“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“I know what I’m supposed to do, but I can’t seem to make myself do it.”
So many of us struggle to do the things we know we need to do to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves or to respond effectively to the challenges we face.
You may find yourself procrastinating, or spending hours doing other things – which you convince yourself are priorities – only to find that you are no closer to getting to where you want to be.
It is frustrating and can you feeling like you don’t have control of your own life and path.
Your beliefs, in most cases unconscious beliefs, are the reason for this struggle. They affect everything you think, feel and do.
Who you believe you are, and what you believe you are capable of, determine how you respond to life’s challenges and whether you take risks in the direction of your dreams.
When you hit challenges or are faced with failure, is your default assumption “I can” or “I can’t”? Do you find yourself avoiding taking action and giving up?
If you have a strong sense of trust in yourself and your capability to produce the outcome you desire, you are more likely to be successful in making it happen.
This is because you are more likely to face challenges and tasks head-on, put in more effort, and persevere, even when the going gets tough.
When you doubt yourself, you are far more likely to avoid the situation or tasks which make you uncomfortable, to experience anxiety and self-doubt, put in less effort and give up more easily.
If you don’t believe you can do it, why even try?
Unfortunately, though, this creates a self-manifesting mechanism.
People who believe in themselves develop more and more trust in themselves and their capability, as they have more experiences of success (due to their effort and persistence). Whereas, people who don’t believe in themselves are more likely to experience failure, which re-enforces their self-doubt.
Seems unfair, doesn’t it?
Doubting ourselves and our capabilities is a painful way to go through life. It leaves us more vulnerable to stress and depression.
We never feel like we are enough, have enough or know enough. We don’t trust that we are capable of bringing about the outcomes we desire.
If you were able to trust that you were truly capable, that you could deal with life’s challenges, that you were able to reach the goals you set for yourself, imagine how different your life would be.
You would be more likely to try and take risks when things were hard as you would not be afraid of making mistakes. You would ask for help when you needed it as you would not be worried about looking weak.
The good news is that your beliefs about yourself and your capability can be changed. As the Jungian analyst, James Hollis, advises, change requires insight, courage, and persistence. But it can be done.
Here are three keys to building self-trust:
1. Recognize and question your hidden assumptions.
Spend time noticing how self-doubt plays out in your life. What does it stop you doing? How does it hold you back? Don’t judge yourself, just notice it.
Pay attention when you are feeling the discomfort of self-doubt. Instead of finding reasons to justify why you feel the way you do (and consolidate the belief), or finding ways to avoid and escape the feeling without creating change, see whether you can spot the underlying assumptions are that are creating the doubt, and question them.
In most cases, our beliefs and expectations about ourselves were formed early in childhood and are no longer accurate (if they ever even were). They create blind spots and block us from being able to accurately update them.
Notice repetitions in your self-talk. What messages are you giving yourself? Is the phrase “I can’t” a common response or feeling when you hit a problem? Consciously shift this to “How can I?” or “I can.”
2. Practice self-acceptance and compassion.
The majority of us who struggle with self-doubt have developed a very critical and judgemental relationship with ourselves.
We see ourselves as inherently flawed and therefore drive ourselves to eliminate these flaws. And we can be exceptionally hard on ourselves when we fail.
This is not the answer. Or the path to success, mastery or fulfillment.
Self-acceptance and compassion are about accepting our vulnerability and humanity, recognizing, that we all make mistakes at times and that it’s ok. It’s what we learn that matters and how we pick ourselves up and keep going.
Self-acceptance makes it easier for you to reach out and ask for help, or share your experiences of disappointment, without worrying that you will be judged by others.
It makes it more likely that you can persevere when things are tough, and take risks stepping outside your comfort zone.
3. Take small steps out of your comfort zone and pay attention to any successes.
Building trust in your own capability comes from repeated experiences of success, of recognizing your power to bring about change. But you can’t see that you can be successful if you don’t take risks and push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Or take action in the face of difficulty.
Practice taking small risks, small enough so you don’t get too overwhelmed, but big enough so that it feels uncomfortable. Then when you experience success, make a point of acknowledging yourself for it.
Most of us are quick to remember failures, but not so generous with our memories of success (which of course reinforces the self-doubt).
There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.” – Robert Greene, Mastery.