Does the plague of self-doubt attack you when you are outside your comfort zone?   Do you allow that self-doubt to push you into a reactive space and stop you from moving forward?

Over and over again I’ve asked hundreds of leaders in workshops or executives in coaching sessions what holds them back from moving forward or creating what they want.

What do you think their answer is?

Self-doubt and fear are overwhelmingly the two most common responses.  Highly accomplished, smart, self-confident leaders admit to experiencing bouts of paralyzing self-doubt that prevents them from moving forward at times, especially when they are out of their comfort zones.

Does a self-doubt attack ever happen to you?

Even as someone who spends countless of hours coaching people through and out of self-doubt attacks, I can confess it happened to yours truly just this week.  Using my own coaching on myself helped me recover and get through it quickly.

As I began teaching a leadership program for a group of government leaders earlier this week, I experienced what I interpreted as high negativity and resistance from the group right off the bat. It was clear that many in the session did not want to be there. There were scattered snide remarks being expressed and the group’s body language was far from welcoming.  While this is quite a common occurrence in my line of work at first if people feel they are being “sent” to a workshop that they don’t need, I have to admit I was taken aback by the overall mood and strange dynamics right at the start.

At lunch, I went to my car to retrieve some materials and sat alone quietly for a few moments.  A barrage of negative thoughts began flooding my mind—most of them baring self-doubt.  The negative voices became louder and began questioning me.  Perhaps I had lost my touch? Maybe I should quit working with groups like these and do something different? (And so on, you get the picture.)  My mind had turned into a feeding ground for reactivity.

While a small voice in my head was whispering how good I am at this sort of work and that I needed to trust in that fact, it was drowned out by the loud negative chatter on center stage.

I took a few deep breaths and took back command of the stage in my mind.

I reminded myself that this work I was doing was not about me.  It was not about how I was feeling or my own ego needs.  It was about helping this group with their transformational leadership journey.  I reminded myself that that is what I do best and what my purpose is.  I needed to trust myself, stay the course, trust the process, and persist through the waves.  They were waves that were normal in the rough journey of change. I grounded myself back to center.

When I returned, the self-doubting voices were totally gone.  I stayed steady on center course.  I navigated the coming waves of skepticism and trusted that I knew what to do and would do what was needed to be in service of this group.  I was calm, focused, and yet passionate and persistent.  And guess what?  What I absolutely already knew would occur once we got past some of the baggage that was brought into the room happened.   The storm passed.  The waves subsided and the sun came out.  We had a great session and the mood totally transformed.

The experience reminded me that none of us are immune to a self-doubt attack.  Learning to persist through it when it attacks us and stay the course rather than become paralyzed by it is the key.  Over time, your immunity to it builds up and you can get yourself through and over it much more quickly.

Here are three things to do to treat an attack when you are struck by it:

1.    Separate the self-doubt and name it

Recognize that the negative chatter is your own self-doubt brought on by a variety of factors.  Fear, negative past experiences, pressure, perceived risk of failure, self-validation through your success, lack of self-confidence or trust, parental or other people’s past voices of criticism, unfamiliarity, and being outside your comfort zone are all some of the common things that can trigger the self-doubt attack to hit.  As the chatter enters, pause, take a few deep breaths to reset and refocus, and bring the voices into separate awareness.

“Ah, there’s that negative chatter again”.  Give it a name.

When you separate from it rather than identify with it, you can hold it in your awareness and look at it from a distance and make a decision to silence it.

2.    Get past your ego

Remind yourself the purpose behind what you are doing.  What’s the driving force?  An ego-based purpose (to have people like you, to be admired, to be validated, to show how smart, talented, or whatever else you are, etc.) will feed the self-doubt plague.   Separate what you are doing from your ego and identify with the deeper intention and purpose you are trying to achieve.  When you make it about something bigger than yourself, the focus is no longer about you.

3.    Get back to and stay in your center space

When self-doubt comes to the forefront, your body feels it.   Your nervous system goes into alarm mode.  Your energy gets off kilter and you are in your head focused on yourself.  When you are in that space, it is hard to be in a positive energetic flow and be at your best because you are so self-absorbed and so much is happening in your body.  Plant your feet on the ground firmly and close your eyes.  Imagine there are deep roots growing underneath your feet like a large tree.  Take a few deep breaths and feel yourself firmly on the ground.  You will literally be able to sense your body relaxing back and grounding itself to a center place.  Keep imagining those roots firmly underneath you and it is amazing how your mind starts to clear as your nervous system begins to settle.


Get back in touch with the center of your personal power and the unique contribution you bring to the table and bring it on!

As always, feel free to drop me a note with your thoughts and experiences on this topic.