Make Self-Doubt A Memory


This article first appeared in The Washington Post From The WP Brand Studio.


Many people think the difference between success and failure is a combination of luck, talent and resources. But experts say success depends much more on our complex brain processes and how we harness them. The good news is that success is within our reach.

Research in science, psychology and education shows that self-doubt and fear—powerful impediments to progress—can be overcome with focus, careful practice and knowledge of brain chemistry.

“Gone are the days when you are either born with talent or remain untalented for life,” said Krishna Pendylala, life coach and founder of the ChoiceLadder Institute in Pittsburgh.

Trial and error is not the only teacher, Pendylala said. “We can harness new knowledge about how our brains work and how we make choices. Focusing our attention to certain tasks can actually strengthen our neural circuits over time and make us more capable in executing that task, much like how our muscles can be strengthened.”

Self-doubt Can Be A Thing of the Past

Magnetic resonance imaging and brain mapping show us exactly how the brain’s filters process information, including our thoughts, opinions, beliefs and attitudes—for better or worse. Where doubt is concerned, “these filters create medical, electro-chemical and bio-physical self-fulfilling prophecies. We put the limits on our own potential,” said Andrew Wittman, a mental toughness and leadership expert.

Our brains can change over time, for the better. Knowing that doubt is one of many normal human emotions running through our brains, learning how to manage and transcend any negative feelings is the key to overcoming self-doubt.

Paul Baard, an organizational psychologist at Fordham University in New York, said self- motivation is characterized by persistence in the face of inevitable obstacles and setbacks. He believes humans of all levels of intelligence and ability are naturally wired to pursue goals, and that this inclination “energizes” the drive for achievement.

Therefore, Baard said, overcoming doubt for positive change is best addressed by focusing on a goal.

With goals in mind, psychology research emphasizes the important role your mindset can play in your potential for achievement. “A growth mindset assumes that one can learn, grow and develop over time,” said workplace psychologist Karissa Thacker. “Start out assuming that you are not going to be great at it at first, but that you are going to grow and learn every day.”

Mindsets frame the running account that’s ongoing in people’s heads, said Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. The internal monologue of a fixed mindset is focused on self-judgment, while a growth mindset is more likely to apply positive and negative information to learning and constructive action, Dweck said.

The science of positive psychology tells us that negative thoughts are merely perceptions, and we can play an active role in how we interpret those thoughts.

“Thinking in new ways and trying new things builds new strengths that will increase confidence and progressively, over time replace self-doubt with confidence,” said leadership expert Brian Braudis.

“You can begin to put this science into practice by noticing, intercepting and challenging your negative or limiting thoughts. Don’t allow thoughts to turn into beliefs.”

Joel Ingersoll, psychologist and founder of Take On College, agreed. “Become familiar with these negative personal thinking ‘traps’ and develop a routine through inspirational reading or meditation to immerse yourself in positive thinking and self-reflection every day.” Ingersoll encourages people to challenge themselves “to seek opportunities for personal growth in adverse situations.”

Indeed, a fear of failure can prevent us from progressing, but failure is also part of a healthy path to success. As IBM founder Thomas Watson once said, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

A common element among successful people “is the resilience they exhibited when things weren’t going their way,” said Timothy Bono, an assistant dean and lecturer in psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Instead of allowing setbacks to paralyze them or provide justification to call it quits, they reflect on what they could have done differently and they use that to motivate future success.”

Just as students progress through school and exercise their thinking to build on new concepts and gain expertise in different subjects, learning to overcome doubt and think constructively is also a brain exercise that improves over time.

Achievement is truly possible for everyone, Pendylala said. “Increasing your awareness of your beliefs, conditioning and drives is a fundamental step to enhancing achievement while curbing doubt.”


  • To overcome an insecurity, ask yourself three simple questions:
    • Where did I learn this? Find the origin.
    • How true is it really? Is it fact or assumption?
    • Does this doubt protect me somehow?
  • Doubt functions to protect you from risk and failure. Don’t let doubt keep you from your dreams.
 Sources: Marni Battista, certified professional coach

  • MRIs show us that doubt shuts down half the brain. Empower that unused space and turn on your problem-solving side by asking yourself, how would I solve this problem? Two minutes of cognitive reflection gives your brain time to realign creatively.
 Sources: Andrew Wittman, leadership coach

THE RESEARCH from Strayer that will help reduce Self-doubt:

25% said a sense of purpose guides them forward, in a WP BrandStudio/Strayer survey.

43% said doubt leads to underperformance and negative results.

44% said successful people push forward to achieve their goals, rather than passively proceed.

43% review their goal to see if it needs refining when failure happens.

32% said successful people ignore those who criticize their goals.

42% of respondents said being resilient helps them overcome obstacles.

When you encounter a naysayer, feel resistance or a roadblock suddenly appears in front of you, refer to this article for evidence that it has been done before and inspiration that it can be done again by you!

Use my 10-Minute Leadership Habit Tool to stay on the path of Personal Mastery.

I wish you more than luck!



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