Month: May 2014

5 Ways to Deal with Self-Doubt

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(c) Adrienne Leonard-Pinterest
(c) Adrienne Leonard-Pinterest

I’ve had issues with self-doubt for as long as I can remember. In a journal excerpt written back in 2003, I write about how I stopped writing something because I was paralyzed by fear. “Maybe it’s because I won’t be able to complete it. Or maybe I would finish it but nobody would like it.”

It’s interesting because sentences like these find themselves wedged within entries that span my entire life. I haven’t found a way to get rid of it, but at least now I try to control it instead of having it control me.

1. Know thyself

If you think you’re “not good enough”, then maybe you need to learn to value yourself by yourself. The problem is, as human beings we tend to look outwards for self-validation. And that’s always going to be a source of misery because we can’t control the way people feel about us. They can love us or hate us, or love us today and hate us tomorrow…external measurements are that fickle. What we can actually control is how we see ourselves, and how we value ourselves. The best practical tip I heard on this was, “Every day, write a couple of things you value about yourself, and a couple of ways you added value to someone else’s life.”

The more you do that, the more you’ll know your where your strengths and weaknesses lie. When someone I know found themselves jobless, the first thing they did was work on their version of a “S.W.O.T.” matrix. A “S.W.O.T.” analysis is common in business and the letters stand for strength/weakness/opportunity and threat. Someone else might have been paralyzed by the fear of ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ but instead they put together an inventory of what they already had to work with and started from there.

Self-doubt comes from your inexperience with what you can and cannot do. So it always helps to know your strengths and weaknesses and the older you get, the better you are supposed to be when it comes to dealing with self-doubt, (‘supposed to be’ being the operative phrase here). And to have a clear idea of your strengths and weaknesses, you need to actually…

2. Act 

The opposite of doubt is certainty. The best way of getting rid of self-doubt is to know for sure. And to know for sure, you’ve got to actually do something. Roll up your sleeves, and get to work.

This is based on the famous productivity idea of “ready-fire-aim” instead of “ready-aim-fire”. After taking the first step, you can always readjust your course of action depending on whatever results you get, but if you insist on perfecting the plan before its execution, you might find yourself mired in a perpetual state of indecision. And by not taking a step forward, you might never answer the question, “Am I good enough?” and you’ll always be left wondering.

Even if you end up failing after you’ve acted, you’ll at least be able to definitely tell yourself, “Nope. I’m not good enough for this, so I could either work to improve or if it’s not worth my time then forget about it.”

When the weeds of self-doubt clutter your thoughts, it is very easy to second-guess yourself. This happens a lot when you find yourself comparing yourself to other people (I’ve written about it in a previous note – Lesson Learnt from a Bicycle Rider on a Highway – so I won’t write about it here). Since you don’t trust yourself, you try to measure your success based on what everybody thinks your successful life should like. Some people take a step further and delegate their entire decision-making process to other people because, a) they don’t trust themselves to make good decisions and, b) they would like someone to blame tomorrow if it doesn’t work out. In that case, realize what you’re doing and take responsibility for your own actions.

3. Avoid naysayers like the plague. 

We have enough inner voices that make us doubt ourselves internally. We don’t need external sources of such voices to reinforce our self-doubt. Enough said about that.

4. Be Grateful

I’ve written about this in “A Lesson in Gratitude” and “Attitude of Gratitude“. Since self-doubt tends to stem from a position of scarcity, where you tend to think you don’t have enough (brains/beauty/talent/wit/whatever). And gratitude always puts you in a better frame of mind as it shifts your perspective from one of scarcity to one of abundance. So practice gratitude.

5. Have faith 

As Muslims, we believe that whatever misses us could never have hit us and what hits us could never have missed us. So in the end of the day, all we’ve got is the effort we can put into something and make du’aa to Allah (SWT) for the best.


Keep Looking Ahead

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So a friend of mine suggested that I should rename my blog to “Daily Dose of Cynicism”. Apparently, my message in Of Graduations and Goodbyes was too cynical for her taste. I tried to defend myself by saying that whatever I wrote was just a summary of conclusions based on data collected across the years. Yes, people leave. Yes, it was good while it lasted. Yes, they will be missed. But life goes on and the time we used to fill hanging out with them will be filled hanging out with others. So I really don’t know what is wrong with thinking that way. The underlying message I did not explicitly state before is simply; keep looking ahead.

I know personally, I tend to ruminate on the past a lot. After all, it’s where I get half of the material for my writings from. And if you really think about it, a lot of writers end up with depression simply because of that obsession with rumination. So for people like me, who tend to do that obsessively, it is good to keep a post-it somewhere to remind ourselves to “Keep looking ahead.”

And I will refrain from adding, “with dread” to that last phrase even though my cynical self is so burning to say it.




Of Graduations and Goodbyes

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It’s graduation season again and a lot of students are already saying their goodbyes. So one of my friends passed by looking really depressed because their best friend was about to leave. “I’m happy for them but still, I don’t know what I’ll do without them.”

I find myself well-suited to advice on this simply because it’s been a recurring theme in my life so here I was dishing out words wisdom;

1) It’s going to be hard at first but you’ll eventually get used to it. The space they leave in your life will fill up, and sometimes you’ll feel like the replacement is better than the person who has left. Of course, how soon you bounce back would depend on you as a person. Some people are more adaptable than others.

2) You need to realize that not everybody is meant to be in our lives forever. Some people’s role is just to transit through our lives and teach us something, and then they move on. So what matters is what part of themselves that we hang onto. 

3) The worse enemies you can make are your ex-best friends, simply because they know so much about you. So, sometimes it’s better for an amicable separation to take place because you never know, maybe if you had stayed together for longer, your relationship would just erode and become a huge source of negativity in your life. And you can’t say that “We would never be like that,” because seriously, you never know what circumstances could happen that would pull you apart.

I personally find comfort in the last idea. Of course, it’s an adaption technique that usually could not be verified. But as long as it works…

So I guess that’s today’s food for thought. Leave your comments below and tell me how do you deal with goodbyes?

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Sometimes to solve a problem…

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it works to listen to somebody else’s story.

I learned that today. So for some time now, I’ve been struggling to figure out some problem in my life and before I got a chance to think about it on paper, I found myself listening to a friend tell her story. Towards the end, she said, “I can’t believe that I was so excited about it before. Now it’s the source of my misery.”

I replied with something my mother always says, “ukishika kitu na vishindo saa nyengine haina kheiri.” (Roughly translated it means that sometimes clinging to something obsessively is not good).

And it’s funny, because as I was saying it, something just clicked in my mind and I started to draw analogies between her story and my mental conflict, and I realized that it was that exact phrase that I needed to hear in order to figure my problem out.

So next time you’re faced with a problem, instead of spending so much energy talking about it, what if you open up your ears and listen to someone else’s story for a change? Maybe within that story, you will find the key to solving it.

That’s it for today.