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Self doubt is useful (and other counter intuitive psychological truths)

Self doubt is useful (and other counter intuitive psychological truths)

“Just believe in yourself!”

“You can do it!”

“If you can dream it, you can achieve it!”

These are all cliched axioms of the self development industry that you’ll never hear from me, except in a sarcastic sense.

New’s flash: Self doubt, uncertainty and all forms of entrepreneurial stomach butterflies are incredible useful. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they’re crucial to business success.

Most people have been taught to ignore their inner critic – to put a mental mute on the dialogue that picks away at your hopes and dreams. Hitting the mute button is a huge mistake. Here’s why…

The power of your intuition

There’s a disturbing trend in the western world, that probably kicked off around the time that Plato started advocating the supremacy of (cold, calculating) logic over the emotional, tumultuous intuitive mind.

People started paying less and less attention to the emotional signals their unconscious mind created. After all, emotion couldn’t be described within the “logic” framework – so it probably wasn’t worth paying attention to.

When we made the culture decision to honor logic above our emotional intelligence, an enemy was created.

The inner voice that wields enormous emotional power became a “bad guy” – it was the biggest obstacle between us and the totally dispassionate decision making we desired.

To this day, our “heart” gets in the way of logic and plays havoc with decision making. When we think we have things logically sorted out, this ancient and forgotten part of us throws a spanner in the works, sending butterflies of uncertainty dancing through our stomach.

For entrepreneurs, this results in a crippling sense of indecision. It’s like being tugged in two different directions at once – on the one hand, decision X makes “sense” but something doesn’t feel right. That little voice behind your eyes just won’t shut up.

The cliched “believe in yourself” mantras are our pathetic attempt to combat the inner dialogue. We try to hurl these affirmations at this dark, doubting part of ourselves in an attempt to silence it.

Thing is, the inner voice that sows the seeds of emotional uncertainty is actually a part of us. It’s a part of YOU.

That means that it abides by a few rules: It cares about you (because it is you). It wants you to be happy and safe (because it is you). It even wants you to be successful (because… it is part of YOU!).

The most nasty, disgusting forms of self sabotaging dialogue all come from a part of you. For some (many!) people, this part has the capability to be truly vicious. When it tells you you’re not good enough, it really doesn’t hold back!

My observation has been that the people with the biggest lack of rapport with their unconscious/intuitive self are the ones who have the most vicious, negative internal dialogue.

Why? Because they’ve been trying to turn down the volume on a legitimate, caring part of themselves for so long that they’ve left that part no other choice. It has to shout or it won’t be heard at all.

Your inner critic serves a crucial purpose

The job of the inner critic is to criticize. It’s there to pick apart your ridiculous dreams. It’s there to make you work hard – to take fluffy, half-baked ideas and turn them into something tangible and real.

Why do so many entrepreneurs seem to wrestle with self doubt and inner criticisms? Because they’re so out of touch with their intuition that it has to yell (and insult) to be heard… and because they don’t act on the criticism even when they do finally get the message.

Let’s say a smart friend of yours, who knows your situation (and dreams) inside and out, tells you she’s not so sure about your latest great idea.

Normally, you’d work hard to assure her she’s wrong – either by articulating yourself better (more clarity) or changing the game plan to eliminate the obstacle she pointed out (better strategy).

Makes sense, right?

“She” is your intuition.

For someone with a quality, healthy rapport with their unconscious mind… this is what it’s like. They have a part of themselves, deeply connected to their values and goals, that occasional pipes up with an emotional signal (or bit of internal chatter) to say “uh oh… this ship might not be heading where you want it to go”.

The clever entrepreneur pays attention to this feedback and then immediately seeks better (internal) clarity or (external) strategy.

Yet most people steamroll over this experience. They say “no, that’s just BS self doubt – I just need to believe in myself! Where’s a Nike billboard when I need it?!”

Your intuitive mind is pretty damn smart. For starters, it pays a whole lot more attention to your external world than you do. It sees things coming miles before your rational mind does. It’s intuitive!

