Have you ever looked at the people around you and felt like they have it all together - they're smart, successful, and happy? Meanwhile, that persistent voice in your head constantly whispers, telling you that you’re just not good enough, that you’re somehow incomplete, or that your accomplishments fall short of what you should be achieving.
Self-doubt doesn’t discriminate: it affects everyone, even those who seem to have everything figured out. We all have moments when we feel inadequate, incomplete, and unsatisfied.
Should we let that voice dictate our lives? Let’s learn what truly underlies this behaviour, and how can we take charge and break free from it.
The Ego-Action-Feedback Loop
At the heart of self-doubt lies an intricate pattern that shapes our lives: the ego-action-feedback loop. In our journey through life, we all take on various roles and identities, like masks we put on, even when they don't quite fit. These labels provide a sense of belonging and certainty, defining our place in this complex world. As a result, we become a mosaic of selves, shaped by different social roles - the loving child, the supportive friend, the passionate partner - and professional identities such as the accomplished expert or the diligent student.
These roles influence our actions - we study hard to meet our parents' expectations, reach out to friends to show we care, or prepare a delightful meal for our partner when they're unwell. Everything seems fine when we get positive responses - our parents are proud of us, our friends think that they can always count on us, and our partner thanks us for the meal, and this external feedback reinforces our self-image.
But what happens when we don’t get the response that we expect, and instead are met with negativity? When we take action because of the roles we play, it is inevitable that our self-confidence in the label that we have identified with would be damaged - and we question our self-worth. Am I a good [adjective] [noun] (insert your own labels here)?
Identifying ourselves with a role and aligning our dreams and aspirations with that identity is comforting and natural. Witnessing that identity crumble can be disorienting. It leaves us feeling lost, unsure of who we are or of our place in the world. We used to navigate life almost robotically, as if we had no choice, just following the expected path. Yet, this disorienting chaos holds the seed of a profound realization - we are more than the roles we play and the voices in our heads.
The ego loop doesn't have to dictate our actions, and our self-worth isn't solely defined by external feedback. It's time to untangle ourselves from this limiting cycle and discover the boundless potential that lies within us.
The Awareness-Acceptance-Action Model
The most useful tool to break these patterns and live an authentic life is the Awareness-Acceptance-Action model.
Overcoming self-doubt begins with awareness. Awareness is about choosing where to direct our attention. We tend to dwell on the past or fixate on the negative aspects of our experiences. Our mind replays our mistakes, holds onto regrets, or endlessly analyzes what went wrong. This habit intensifies self-doubt, making it difficult to escape its grasp.
However, we have the ability to shift our focus intentionally. Rather than obsessing over past regrets, negative feedback or pessimistic thoughts, we can consciously choose to be present. It's not about ignoring the past or avoiding challenges; it's about immersing ourselves in the beauty of the present moment. By doing so, we become aware of our vulnerabilities, the underlying reasons for negative feedback, and the recurring patterns of self-doubt that emerge in our minds.
The second phase of our transformation, acceptance, often proves to be the most challenging. After becoming aware, we release our resistance and come to terms with who we truly are and learn to accept our circumstances. We allow ourselves to feel emotions we've long suppressed, even the difficult ones, without judgment. As we embrace this practice, these emotions lose their grip on us.Just as a sailboat navigating through a storm, it's futile to resist the winds of life. We make progress more swiftly when we accept the storm and work with it, rather than against it.
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
- William Arthur Ward
Learning to flow with life, embracing both its joys and tribulations, empowers us to become more authentic and resilient. We call this being in a flow state.
Once we are in flow, we gain the freedom to pursue anything we want - meaning, happiness, impact, etc., the world is completely ours to explore. When we are not under the control of our emotions, and accept them - we stop taking actions that are negative to our growth and wellbeing, and instead; we express our authentic selves and take meaningful actions that align with our true values - not with the egos we've constructed.
Starting today, try to remove all “I Am” or “You/They Are” statements from your vocabulary. So instead of saying “I am frustrated”, try “I feel frustrated right now”. This gives you the agency to be aware of your emotional state (vs you being a frustrated person), acceptance that it is a momentary state you are in, and then take meaningful action.
Likewise, when you are dealing with people, instead of saying “You are stupid”, try, “You’re doing something stupid right now”. You may find that you will hold a lot less negative emotions in your heart when interacting with the world in this way.
Balancing Heart and Mind
In our quest to conquer self-doubt, we have unearthed the importance of self-awareness, acceptance, and action. Now, the path to a fulfilling life lies in intentionality and the delicate equilibrium between heart and mind.
The Awareness-Acceptance-Action model serves as a powerful framework, allowing us to recognize our true selves and inspire meaningful actions, driven by motivation. This model embodies the heart and our emotional side. Yet, motivation alone is not sufficient. It must be complemented by the rational mind. To live a fulfilling life, we must provide a purpose to our actions, a direction. This is only possible if we take time to reflect on our beliefs and ask questions like: why are we doing this, what specific goals are we pursuing, and how can we effectively achieve them?
To learn more about taking intentional action, watch this video.
By striking a balance between the heart and mind, we ensure that our actions are not only meaningful, but also authentic, purpose-driven, and aligned with our deepest values.
Goals and purposes inevitably evolve over time. Thus, remember that your journey of self-discovery is not a one-time event, but a continuous process. At the end of the day, that negative voice inside your head may resurface from time to time. However, armed with the right tools and mindset, you can break free from its grasp and embrace your full potential.
As you move forward, bear in mind that every step you take in the direction of your true self is a step toward lasting happiness. With awareness, acceptance, and intentional action (the balance between your heart and mind), you'll find the keys to unlock a life that's authentic, purposeful, and deeply satisfying.