We women sure know how to doubt ourselves. We apply for jobs and immediately assume we didn’t get them. We go to the gynecologist and convince ourselves something is wrong. And we often assume other people don’t think highly of us, when it just isn’t true.
But there are ways to turn it around. As Elizabeth Bernstein writes for The Wall Street Journal, you can teach yourself to turn down your self-doubt.
There are six steps to keeping the doubt demons out and today I'm going to try them.
Step 1: Be aware
Bernstein asks the reader to think of the last time they told themselves something critical or negative. Then, write it down, because that way you notice when you're ruminating.
Here are some of mine from this morning:
“You pressed snooze three times. You're a failure.”
“Get out of bed and go for a run. You're fat.”
“Why did you feel the need to drink last night? You have a problem.”
“This article you're writing is absolute garbage. Your boss will hate it.”
I already feel like this is working—there’s a weight lifted off me, as though writing them down somehow shifts the thoughts elsewhere.
Step 2: Look for supporting evidence
Turn the negative thoughts into questions. For example, “I am a failure?” forces me to search for the evidence. When I look, I don’t find any. And then I start to think of all the ways I’m not failing. I moved to a new city this year. I got a new job. I have new friends. Calling myself a failure seems kind of ridiculous all of a sudden.
“Maybe you don’t succeed all the time; no one does,” Bernstein writes. “But you might succeed much more than you fail.”
Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
Keep writing those thoughts down, and keep challenging them. I feel like a bit of a crazy person writing “I am a failure” over and over, but it really does make me think about everything else I’ve achieved.
Step 4: Create an Imaginary Friend
And pretend that friend is you. We would never speak to a friend the way we speak to ourselves. Mostly because we don’t see flaws in other people that they do. When your skinny friend tells you they’re fat, you tell them they’re being silly. I try that one on myself—all these years of body image issues aren’t going to be wiped away by this one little technique, but it’s a start.
Step 5: Exaggerate the Thought
Okay, so I’m a failure. I’m a big, fat, ugly, homeless, friendless, lonely loser with absolutely zero potential and no future prospects, and everyone hates me, including my parents.
Ridiculous, right? You’re trying to make yourself laugh with this. It helps to “underscore the absurdity of your negative thoughts,” writes Bernstein.
Step 6: Shift Lanes
Basically, as soon as a negative thought jumps into your head, step away immediately. As I was writing this piece, the usual self-criticism started creeping in. And as soon as it did, I went to my happy place: a concert that I’m really looking forward to. Then, I felt good again. Excited, even.
The six steps, which really were fairly easy, are about replacing the internal voice that shouts insults with one that focuses on our positive attributes. And that is how you turn self-doubt into self-assuredness.