Keep ignoring these timely, highly attuned pieces of emotional feedback and your unconscious mind will start to get seriously concerned for your safety. It’ll begin yelling at you, trying to slam on the breaks. It’s ammunition is fear.

The more you ignore your inner critic, the louder and more painfully it yells. The more it starts sounding like an enemy. Truth is, branding it as a bad guy is just sloppy thinking. It’s actually easier for many people to demonize their intuitive mind than it is for them to accept, act on and grow from the criticism that it offers.

I’ve met entrepreneurs who’s inner critic has said:

  • You don’t have the expertise to pull this off
  • Your sales strategy is half baked
  • What you’re doing isn’t differentiated enough – there’s hundreds exactly like you

… and every time, the inner critic has been right.

Thing is, these are all temporary problems. They can all be fixed. Developing a better sales strategy is a good idea but it’s easier to write off this emotional feedback as “self sabotage” when you’re trying to avoid doing hard work. Or worse, when you secretly don’t want to succeed because it’s safer not to.

There are very few inner criticisms that can’t be fixed through action.

Imagine having a coach and cheerleader who gently pointed you toward improving your capabilities so that you could be more successful. Wouldn’t that be cool? Some people pay good money for that sort of coach. Your intuition will do it for you – if you allow it.

The down side?

  1. You won’t get rich fast – developing real capabilities takes time.
  2. You’ll have to work hard. Really hard.
  3. You’ll have to do something remarkable, not something “good enough”.
  4. Your intuition will KNOW (and tell you) whenever you try to shortcut any of the above.

Imagine if, every time a part of you said “you’re not good enough” you went and took action to become better. How quickly (and vastly) would you grow?

If you haven’t achieved the things you want in life and business, I think it’s worth being radically honest with yourself. You don’t yet have the capabilities to get where you want to be – if you did, you’d already be there! However, you can learn them.

Your inner critic is (and always has been) a mental coach, if you’ll just stop “believing in yourself” long enough to let it do it’s job. It has unbelievably high expectations for your success and a long to-do list of character, capability and business building tasks for you.

Don’t you wish you had a friend who knew you so well they could, with total integrity, tell you when you’re bullshitting yourself, need to up your game and stop messing around?

That’s what self doubt is and it’s what your inner critic is for. You have an incredible resource within you, so I’m suggesting you stop fighting it and use it.

This is a paradigm shift. It requires you to let go of the baggage created by years of conflict with your intuitive self. It requires you to get closure on any self-worth trauma in your past. It’s not easy, but game changing paradigm shift’s seldom are.

Are you willing to use inner criticism to grow?

Are you ready to stop believing in yourself and start proving yourself?


+ Add Comment
  1. Hey Peter,

    To be honest, I’ve got mixed reactions to this post. It got my mind thinking, so thanks for that.

    Most people don’t ignore their self critics – they listen to them and end up staying on the beaten path and living lives of boredom. That’s why the coaching industry has mushroomed. People have been conditioned to not take action.

    There are a lot of folks who do need someone to say, “you can do it.” It’s happened to me and I did do it and my life turned into an adventure. Waiting until things are more perfect is a lot worse than just jumping off the cliff.

    Very few people actually go for anything. I’d much rather see people try and fail then keep waiting until they think they might not fail. that’s what we need to get over, a fear of failure. It’s actually a good word.

    If you’ve got a big, crazy dream or even a small, crazy dream, got for it. Worry about the little details later. Who says it’s ridiculous? I bet people told Colombus he was a loon to try and sail across a flat Earth. Sometimes you need to trust things will work out.

    Our critics like things the way they are, with them in control and you a frightened human cowering in the corner.

    See, I just jumped in to this comment! Thanks, G.

    1. Hey Giulietta,

      This post definitely isn’t about *waiting* for things to be perfect… or waiting at all. The concept of waiting for anything to happen is absolutely the opposite of what I’m sharing here.

