Self-doubt 2020-10-11T21:47:32+00:00

Scientific lessons to help you overcome self-doubt

“When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.”

Honore de Balzac

Self-doubt can be a persuasive voice that holds you back from performing your best. It can make you second-guess yourself before you even get started, and can hold you back from doing the things that you know will be good for both your career and personal development.

The lessons in this module have been carefully designed, distilled down from decades of research in order to put a stop to that defeatist voice. The lessons have been set up to make them easy to follow and implement. They include a number of different tools, lessons, and tactics you can choose from so that you have the highest confidence in overcoming your self-doubt.

In this document you’ll come to understand how reframing your thoughts, increasing your confidence, and cultivating self-compassion are all necessary components needed to limit your negative beliefs about yourself. We have gone through hundreds of papers from decades of empirical research in psychology, neuroscience, developmental science, cognitive science and clinical research and have explained it in a way that is easy to understand and even easier to follow. You will be given quick tactics that you can use in the moment, as well as micro-habits you can implement throughout your day to effectively manage your negative self beliefs.

What is self-doubt?

Self-doubt is defined as the tendency to doubt your own competence, worth, and personal value. The usual way that a person deals with their self-doubt often ends up making them feel even worse than before. It’s key to understand what these are so that you can i) recognize them within yourself and ii) deal with them properly in the future. These default tendencies include:


This is probably one of the most common ways people try to manage their feelings about self-doubt. This is when people intentionally put themselves in situations where they’re likely to fail. Self-handicapping provides the opportunity to cover up a failure, which makes it easier to handle down the road.

With self-handicapping, people will intentionally engage in behaviors that undermine their performance and lead them to eventual failure. It’s designed to be defeating. The reason they do it is because it’s “easier” to say that the failure was due to the external thing as opposed to something related about them personally.

Examples include: staying out late before a job interview, not putting any effort into an important report, using drugs or alcohol, and procrastinating. To a person struggling with self-doubt, it’s easier to make sense of a botched interview by chalking it up to a lack of sleep. It’s the fear that the alternative strategy (putting yourself on the line and intensely preparing for the interview) will still lead to that same failed outcome. And if that’s the case, why bother trying, especially when this type of personal failure hurts much more? As you can see, protecting the perception of their own competence for fear of failure comes at a cost of never striving for success.


Another way people might ineffectively cope with self-doubt is through overachieving. People use this strategy because they become fearful that failure will implicate their self-competence. Therefore, they put an abnormal investment into persistent effort in order to avoid failure. They’ll do this because they become uncertain whether their ability alone can produce success, so they put in the extra effort in order to enhance the prospects of success and limit those of failure. People who use this strategy also use it to the point where it interferes with the rest of their life.

Imposter Phenomenon

Those who suffer from the imposter phenomenon go through their day with the sense that their successful outcomes are not an accurate reflection of their underlying ability. Unlike overachievers, people dealing with imposter syndrome view their success as unearned and illegitimate. These people often believe luck or timing has been the key to their success. Even when these people experience success (big or small), they still have doubts about their ability, and fear that they’re less capable than others might see them.


This is another misguided self-management strategy that people typically use. When failure has a comparative or relative component (i.e. you’re being compared to someone else or another team), you might attribute a failing performance to some advantage the other person or team had over you (i.e. “I’m not going to get that promotion because Karen is good friends with the director”).

Using this method, people can perform at any level while not worrying about failure because they know failing (if it ends up happening) is not due to their capabilities but in fact due to an advantage the other person/team had over them. The problem with this is that these people don’t recognize the fact that maybe they didn’t get the promotion because of a lack of leadership on their part, not because Karen knows the director. These people choose to neglect their own shortcomings in order to protect their ego. The result: they never improve.

Access our premium module on overcoming your self-doubt

What does it all mean?

As you can see self-doubt has powerful impediments to your success. What is much more effective than these unhealthy coping strategies are practices which involve self-compassion, cognitive restructuring, and realistic risk analysis. If you experience chronic self-doubt, chances are you aren’t able to accurately gauge what your competence level is. Through the exercises in this module you’ll reflect on what you’re actually capable of. You’ll begin to take control of the belief that you actually have more control over this than you think.

Self-doubt and the brain

Your brain has the ability to change over time — called neural plasticity. Doubt is one of the many emotions that run through our minds. Learning how to manage and challenge this negative emotion is the key to overcoming it. Self-doubt is associated with three interacting emotional systems within the brain, each of which have their own evolutionary purpose.


The threat system

This is our fight-or-flight system, which helps you decide how to react in the face of a threat. It can stimulate or be stimulated by self-criticism, which is processed by the brain as a real threat. When you experience self-doubt or when your self-esteem is thwarted, this system goes into action. It triggers the release of cortisol, which forces you to flee the situation and go into hiding. You engage in these avoidance type behaviors as an immediate defense to protect yourself from the threat of personal doubt.

Luckily, there are two other systems that can be activated and override the fight-or-flight response.


The “drive” system

This system relies on the release of dopamine and compels you to pursue things in life such as resources, partners, and skills. This is your approach-system, the system that prompts you to move forward and take action. It kicks in when self-doubt is low.


The mammalian caregiving system

This is the system involved with our nurturing motivations. It also kicks in when self-doubt is low. It underlies trust and has been found to be the antidote to depressive feelings. From an evolutionary perspective, this system was put in place so that we instinctively care for our offspring. This system involves the release of a hormone called oxytocin, or the “love hormone.” It regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction and plays a role in empathy and generosity. It is an ancient and powerful hormonal response. Most importantly, this system gives rise to your ability to act compassionately, to both yourself and toward others.

Together, these systems regulate your self-control and determine how you react to situations when they arise. The key here is to minimize your threat system and activate the drive and caregiving systems more often. The lessons in this module do just that.

Access scientific micro-habits to overcome your self-doubt