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PWCC Community Blog: Use Doubt to Lead Yourself and Others

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 7, 2019

“The one way to get me to work my hardest was to doubt me.” Michelle Obama

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” Vincent van Gogh

“Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” Theodore Roosevelt

A healthy mind probes and wonders. It’s skeptical and believes nothing is beyond questioning.  In other words, it doubts.

To doubt something is to be “uncertain of belief or opinion,” to “deliberately suspend judgment” and seek more information. In other words, to be a skeptic. To think critically before accepting an idea.

While self-doubt can block us creatively, it can also push us to discover something new. Constructive doubt is above all defined by its capacity to reframe problems, explore new pathways, and deepen our understanding of the world around us. Without permitting doubt, we risk missing opportunities to rethink a process, develop a new product, or see something in a new light.

Self-doubt may be synonymous with lack of confidence or low self-esteem. It’s easy to understand that lacking faith in yourself makes it very difficult to engage constructively with challenges and with colleagues.

Self-doubt is generally considered a negative trait. Yet doubt is intellectually and emotionally essential. Questioning is adaptive for survival, allowing for testing the environment for safety and for navigating social currents. Questioning is at times a matter of survival, when it represents the first awareness that, without change, disaster awaits. In the social sphere, it is important to learn to gauge trustworthiness, especially since gullibility makes one a target for manipulation.

Doubt is a sense that not all is right and that too much is unclear.  It is a feeling that casts a large shadow of discomfort over current courses of action, without knowing necessarily what is amiss or how to fix it. Leaders can improve the sense-making process by raising doubts.  One approach is to encourage colleagues to give voice to their hunches. A confident leader guides this process of giving voice to doubt and, once acknowledged, begins the crucial process of inquiry and testing, driven by deep curiosity about new questions and challenges. 

Given how valuable doubt can be to our creativity and growth, we need to learn how to harness it for our benefit, disabling its ability to overwhelm us. If you feel overwhelmed by doubt, try these two exercises:

Ask yourself “Who Am I?”

Set aside 10-20 minutes for this exercise. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and ask yourself, “Who am I?”

Keep asking yourself “Who am I?” after every answer. When your mind finally gets stumped and can’t think of another answer, sit quietly until thoughts start coming again. Each time answers stop coming, sit in the quiet.

If you do this exercise daily, connecting to yourself as presence over and over again, self-doubt will shrivel and your sense of identification will begin to shift to presence over personality. In presence, you find freedom.

Have a Conversation with Self-Doubt.

When your voice of self-doubt arises, turn to face it, in your mind, as if it were a person speaking to you. You can close your eyes for this too.

Say, “Hi, Self-Doubt, thank you for speaking to me today. What do you want for?”

Treat self-doubt like you would a friend and wait its answer. Draw out what it wants for you and what scares it.

When practiced over time, this exercise helps you build a relationship with your voice of self-doubt. When you learn to interact with your voice of self-doubt in this way, it gets less scary and loosens its grip on you.

To be human is to experience times of self-doubt. The ability to harness doubt and face it to discover things about yourself can be an invaluable tool in your journey of self-discovery.  And to lead your colleagues through discussions of doubt about a product or a plan can trigger creative thought and problem-solving.


Submitted by:

Carol Jambor-Smith, Ph.D.
Jambor-Smith Communications
carol@jamborsmithcommunications.com

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