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Self-Doubt Susan

Last week when I interviewed Shannon Ball, she talked about self-doubt. She said she's always had self-doubt. Each step of the way. But here's the thing. She didn't let it stop her. She has enough self-awareness to know self-doubt isn't going to disappear any time soon. She knew she had to take steps despite the fear and self-doubt. She kept checking in with her heart, her inner GPS. She paid attention to signs and people who were sent her way. She'd have synchronistic conversations, which would give her a gentle nudge in the right direction.

As a society, and especially as women, we're consumed with self-doubt. I hear about it all the time from my teenage and adult female patients. They apologize for their bodies, for not taking care of their dry skin or shaving their legs. It's a rare female who doesn't make a self-deprecating comment about her belly fat as I'm checking moles on her abdomen. Men literally never comment on their fat, nor do they apologize for anything on their bodies (even body odor from coming straight from the gym or their thick, yellow toenails).

This mushroom haircut was the beginning of my relationship with Self-doubt Susan

Self-doubt comes from a chronic simmering unworthiness. The unworthiness keeps us convinced change is bad and scary. It leaves us terrified of drawing attention to ourselves. It results in a low-grade constant cortisol stress response. We're always checking ourselves, comparing ourselves, and second-guessing our every move. Self-doubt wants to keep us safe.

Think about it like an animal on the African savanna. Maybe the animal has a flaw, maybe it has an injury, or maybe it's like us; it thinks it's injured in some way. The animal fears being eaten any second. It's constantly on the lookout, slinking low to the ground, eyes darting side to side, afraid to go out in the big open world.

I'm not immune to self-doubt. Quite the contrary. It took me two years to get up the nerve to start a podcast. I have self-doubt and fear every single time I hit publish. I hold my breath, close my eyes, and do it anyway. I rarely look at my analytics. I ask people to be on my podcast, but I do it with trepidation. I fear they'll laugh and ask, "why in the world would I want to do that?"

Think of self-doubt like your stooped-over, white-haired grandmother. She cares about you deeply and truly wants what's best for you. She's trying to protect you with an "Are you sure, honey?" around every decision.

If the grandma image doesn't resonate with you, picture self-doubt as the skinny, awkward middle school version of you. She has no idea what a badass woman you've become. She still thinks mean girls are hiding around the corner waiting to get you. She has zero confidence you can pull off this "thing," whatever it is. This scrawny girl with braces is part of you. Imagine you're wrapping her in your arms and giving her a hug (careful not to poke your eye out with her hair sprayed bangs) and thanking her for her concern. Reassure her you've got this!

Maybe it would help if we named our self-doubt. How about Self-doubt Susan? Susan is part of us. I'll repeat that. Self-doubt Susan is here to stay. She's trying to protect us from the scary unknown. From getting hurt. From doing something our ego deems "stupid."

The injured animal on the African savanna I mentioned earlier? That's the reptilian part of our brain. It worries we might not survive if we do something stupid. It's concerned with keeping us alive. Alive=stay safe, stay close to the periphery, don't do anything that might draw attention. That's why our genius brains invented self-doubt Susan.

Maybe you're thinking, "Okay, I get why we have self-doubt and fear, but how do I move forward despite ol' Susan?"

  1. Get quiet, visualize your version of Susan and ask why she's worried. Listen to your mind's answer. I write what I "hear." Ask her any other questions about your self-doubt. Start writing. You'll be shocked what ends up on your paper. I had a flashback of trying out for cheerleading twice in middle school and not making it. The list was posted, and all the girls gathered around. I felt like self-doubt Susan with her mascara tears was crying and saying, "See! I told you this was a horrible idea. I knew you couldn't compete with the popular girls! What were you thinking?" My Susan is definitely a timid, scared middle-schooler.

  2. Once you identify what Susan's biggest worries are, consider how likely they are to actually happen. I even rank the likelihood on a scale of 1-10, 10 being "it's definitely going to happen." After reading the Subtle Art of Not Giving an F, I also started writing down what I'd do if X, Y, or Z actually happened. In the case of the podcast, I wrote down that the absolute worst case would be if "everyone" made fun of me and I quit after a few episodes. See? This isn't even scary once I identified the fear. As for what I'd do, I wrote, "Move on and be glad I tried it."

  3. Write out the best thing that could happen if you move forward. This might be in regards to a big step like Shannon starting her own yoga studio, or it might be something like sending an email or making a phone call. Anything where self-doubt is present. Write out the best thing that could happen. Feel your hope expand, and your spirits soar. You might feel unrealistic (crazy), but write out the best possible scenario.

  4. Think of times in the past when you've acted or spoken up despite self-doubt. I remembered getting up in front of an auditorium full of grown-ups and high schoolers at a regional poetry competition. I was in 2nd grade, y'all. I'd worn a navy pleated skirt, matching vest, and white stockings (like a school uniform, except I went to public school). I stood up there and read my poem into the microphone. Everyone loved it. I won the whole competition, beating out high schoolers.

  5. Notice where you feel self-doubt in your body. Is your throat clamped down? Is your stomach in knots? Don't judge it or make up a story about a tumor; just breathe into that body part. With each exhale, imagine you're letting go and releasing tension and self-doubt.

  6. Come up with a mantra or phrase you repeat over and over to yourself. One of mine is, "I am a badass at ___, I've totally got this." I can promise you'll feel like an idiot and imposter the first 100 times you say it, but after a few days, it'll start to resonate. Your choices will begin to reflect your mantra.

  7. Ask yourself if you really want to play safe your entire life. Don't you wonder what it'd be like to follow through on urges or pulls towards the scary unknown? Don't you want to throw your shoulders back, stand up tall, and show up in your life for Pete's sake?

  8. Thank Susan and tell her you've got this! Remember, she only wants to make sure you're safe. As long as you can reassure her (your brain) you've thought through this; she'll hush up. She won't leave, but she'll quit her whining.

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