This month, we’re concluding our series on the three big “D’s” that can derail our progress in building a healthier, more balanced life. Over the past two months, we’ve explored how to overcome distractions and how to deal with discouragement. In this last instalment, we’ll explore the issue of self-doubt.
Self-doubt can flourish when we struggle to see our inherent value and worth as human beings. We have immeasurable value but we don’t always feel it. Anytime we have the courage to set new goals, to make changes or to try something different, we inevitably come face to face with our doubts and insecurities.
I’m sure you have heard the words self-esteem more times than you can count. Before we go any further, let’s break down the difference between self-esteem and self-worth. Self-esteem is a similar concept to self-worth with a small but very important difference: self-esteem is what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves, while self-worth is the more overarching concept that we are valuable human beings worthy of love (Hibbert, 2013). Self-esteem fluctuates throughout your lifetime and can be influenced by external factors such as our life experiences, our social circumstances, how others react to us or our performance. For example, you may feel bad/sad/mad or worthless if someone treats you poorly or you may feel stupid if you don’t do as well on a project as you would have liked. You may not feel as worthy as others you compare yourself to. So let’s talk about moving beyond self-esteem to the idea of self-worth or self-actualization.
The key to overcoming our doubts is by learning how to develop a healthy sense of self-worth. With our self-worth properly anchored, we can deal with our doubts honestly and embrace the opportunity to make changes. At its core, self-worth is really about how we see ourselves. If we have a distorted view of ourselves, it can cause us to doubt our ability to make positive life changes. We may even wonder if we are worth the effort. Remember, self-worth is not tied to externals, it is an internalized sense of our own value as human beings.
Every day, we are constantly evaluating our sense of worth and goodness through the lens of self-esteem. Our self-esteem can help us determine if our lives are aligned with how we want to live. But when our beliefs or goals don’t align with our behaviour, we may begin to question our worth and our self-esteem may be diminished.
If you don’t get anything else, get this: your worth is unchangeable. Over the course of your life, the way you see yourself may change, but your worth will not. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail before you reach your goals. You are and always will be worthy of love and respect. You have immeasurable worth.
So if a healthy self-esteem is the antidote to self-doubt, how do we get there? The key is in finding the right source.
Many people try to build their self-esteem by focussing entirely on appearance. They see their value and worth as tied to how others “see” them (pretty, fit, well dressed etc). While this may offer some short term validation, in the long run it is not sustainable because inevitably our appearance changes over time. There will be times in your life when you don’t feel pretty or attractive. Basing your self esteem on appearance is really more about being liked or affirmed by others. It takes away your personal power because it is dependent on how others feel about you and they may not honor your deep, inherent worth (which is so much more than your outside appearance).
Another common (but inadequate) source of self-esteem is the approval of others. Let’s be honest, it always feels good when other people approve of the choices we make, but if you base your worth on the opinions of others you will always feel uncertain because opinions change. There will always be someone who has an opinion that is different from yours. Not everyone in your circle will be there to support you in the changes you want to make.
Consider for a moment what would happen if your goals were different from those of a close friend. If your sense of worth is tied to their approval, chances are you will abandon ship before you ever begin. A better approach is to use the opinions of others as informative, but not decisive in terms of the goals and values you have set for yourself.
The best way to grow your confidence and overcome self-doubt is to begin by clarifying your values. A value is like a marker or a beacon for how we choose to live our lives. Values are characteristics like kindness, commitment, self-care, and sacrifice. Our values can direct our behaviours.
By clarifying our values, we can determine what matters most to us and then we can choose to bring our actions in line with our beliefs. An American sociologist by the name of Lowell Bennion once said “true self esteem comes when we keep the promises we make to ourselves”.
Take some time this week to reflect on your goals in light of your values. Are your values reflected in your actions? Are you keeping the promises you have made to yourself? If not, focus on the process of striving to be who you want to be, a little bit more every day. The goal is and always will be progress not perfection. When we choose to clarify and live out our values, we can shift to an internal source of control, not dependent on the opinions or perceptions of others.
Self-doubts have no place to grow when our life is driven by our values.