I often doubt and second-guess my decisions. I have even had doubt about whether the doubt that I have is a good thing or a bad thing, and this is what prompted me to write some thoughts and notes on this.
The positive side of self-doubt is that it helps to keep arrogance and over-confidence in check. It means that you work harder to validate your own opinions, that you seek validation from others and actually listen to them, and that you may also reduce risk in any choice you make.
The downside is that self-doubt can keep you up at night, it can shake your confidence, and it is generally troubling. I think this is also closely linked to impostor syndrome, where one feels that you shouldn’t be where you are in life, that you are an impostor and will be “discovered” at some point in the near future.
In my current position in life, where I have three main work responsibilities:
- Managing Partner at Mäd, a consultancy.
- CEO at Blue, a Software-as-a-Service Startup.
- Senior Product Manager at the UNDP
I often find myself plagued with uncertainty, and this can slow my speed of decision-making down as well as stop me from achieving as much as I know I can achieve.
I put things off because I don’t want to make a decision, or because I don’t feel that I have enough information. Being able to make good decisions without enough information is an art in itself, but a very necessary one. We will never have perfect information, and so there is always going to be a degree of risk in any choice.
I have written about the two types of decisions, and how the decision-making process can be different depending on the type of decision, but self-doubt can even affect your judgment on which type of decision is which!
I am even experiencing self-doubt right now while writing these very words. Are they even useful to my future self or to anyone else who will happen to read these words? Or, will all my thoughts come out in a jumble and there is actually very little substance in what I think and write?
My feeling is that there are two main ways to deal with self-doubt.
The first is to embrace the positive sides of self-doubt. Know that you have made good decisions in the past because you did doubt yourself, and thus you put in the necessary effort to “prove” to yourself that you were making the right decision. This has worked in the past, and it will likely serve you well in the future!
The second way is to combat self-doubt. Look at your past achievements, and your track record. There is likely a lot that went right for you to end up where you are right now in life. You’ve made good decisions, you’ve said the right things, you’ve done the right work, and so on. In fact, your entire life has been nothing short of decisions, from the day you were born. You’re a decision-making machine.
So, have more faith in yourself. Perhaps your gut feeling is right — you don’t need to spend more time researching or thinking to make a good decision. You can let yourself relax and have less anxiety about making the wrong choices in life.
Ideally, we can handle both of these approaches at the same time. This feels like a contradiction, but I think it may not be.