      The idea is that if and when there’s an opportunity to TAKE ACTION to upskill, grow and increase capabilities… take it. This usually happens experientially btw – it’s very hard to increase your skillset without actually doing things!

      Your Columbus example, while a good example of bravery, completely misses the mark as well. If other people were telling him he was a nutcase… well, sure, it probably happened. The point is that his internal dialogue probably told him to DO IT – otherwise he probably wouldn’t have done it, no?

      When the intuitive self lines up and says “YES GO FOR IT!” that’s when anyone should spring into action… even if other people are (inevitably) still doubting.

      My point is that sometimes people aren’t honest with themselves about their state of preparation – that Columbus probably did well to heed his inner critic when it said “pack extra supplies, kiddo.”

      Make sense?

      1. Thx, for your explanation Peter! sometimes commenters pen unruly thangs.

        for me, part of the adventure is not being prepared. we test ourselves when we create on the fly. some of the greatest things I’ve done happened when I wasn’t sure I could do it. living without a net, I guess.

  2. This is a great post, Peter, and I’m doubly lucky to have had your personal insight through conversation to help me overcome my own “logic” issues. I’ll add that it’s one thing to know this valuable lesson… and another thing to actually apply it and start listening to intuition!

    Case in point: I recently had a potential client contact me to offer a major national marketing gig. My gut said, “No.” My logic said, “This makes perfect sense. You’re skilled, he wants you, the money’s sweet. GO FOR IT! You can DO IT, James!”

    And my gut kept saying, “No.”

    So I emailed the client and said I’d consider the offer. I sat down, had a good talk with my intuition and logic and realized that the no I was hearing in my head wasn’t because I didn’t believe in myself.

    It was because I had never worked on this particular type of campaign… and KNEW that I should master the skills before saying yes. Just having the skills wasn’t enough here – mastery was crucial.

    My intuition also told me that even though the money was sweet, the job itself wasn’t one that I’d personally enjoy, for several reasons. And when you can’t enjoy a job, you can’t put your heart into it to make it shine.

    Intuition won. This job wasn’t for me, and I politely declined taking it on.

    The upside? The next day I landed two gigs for which I was perfectly suited and thrilled to take on 🙂

    1. Nice one. 🙂

      Honestly, if I did nothing but helped clients develop a rapport with their intuitive mind… I think I’d still be doing ace work as a shrink for entrepreneurs. This skill is EVERYTHING.

  3. Thank you for your posts Peter, they’re based on business fundamentals over motivation – it’s refreshing to read them amongst all the rah-rah out there nowadays.

    I spent a number of years self-employed, not doing well, and not being willing to face that I wasn’t suited for what I was doing and that the market really wasn’t there for what I wanted to provide. But I was incredibly stuck in the thinking that I needed to “do what I love” despite not making enough to pay my mortgage and despite racking up my credit cards to do it.

    As a result, I’m kind of anti-rah-rah nowadays which makes me a bit of a self-help cynic I’m afraid. At least I have the experience of having a family full of successful entrepreneurs to model, which many people don’t. They apply a cold logic to their businesses through the filter of whether something works in the real world or not and take lots of chances, but they’re not really risks since they’re educated risks – more like opportunities.

    I do enjoy your blog Peter – first time commenting though, it’s a nice dash of reality amongst all the “don’t listen to these horrible friends that are just trying to keep you down with them in the cubicle hell of your soul-sucking job”. It wasn’t until I worked as a dream killer myself in small business lending for a time that I really realized how incredibly unrealistic and impractical people can be. Ouch that that was me at one point. 🙂

    1. Hey Jacq, thanks for joining the discussion 🙂

      I try to keep it real as much as possible – I think there’s a desperate need for that in business AND in the self development world. I do think that sometimes friends/family can really be very negative and destructive to fledgling entrepreneurs… but that’s sort of a different ballgame to the internal criticism I’m talking about here. Your own unconscious mind has no real interest in seeing you fail – whereas sometimes not-so-well meaning friends do have that intention.

