IT'S TIME TO MOVE PAST YOUR SELF-DOUBT, 'CAUSE YOU'VE GOT SHIT TO DO
7 MIN READ
Sas Petherick is a coach and mentor who works with people to cultivate self-belief. She helps women create lasting change by guiding them to a deeper understanding of their whole self, the patterns in their life and the relationships they have.
After the sudden passing of her mum and the breakdown of her marriage, Sas let loose, forging ahead until she realised her "pendulum had swung from 'Woman Curled Up in a Ball', to 'Most Likely to Skinny Dip' for half a dozen years of exhausting, brilliant fun." She was constantly searching for the next high but it wasn't until she stopped trying to outrun vulnerability and uncertainty that she started to heal.
She began writing, gave up drinking, took up meditating and woke up to all the ways she was betraying herself. She discovered coaching soon after and says, "it felt like coming home".
Sas spoke to us about the crazy feeling of self-doubt, why it plagues us, and what we can do to shift our thinking to a more positive track.
Let's go ...
Self-doubt comes about when an experience triggers an alarm in us. It's a combination of thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, memories of the past, and projections into the future – they all create this subjective and unique sense of unrest when we're faced with a psychological risk.
Self-doubt is a fast-moving train and it can often feel like we've been taken over by it. It's our smart brain trying to protect us, telling us there is danger ahead: these are all the things that could go wrong and you need to be aware of them.
Some people hear a critical voice, which is quite common. Some people picture the future and imagine a worse-case scenario: "I'm going to end up living under a bridge if I get this presentation wrong!" I personally experience self-doubt as a gut clutch – a heaviness in my belly and this overwhelming feeling of dread or panic.
These unconscious responses and protective behaviours form part of what I call the five Ps.
Procrastination: This can be super productive if you iron all the things or bake. But it's just the activity that we engage in to avoid whatever triggered the risk.
Perfectionism: We wait until something is perfect or until we're ready, which we usually never get to because we're always finding fault with what we've created. Perfectionism is really a freeze response.
Passivity: This is the way we numb ourselves from discomfort – eating, drinking, shopping, netflix – anything where nothing is required of us. We're just consuming. It's a shadowy comfort.
Proving yourself: When we work really hard and don't enjoy the process or celebrate success. It's feeling like you need to earn your place. You might feel like you're waiting to be found out or that you don't belong. It can often tip over into an imposter-complex type of experience.
Paralysis: It's all the ways we hide – wanting to sleep or feeling really lost, confused, or like you're not able to act or make a decision. Some people experience a brain fog and feel like they're watching from the sidelines. Paralysis can be a "compare and despair" feeling, like you'll never be as good as that person.
The causes of self-doubt are embedded in our memories. To understand why we experience it, we need to look at what causes the feeling in the first place and create ways to address it. If you can slow down and feel your self-doubt without going into the 5Ps (which are just nuance responses of fight, flight or freeze, triggered by our frontal cortex – a neurological response), you can take care of yourself in a nurturing way, rather than a damaging, judgemental way.
Feelings of uncertainty are natural and entirely human. Ask yourself: "what are the expectations I have, and am I trying to achieve an outcome that is beyond my control?" Discernment can be helpful, too, so look at your decision options in a way that supports you without being critical: Is this my best work? Is there is a way I can feel more comfortable? Am I blowing this out of proportion?
Try to find a safe place to share how you feel. It might seem counterintuitive, but it will help you release tension and understand more about what you're feeling, rather than trying to escape it. Self-doubt needs silence to survive. It needs to be secretive and live in the shadows, so when we talk about it we can create resilience and make real changes.
But be careful of outsourcing your decisions. When self-doubt tells you, "this could go wrong, you're not capable of making this decision," it's tempting to look to others for answers. It can be helpful to get a different perspective, but it can also mean you end up absorbing someone else's self-doubt about the situation. And even if you remove yourself from the decision-making process and do what someone else tells you to do, things can still go wrong. It can end up being very dispiriting.
What I have found is that we have a committee of decision makers in our minds – people in our past or people in our lives right now – so whenever we are trying to make a decision, what we are really doing is consulting with all those people in our minds.
When I was thinking about leaving my corporate job eight years ago, all I heard in my mind was my grandmother's voice saying, "you have to be financially independent, never be dependent on a man, keep yourself nice". So, I had this really conflicting voice in my mind from someone who was a really important part of my life growing up. She wanted me to be independent, but not too nice or successful. It felt like I was going to be screwed both ways. I love her to bits but she was deeply unqualified to have a say on whether or not it was the right thing to do.
One of the gifts of self-doubt and working on figuring out what we are trying to protect ourselves from is that we can find a deeper understanding of our own psychology and our own decision-making process.
The work I do is about making meaning from self-doubt. A lot of us are a bit frightened of what we we might uncover about ourselves when we really think about what's at play. There is an astonishing number of women who have had trauma in their childhood and this can be anything from a really difficult divorce of their parents, to sexual and emotional abuse, to bullying. That trauma is often at the root of self-doubt.
As little people we made sense of the world in a very different way. So, acknowledging this and knowing your past is still part of your story can bring a ton of peace. You're not alone and it doesn't have to define you. It can be incredibly heartening knowing that when you put something into the world – your heart, work or creativity – and have a horrible feeling in your stomach that somebody is going to say "you are not allowed to do that", it's because you've experienced something like that in your past. I have found we don't ever really become free of self-doubt but different things will trigger it.
The best thing to say to someone who's experiencing self-doubt is to acknowledge that what they're feeling is totally valid. It can be as simple as saying "I hear you", and letting them know you are holding space for them.
While our natural response is to say, "no that's not true, you've got this, you are amazing", what can sometimes happen is it reinforces their feeling of being an imposter. Instead, allow them to breathe into that moment without feeling they have to justify your response.
If you're a leader, it is really important to take time to have one-on-one conversations. Often these casual "check-in" chats are the meetings that get deferred first, but when this happens it sends the message to your staff that their wellbeing is not as important as their output. This is death for trust.
When I'm working with leadership teams I ask them: "How important is it that you have staff that believe in themselves?" If all you're interested in is good productivity, you miss the opportunity to mentor, lead and encourage belief in people. Without it, you have no loyalty and very little camaraderie.
In a research study commissioned by Google a few years ago, they found that the number one aspect of a high performing team is psychological safety. This at the core of my work: how you can create psychological safety for yourself – and feel able to be yourself – challenge the rules, take risks and hold space while you're figuring stuff out. If you can create this for yourself, you can pass it on to your team. And that's when the magic happens.
Read more from Sas and follow her on instagram.
Interviewed by Dee Behan
FOLLOW ALONG ON THE 'GRAM