Two Types of Self-doubt
In a TED talk, organizational psychologist Adam Grant mentions that there are two types of doubt. One is positive, one is negative.
Self-doubt tends to be paralyzing. If you continually question whether you are up to a task, the odds are that you’ll get stuck and give up, perhaps continually moving on to different projects instead of seeing any through.
However, “idea doubt” can be useful because it leads you to think about all the possible things that could go wrong and develop backup plans and alternatives.
Self-doubt works against you
We sabotage ourselves when we get the two kinds of doubt mixed up. For example, if you write a first draft of something and decide it’s really bad, you can come to either of these conclusions:
“I’m a crappy writer.”
“This is a crappy first draft.”
The draft itself only provides evidence for the second conclusion. But what if this is the fifth or tenth first draft that you’ve written, and they’ve all be bad, and you’ve given up on all of them? You still have a choice of beliefs:
“I’m a crappy writer.” This kind of conclusion often spirals down into depression and existential angst.
“I’m crappy writer of first drafts.” By putting a fence around your crappiness, this conclusion is not so damaging—in fact, it implies a solution.
Again, the evidence supports the second conclusion, and there’s something you can do about it: find an appropriate book, writing group, course, or writing coach so that you get help in identifying what you’re not doing well enough, and find out how to do it better.
The best friend solution for self-doubt
I’m no stranger to self-doubt but when I start to jump to conclusions I try to remember to use the best friend solution: describe the situation as though it pertained to your best friend.
We know that men and women typically respond a bit differently to hearing a problem. Women tend to empathize, men tend to give advice.
Embrace both your feminine side and your masculine side. First, if you’re beating yourself up, be kinder to yourself—just as you would be with your best friend.
Then come up with the constructive advice you’d give them. This harnesses the fact that we are always better at giving other people advice than knowing what to do ourselves.
If you write down that advice and follow it as though it came from an expert (it did), often that gives you the confidence to move forward and engage in the constructive kind of doubt that focuses on the task, not on your basic right to exist.