  4. I find that if I ignore my inner critic for too long she will find a way of getting noticed – by phyisically shutting down my body. The pattern is the same. Sore neck, niggling headaches and then full blown vertigo that leaves me in bed for days at a time.

    It is a lot easier just to listen and react to the critic in my head.

    I have found that since going to accupuncture I have become better at listening to my body and the things it is trying to tell me. This has helped me with my health, and now with my business.

    Great post as always Peter.

    1. Hey Ainslie! You’ve got it right – a lot of the intuitive rapport stuff can be developed by really getting in touch with your physical body. It’s no surprise you’ve suffered those sorts of symptoms in the past.

  5. This is great stuff, Peter. If only we could see every challenge as an opportunity… rather than denying the problem (and pay the price for the denial), we would be better at what we do and at how we do it. And I said better, not perfect 😉 Imagine, maybe one day, looking back at our work, we could actually be proud of what we managed to accomplish and wouldn’t need positive thinking validation rah-rah anymore ;;)

  6. Loved this post as always Peter. You’re totally right that you’re subconscious isn’t trying to sabotage you – it’s trying to protect you!
    I read a great book called True Purpose by Tim Kelley. In it he describes the different bits of your psyche and how they react with suspicion to change. If you’re interested check out this video – in it he describes leaving your ‘normal’ career to follow your purpose as being like an internal ‘reorg’ – your psyche’s reaction is concern and discomfort – it wants to maintain the norm and not put you in the path of embarrassment or unnecessary risk. (skip to the second half)
    (I’m not an affiliate or anything – just think it’s cool)

  7. Great post, Peter! I think now I can indulge in some guilt-free self doubt :D.

    Appreciate your making these normal feelings “normal” again. And I agree, the action part is where true growth lies.

  8. Dear Mr. Shallard,

    Enjoyed your article tremendously, although I almost ‘stumbled’ out of it at the very beginning. Ancient Greek philosophical logic was Aristotelean named for it’s originator, Aristotle, who may have been a student of Plato’s, and who is credited as the educator of Alexander the Great. Regardless, Plato’s philosophical method was Socratic in that it revolved around a dialectic or dialogue between two competing points of view. The dialectic produces a third result which is a hybrid – so to speak – of the two original competing positions. More evolutionary than logical. I would say that self doubt is always part ofthe process.

    1. Hey Dave! You’ve called me out here – I’m super grateful I have a reader(s) who’s knowledge of the history of logic far, far outreaches my own. Thanks for the input – I appreciate you taking the time to add this. 🙂

  9. Peter,
    Your timing of this post is perfect. I am building an online membership service to assist finance people in growing a successful and profitable business in changing times. And man has the inner critic being messing with me lately.
    Too hard, won’t work, who are you to do this. etc etc.
    However I am pushing through bit by bit as a fun little project do to on while I do my other stuff.
    Your articulation of the the reason why and to keep going is wonderful.
    Keep up the great work.

    1. Hey Trevor!

      Glad to hear you’ve been giving your inner critic reasons to get vocal… it’s a sure sign you’re dreaming big! So long as you keep executing, your inner critic will always be useful. It’s only when you stagnate that it becomes destructive.

      Keep up the good work 🙂

  10. Peter, have you read: Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment ?

    “…when we lack definite information, we make very poor judgments, and we do so in predictable ways.”

    I would venture to say that experienced entrepreneurs – like experienced firemen, can and should listen to their intuition. Newbies should probably call a friend or ask the audience.

  11. (just found this post and blog – still active?)

    I recognize this situation a lot myself – the battle with the inner voice. I try to convince myself that I’m being too hard on myself, when actually that inner voice should be listened to and acted upon. The difficulty is of course that sometimes it’s hard to know what actions to take to meet and beat inner doubt and criticism (even if the inner voice probably has an answer to that too) plus that it then takes a lot of hard work, energy and will to meet the demands of the inner voice… For my own sake, should get going.

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