Why there is a place for self-doubt in your life

It may feel uncomfortable, but experts say a little lack of confidence in our abilities is completely normal – and can actually help us thrive.

If we believe everything the self-help literature tells us, then self-doubt is the enemy of success.

However, according to our experts, our inner critic can sometimes be our best friend – here’s why. 

Self-doubt is completely normal

Psychologist Dr Marny Lishman says self-doubt is a normal emotion that’s designed to help protect us and keep us safe.

“Like all emotions, we are wired to feel this way to a certain extent – that’s in order to make sure we think things through rather than rush into things that could possibly cause us or others harm,” Dr Lishman says.

“However, some people have more self-doubt than others and this can be for a variety of reasons – usually because of our own adult life experiences or our upbringing.”

Self-doubt can be a superpower

According to psychologist and host of Psych for Life podcast Dr Amanda Ferguson, there’s nothing like a bit of self-doubt to spur us on to success.

In fact, several studies have shown that self-doubt can be a powerful motivator that makes us try harder and perform better.

“A little self-doubt is optimal – it encourages you to put in more effort, to stretch yourself; it pushes us and motivates us,” Dr Ferguson says.

“Self-doubt inspires us to seek out the knowledge, the skills, the resources and the experiences we need to improve ourselves.”

Because self-doubt makes us question ourselves and our actions, it can help us find greater clarity in the long run, Dr Lishman adds.

“It gives us time to think things through, which creates certainty,” she says.

Other benefits of self-doubt

It makes us curious

“Self-doubt may make us question our next steps and what we need to do to improve, and this can help us nurture a growth or learning mindset,” Dr Lishman explains

It makes us humble

“Without self-doubt, we would have no humility, no conscience,” Dr Ferguson says.

It helps us become self-aware

“Self-doubt involves reflection, so it helps us learn more about ourselves,” Dr Ferguson explains. 

How to make self-doubt work for you

Dr Lishman says sometimes it only takes minor adjustments to turn negative self-doubt into a positive force.

“First, acknowledge that you feel self-doubt, then try to identify where the feeling originated,” Dr Lishman suggests.

“Resist the temptation to fuse with that feeling and ask yourself what you can do to feel the opposite.”

She says practising self-compassion is important.

“Home in on the areas of your life where you feel confident, certain and clear, and actively seek out those feelings – and don’t underestimate the power of small steps,” she says.

Dr Ferguson says the key to harnessing the power of self-doubt is to switch your mindset.

“Take the energy you would spend on self-doubt and spin it into how you could achieve something, instead of how you couldn’t,” she says.

“In psychology, we call that ‘reframing’ and it’s really powerful.”

When to seek help

Dr Ferguson says too much self-doubt can hold you back in many areas of your life, so if you can’t get a handle on it yourself, you should seek professional help.

“Deep feelings of shame, guilt and self-doubt can cripple you emotionally and have serious mental health repercussions if you don’t deal with it,” she says.

“Automatic, irrational self-doubt is a sign of mood disorders such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, stress and depression.”

Written by Dimity Barber.