One of the hardest things a leader has to go through is the solitude of the role. As a leader, you are the only person responsible for the success or failure of your business. You can’t blame anyone else. You can’t turn to someone else to fix your mistakes. You have to be responsible to your partners and your employees, whose livelihood potentially depends on you.
That is when doubt seeps into your mind. “What if I can’t do this?” “What if I fail?” These thoughts make you feel like you’re alone in a prison of your own mind.
How bad of a problem is this? In the long run, your confidence could suffer and you’ll stagnate, both in your career and personal life. That attitude may even spread to other people around you (yes thoughts and emotions are contagious). In the worst case scenario, it could even lead to an early and one way visit to the grave.
So how do great leaders make it through these dark moments, both for themselves and their teams?
They Recognize Their True Enemy
Success is no indicator of how confident or doubtful you are. If you have them, take a look at your super accomplished friends and mentors. They may be living the dream now but from time to time, they get worried sick about sustaining their current life.
You will be surprised how many people at the top have such doubts, no matter how successful they are.
Then there is also the imposter syndrome, where you feel as if you don’t deserve what you have because you didn’t feel like you earned it. You attribute your achievements to luck instead of ability.
This can be the case even if you are actually awesome at what you do. Being that great means you become a natural. Doing something that feels easy to you makes you think that what you’ve done is not worth mentioning. Ironically, the better you are, the more self-doubt you can potentially have.
You are also more likely to run into these feelings when you start a new venture. Graduate students, entrepreneurs and the newly promoted all face this. What if you weren’t meant to do this? What if you don’t belong? You’re constantly looking at your peers to see if you’re falling behind.
You can agree that living like this isn’t fun.
So how should you deal with the voice in your head calling you a fraud?
The first step is to recognize this doubt as if it were another entity. Before you go all multiple personality on me, the reason is to bring awareness to your doubt. Many people go about their lives not realizing they are doubting themselves. They merely accept their doubt as truth.
You do not have to be this way. Characterize your doubt. Liken it to the villain of your favorite childhood story. When your doubt comes back, fight back. The worst enemies you will ever have in your life are your doubts and fears.
They Open Their Eyes to What Else There Is
Have you ever watched comedy where the main character, through sheer coincidence, ends up in the worst possible scenario? For you, this is hilarious. You watch and you tell yourself: no one’s luck could possibly be that bad.
But have you ever realized this is what you worry about when you doubt yourself? Your sales go down this month and you think a new competitor is stealing away your customers. A member of your team leaves your company and you hear people talking behind your back about how crappy a boss you are.
Your mind goes into overdrive thinking about how others may be out to get you. This is what fear and doubt does to the way you see the world. Imagine living like that every day. Some of you can relate to that. But things don’t have to stay this way.
When you catch yourself listening to the whispers of your doubt, you have overcome the first step of vanquishing your demons. Now the next step is to find another way of seeing the situation.
What if the reason your sales went down is because your ads had a glitch, through no fault of your own? What if the reason why your direct report left was because of serious family reasons?
The mind makes assumptions in a heartbeat even when it does not have a full understanding of what happened. It also places you in the center of the world, where all events must revolve around you. Combine that with doubt and you end up constantly putting yourself down, even when you had nothing to do with it.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to keep asking yourself this: what’s another way of seeing this situation?
Once you make a habit of asking yourself this, you stop taking the route that hurts you and start exploring other possibilities. Life is no fun if you only stay on a narrow dark path, right?
Prime Yourself Out of It
If you were to think backwards on what causes your doubt in the first place, where would that take you?
The answer to that comes when you realize that there are specific situations or people who trigger you to act a certain way. Once you recognize that, you will inevitably ask yourself this.
“Do I want to be around the person or thing that keeps me in doubt all the time?”
This is a hard question to answer because your trigger could be personal. You may have to distance yourself from people who have been in your life for a long time. You may have to say goodbye to people, places or things that hold sentimental value.
That is tough but necessary. Once you start being brutally honest with what is bringing you up and what isn’t, you break past blocks that you didn’t realize were in your way.
You may have heard that you are the average of the five people closest to you. Thoughts and emotions are contagious. You feed off the thoughts and emotions of those you spend the most time with. Think about the impact this has on your life.
Who do you want to be like? The ones dragging themselves and everyone else around them down? Or the ones who are constantly going for their dreams and letting nothing hold them back?
You cannot control other people. But you can control whose company you keep.
They Compete Only With Themselves
You’ve probably heard this from a friend: stop comparing yourself with others. This is a common phrase but very few apply that saying to their lives. This is another differentiator between those who lead and those who don’t.
Leaders recognize that focusing on others doesn’t lead anywhere. You can’t control other people. The only person you can control is yourself. When it comes to many things in life, people accept this advice easily. Yet far less people realize the advice also applies when business is involved.
Are you going around to your friends or family asking if this new business idea seems like a great idea? If you are, then you’re looking to get their approval. You want validation on your next business idea, a career pivot or making this risky move. If that’s your only reason to talk to someone else about your struggles, don’t.
If you were serious about what you wanted to do, you would have done your homework. You would have done your research and networking. You would have a purpose behind what you want to do. In this picture, you, not anyone else, are the only element.
One of the biggest reasons why self-doubt exists is because people compare themselves to others. By trying to raise your image in the eyes of others, you put your self-validation in the hands of others. What do you get out of knowing you’re better or worse than the next person? You live separate lives and you each have your own paths. Constantly comparing yourself only hurts you.
Self-doubt also makes you try to get other people to back up your excuses. For these people, if they fail, they have other people telling it’s not their fault. Does whose fault it is matters when it comes to your success? Are you letting others determine whether or not you’re successful?
Those who do that create excuses to make them look better in the eyes of others. And excuses like that lead to giving up.
Failure is only a stepping stone. But giving up means the end.
They Focus on the Next Step
Have you ever started wondering or not if you should do something and before you know it, the day is over? That is famously known as analysis paralysis.
Those who let their doubts get to them keep debating with themselves on taking action. They don’t want to make a mistake. They don’t want to seem like a fool. They also might not know what to really do.
Luckily, the solution to this is simple. Focus on just one thing. What is the one thing you can do right now that will move you a step closer to your goal? This isn’t a mid-term goal. This isn’t something to do a week from now. This is what you can do NOW that will make a difference down the road.
The book “The One Thing” zeroes in on the power of focus and breaking down that focus into baby steps that connect to future goals. When you do this, you break free from analysis paralysis.
Self-doubt slows you down; sometimes even freezing you in place. The best way to deal with that is with action. Once you do so, you start moving again. You get a little closer to your goal. You see the change happen and it feels good.
Small steps are the key here. If your next one is effectively bringing you closer to where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter how small of a step it is.
If you keep getting those small wins, you’ll begin to erase any doubt you’ll have. Those small steps add up to a big one. Then, once you’ve reached the end, you’ll wonder why you questioned yourself at all.
Now even when you apply the 5 ways to conquer your fears, the battle won’t be over. Dealing with doubt is lifelong. You may wonder: then why even bother? And the reason is simple. Do you want to spend a lifetime in the dark? Or do you want to break free and release your potential?