Mental Health Awareness Week Series: My Journey With… Self Doubt & Fear

Mental Health Awareness Week Series: My Journey With… Self Doubt & Fear

“The problem with unwavering self-belief is that doesn’t quite map into how life works.”

–          Derren Brown

I heard Derren Brown say this on a podcast and it really stood out to me as a pretty important statement. Why? Because it’s human. We’re all human. Not one of us is perfect.

Here’s the problem with ‘unwavering self belief’:

It doesn’t exist.

And it wasn’t until I realised it that I could understand why I was doubting myself sometimes.

Because… we all do.

We’re all human.

Every single person you look up to has moments of doubt, because they’re inevitable. Even if you have such a huge comfort zone because you’ve done and achieved so much, if you had no moments of doubt ever in your life, it would probably be because there’s something wrong with your brain.

Sometimes I’ve been totally convinced that my brain is out to get me. Self-sabotage mode was switched on for half my life because I was constantly scared of screwing up.

But things really change when you realise that what you think just isn’t true.

As you know, there was a time when I wouldn’t get on a train because I was too freaked out. There was a time when I was scared to fly (thanks, Final Destination). 

Watching Anxiety and Me with Nadiya Hussein last night (if you didn’t watch it, you should check it out on BBC iPlayer), I was rooting for her when she took that train journey because I was just waiting for her to realise that everything she was afraid of just wasn’t going to happen. That her brain was making bad stuff up.

The problem is, it’s just so convincing.

As Aristotle said:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

If you read my post the other day about stress, you’ll know I talked about taking stock of your thoughts and starting to think about challenging them.

There’s a big difference between self belief that’s there most of the time but wavers a little bit when you’re facing something daunting (which is totally natural) and abject fear and self doubt that stops you doing things in life.

I’ve had my fair share of self doubt and fear, and I genuinely think that having just too much contributed to my feelings of depression, at least on one particular occasion. I started to wonder ‘Can I do this?’ and the resounding answer was ‘NO!’ and I couldn’t shake that feeling and I couldn’t even imagine seeing it another way.

But that refusal to see it another way wasn’t helping.

These days, I take those thoughts to court – and it does mean having an open mind.

Are they true?

Can I disprove them?

What’s the evidence in my life that means I might be wrong about that?

If I was having trouble learning something new, I’d think back to all the times I had a big learning curve when I first started with something but how it got better over time once I was more familiar with it – when I first learned to drive, my instructor was hard pushed to get me over 10mph.

When I wondered if I’d ever succeed at something I was trying, I’d remind myself of all the times I’ve succeeded through hard work before – the exams I’ve passed, qualifications I’ve got, promotions at work – and, if I still wasn’t convinced, I’d remember how any time things hadn’t worked out for me, I’d always learned something really valuable.

Socratic Questioning

This process is basically something called Socratic Questioning that helps you move from an opinion (which is probably negative and not necessarily true) to fact-based and less emotional reasoning. It’s said that there are different types of Socratic questions and these aren’t just used as psychological aids, but they’re so useful that they’re used in technology and science to improve critical thinking skills.

  1. Clarification: ‘Is this a realistic thought?’
  2. Assumptions: ‘What else could I assume in this situation?’
  3. Reasons & Evidence: ‘What is there that could prove/disprove this thought?’
  4. Viewpoints/Perspectives: ‘Could I be misinterpreting what’s happening?’
  5. Implications/Consequences: ‘What generalisations am I making? What are the consequences of this assumption?’
  6. Questions about the problem or original question: ‘What was the point of this? Why did I think/ask this of myself?’

Other useful questions:

  • ‘Am I seeing this situation as black or white when it’s really more complicated than that?’
  • ‘Is this belief or assumption mine or did I get it from someone else?’
  • ‘Do I just think/react that way out of habit?’

If you want a worksheet that has some really useful questions for you to fill in, click here.

The biggest problem I find with Socratic questioning is when I’m being really stubborn (I am fantastically good at that) and don’t feel like seeing things another way – but it really is an important part of the process, to admit that your self doubt or fear just might be wrong!

(After all… I decided a long time ago I could never write a book… turns out I was wrong!)

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