What is Self-Doubt, Really?

Stephanie Wasylyk
4 min readFeb 9, 2023

A client is late paying an invoice…what do you do?

A. You calmly send them a message reminding them to pay their invoice, and you move on with the rest of your day.

B. You agonize over what this means…did they not like the service? Do they think it’s too expensive? Do they not have the money? Are they sick in a hospital somewhere?

C. You spend 30 minutes writing them an email with all sorts of apologies and tell them they can pay whenever they feel like it and maybe even offer to do more work for them pro bono.

D. It derails your whole day and you do everything else instead of sending a reminder (decide you should finally call the bank about that $2 service charge, clean the bathroom, or spend hours designing a graphic you don’t even need)

If you selected B, C, or D, you may have experienced some self-doubt.

Of course this is a pretty obvious (though very common) scenario, but self-doubt can show up in all sorts of ways. Let’s walk through some very brief theory, then we’ll see it in action using the Self-Doubt Loop to demonstrate.

What is Self-Doubt?

Self-doubt is simply your brain’s way of keeping you psychologically safe from something it perceives as a risk. To make this easy to understand, we can characterize our self-doubt as our inner Protector. This Protector has learned to keep you safe through the experiences it had, especially when you were younger, and it brings that experience to your life today. However, since it was formed in the past, it cannot accurately predict the risks in the future, and so can be overly protective in situations that don’t require that level of protection now.

Your Protector is very good at keeping you safe and has discovered all sorts of ways to do it without you catching on. Some people call this your inner critic (which is actually just one way your Protector shows up) and others call this self-sabotage, but really your Protector is an important part of you that we want to honour and perhaps teach a new way of being in the world.

When your Protector (or self-doubt) is activated, you enter the Self-Doubt Loop. It goes a little like this…

Contemplate — this is where you are considering taking an action

Alarm — your self-doubt is activated because there is a risk your Protector is trying to keep you from experiencing

Discomfort — you might notice some discomfort in your mind or body

Resistance — one of the 6 Ps of Resistance will show up (more about those in a minute) so you’ll put off the task in some way

Pattern — after going through this loop a few times you start to see a pattern and the self-doubt you experience can become part of how you see yourself

The 6 Ps of Resistance

These are the ways your resistance will likely show up in this part of the loop:

· procrastination

· people pleasing/placating

· perfectionism

· passive behaviour (like scrolling social media, eating, shopping, drinking, binging TV, etc.)

· paralysis

· proving yourself

So in our example above of a client not paying their invoice, it looks like this:

Contemplate — Maybe I should remind the client to pay their invoice.

Alarm — But what if they think I’m being pushy or greedy? What if they don’t want to work with me anymore? (activating a risk of conflict or rejection, for example)

Discomfort — I feel a knot in my stomach and my thoughts are racing. I can feel myself tensing up.

Resistance — Spend way too long perfecting a placating email.

Pattern — I’m really not cut out for this business thing. I can’t even get people to pay my invoices. (And I likely stop following up on invoice payments in the future)

What’s the alternative?

You can exit the Self-Doubt Loop after the contemplate phase before setting off the alarm.

This is when you have enough self-belief to just take the action. In our example this would be sending the reminder email to your client to pay the invoice.

If you’re curious, mine goes like this:

Hi ____,

Just in case you missed it, here’s the link to your most recent invoice that was due on <date>.

Have a great day,

Stephanie

Notice, no drama, no explaining, just self-belief that their intention is to pay it and somehow it got missed.

How do you build your self-belief? You read the article I wrote about doing experiments, here! But ultimately the first step is always to notice what’s going on.

For some other articles I wrote about self-doubt, have a look at these:

How can a self-belief coach help with my business?

Note to self: it’s okay to be awkward

6 Things Your Procrastination is Telling You (and How To Lovingly Respond to Each One)

The 4 Ways Your Self-Doubt is Showing Up + Using Experiments to Build Self-Belief

Unpacking Excuses — The Legitimate Ones, the Not-So-Legitimate Ones, and Everything In Between

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