“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath
I’m often told I am childish, or at least I was told so a couple of times today. I take it as a compliment, really. In my Early Childhood Development course as an undergraduate I learned that most infants operate at a genius level until around the age of one. Think about it… this is the time that they start to recognize faces, become aware of themselves and their surroundings, and solve the whole peek-a-boo conundrum of “where is daddy” (hint: he’s behind the napkin). Phrases like “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” aren’t even in their language yet.
But as we grow older, our ability to take in new information slows down substantially. By the time adulthood hits, very few people can operate on the genius level (yes, even I was only a runner-up in the 2012 MacArthur Genius Grant competition). Why is this information relevant for women in Student Affairs blog? Well, let me start off by saying – I finally understand the woman perspective: traveling with men sucks. We have absolutely no idea where we are going and we are never going to ask for a map. And for that, on behalf of the men in your life, I am sorry.
I am in Venice, Italy right now. A friend and I were looking for a specific place today for lunch. I knew, absolutely and unequivocally, that the restaurant was to the left. He insisted that the restaurant was to the right. I gave in and followed my friend. We made it to the right place, an hour later, where I knew it would be…. to the left. If I would have listened to myself, had I of been confident of my internal compass, I would have been on time and my feet would have been a little less sore. But why do we do this? Why do we let self-doubt creep into our relationships, our work, our vocabulary, and our lives?
Research suggests that self-doubt may be a learned behavior. I know we all want to blame our parents for every problem we have, but often times this learned behavior is imposed on us in a protective and caring way. When a child dreams of being a police officer, they are told “You can’t be a cop, it’s too dangerous,” or “You can be a writer, but you will not be able to afford rent or food.” It’s not surprising that these subtle sentences have evaporated the childlike amazement of the world around us and our sense of self. We’re conditioned to believe we can’t, when actually, we are capable of more than imaginable.
You’ll often hear someone say “self-doubt plagues” in a sentence – pay attention to this, because it should literally be considered a plague. People who continually doubt themselves are prone to:
- Higher blood pressure
- Uncontrolled depression and weight gain
- Chronic fatigue
- Increased mortality rates among those with heart disease (1 in 4 women die from heart disease each year).
It is so important for us to curb these feelings of self-doubt, and to recognize when we need to tell that voice in our head to shut up (and maybe we stop blaming our mothers for everything at the same time).
Dr. Cynthia Thaik has a few suggestions on how to deal with self-doubt, so that you too won’t get lost on the streets on Venice and have to passive-aggressively order your meal while claiming not to be mad. I will paraphrase:
- Live in the Present
Most of the time feelings of self-doubt are attached to memories of times in the past when you failed to achieve something or when someone told you that you couldn’t do something. Every day is a new start and just because you didn’t accomplish something then, doesn’t mean you can’t now. Focus on the present.
- Trust in Yourself
We’re often our own worst enemies. If you tell yourself you can’t do something, then you probably won’t even try to do it in the first place. Have faith in yourself to at least try. We often tell our students to trust in themselves, but how often do we practice what we preach? It’s time to encourage our own hearts and remember that we are just as capable as anyone else.
- Counteract the Negative
Listen to the voice(s) inside your head. Start to pay attention to whether or not they are negative. When this happens, make an effort to counteract these voices with positive thoughts. When you feel the negative flood coming, remind yourself of all the positive things you can do or have done, remember your strengths, and be proud of your life.
- Find the Source of Your Self-Doubt
If you find yourself constantly telling yourself that you are not good enough, you should delve deep to see where these thoughts are coming from. You can choose to do this on your own, with a trusted friend, or a professional therapist. Once you identify and understand a problem, you can work towards improving your life and changing negative patterns.
- Spend Time With Others
Friends and family are an invaluable source of strength. Simply voicing your self-doubt to others can often put it in perspective and make you realize how illogical this negativity can be. In addition, other people can offer advice or give you the support that will motivate you and give you the confidence boost you need.
I wish you luck on re-discovering the genius in you. I truly hope that you are able to conquer any doubts that may linger in your head, and make it to lunch on time – unlike I did today.
Vince Bowhay is the Assistant Director of the Memorial Union at Fort Hays State University.
Follow Vince on Twitter @VinceVassup.
He likes chocolate chip cookies (a bit too much).