not knowing, and perhaps even leverage it as an opportunity to connect with others. Practice saying “I don’t know” when that really feels true for you, and try not to qualify it in any way. It may feel a little bit like taking off a mask to boldly claim your vulnerability in this way, but it’s usually also the place where we open the door to authentic connection with others.
4. Use your doubt to build a strong practice of self-compassion.
It’s important to note that doubt in and of itself doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Doubt can help us make more careful decisions and gives us an opportunity to have a more honest relationship with ourselves. Doubt only becomes harmful if we use it as an excuse to keep listening to that harsh inner critic in our heads.
Self-compassion expert, Dr. Kristin Neff points out that research suggests that when we are self-compassionate instead of self-critical, we are less afraid of failure and more willing to make needed changes. In other words, self-compassion can help us to be more level-headed and even more confident during those moments of doubt.
To practice self-compassion during big moments of uncertainty, try asking yourself the following question:
- How might I respond to myself right now if I was treating myself with the same level of compassion I would offer to a good friend in this situation?
Get specific with your answer. Identify three detailed things you can do to start the practice compassion right away. It might be something as simple as taking a deep breath or reminding yourself that you are doing the best you can. Whatever you decide, make sure you follow through on it. Self-compassion comes to life only when we act upon it.
To close, any belief worth having or thing worth doing must be able to survive having some doubt at one point or another. And once you learn to befriend doubt and use it as the catalyst it is, you’ll start to see how this uncomfortable feeling is a most necessary ingredient for a fruitful life.