Overcoming Self-doubt

What a world we are living in today. The many changes due to pandemic have affected us physically, emotionally and mentally. This is beyond captioning in words along with the struggles, the painful losses, and the unexpected and unpredictable changes. Here we are now, left with many unanswered questions bringing more uncertainties, anxieties, and doubts. Some of us are hopeful but some doubt if and when we can get back to our normal lives. To survive these hard times the fighters in us want to be the best "us," both in health and mental state.

In this article, I reflect about self-doubt and how it can prevent us from being the best versions of ourselves. External incidents can make us question ourselves - am I equipped to handle this situation? Internal reflection on our own experiences, goals and dreams can make us question ourselves - is this really possible for me? 

In this article I explore important topics about self-doubt
  • What is Self-doubt?
  • The different forms of self-doubt
  • Impostor Syndrome
  • Reasons for Self-doubt
  • Self-doubt vs. Self-awareness
  • How does this affect your career change?
  • Self-doubt among Software engineers and Coding
  • Tips for Overcoming Self-doubt
You can learn about self-doubt. You can recognize the different forms and understand reasons why it happens. You can learn effective strategies for dealing with it. Approach self-doubt by recognizing it, understanding it and conquering it with a growth mindset as you unleash your best self.

What is self-doubt?

The classic definition per the dictionary : "a lack of faith in oneself: a feeling of doubt or uncertainty about one's abilities, actions, etc" 

Do you ever find yourself asking any of these questions to yourself:

  • Do I really want to do this?
  • Can I really do this?
  • Am I sure about this decision?
  • Am I good enough to finish this goal?
  • Wait a minute, is it the right time? Maybe tomorrow is better or next month or next year for me?
Those are all self-doubt. Recognize that "doubt", in general, can be a positive effect. Are you asking a healthy question or validating a tough decision? Does asking the question strengthen your commitment or result in a better outcome?

Self-doubt can be seen in these different forms:

  1. Self-doubt can be a warning signal If the situation has many unknowns, that can feel paralyzing and leave you in unsolved loop of questions.
  2. Self-doubt can lead to freezing
    If the situation is perceived to be a threat, self doubt can cause you to stop and flee from the problem or a situation
  3. Self-doubt can take the form of chronic, inaccurate self-judgments
    Even after conquering a situation and gaining success, are you unable to accept your accomplishments? Do you feel like a fraud or undeserving of that success? This might be called "impostor syndrome"
Self-doubt affects all of us. Self-doubt can place us in a fight-or-flight response. If we fight, we might not get the outcome we wanted. If we flee, we're left with feelings of failure because we did not even try.

Impostor Syndrome

This is a common phenomenon in the tech industry. When you are surrounded by smart people who seem to know more than you, it is easy to feel self-doubt. Impostor Syndrome is so common that many big companies make recognizing and combating it an important part of onboarding new engineers.

From Psychology Today

The impostor syndrome is the inability to accept and claim accomplishments no matter what level of success, even with hard-won achievements because there is an irrational fear that you don't deserve the success or maybe you are just a fraud. Outward signs of accomplishment are seen as just good luck or good timing.
An "impostor" feels as if she or he has been deceptive and has made others think he or she is more intelligent or skilled than they really are. While this is true for narcissists who don't necessarily have the resume to back up the grandiosity, it is not true for hard-won success. 
To help overcome this, first accept that it is a normal way to feel, especially for new engineers. Reflect on your successes and don't compare yourself to others. Different engineers have different strengths and experience and specialties. If you focus on others it is easy to see their strengths and ignore their weaknesses. Instead, focus on yourself and on continually improving your skills.

Potential Reasons for Experiencing Self-doubt

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves why we are feeling self-doubt:
  • Is it about how you perceive the current situation? Are you looking at it as a threat or a challenge?
  • Is it about an insecurity or a trigger to a perceived weakness that you think you have?
  • Is it about fear of failing?
  • Is it about risk tolerance?
  • Is it about non-ideal results after committing to a decision?
  • Is it about fear of the unknown?
  • Is it about not having confidence and trusting yourself?
  • Is it about perceiving lack of ability and information to get through?
  • Do you not feel prepared about the situation?
  • Do you feel like you do not have the background?
  • Is it a cultural side-effect?
  • Is it an excuse?
  • Is it because it is easier to see others' accomplishments versus the actual struggles?
Ask yourself some of these questions as you narrow down your understanding of your self-doubts. Self-doubt has a negative connotation, but a concept that it is similar but healthier version of it is self-awareness. How can we pivot self-doubt to self-awareness?

Self-doubt vs. Self-awareness

Learning the difference can help shift our perspective from a hindering doubt to a helpful reflection and self-assessment.

Self-doubt: As described above, believing you are unable to achieve something you are actually able to which could lead to self-defeat

Self-awareness: Assessing where you are in the situation and recognizing areas for improvement. Knowing what is within your current reach and what you need to learn more about.

A healthy self-awareness is very important to be able to not only cope with the situation but also to learn more about yourself and how you can handle that type of situation better for further self-growth. You focus on things that are objective and constructive about a situation and are able to translate it to healthy assessment of yourself. 

How does self-doubt affect your career change?

If you are in the category of wanting to start a change or transition to a career that you are not as familiar with as your previous career, self-doubt can affect you in the following ways in your career transition:
  • You might be starting a very scary journey.
  • Even if you see many other people succeed you might wonder if you're different
  • Everyone feels self-doubt, especially learning to program and entering the field as a software developer
  • This is might a new skill or unknown territory and you may not feel you have what it takes to be successful
Self-doubt is common in the work environment and among software engineers, whether they are early engineers and highly experienced ones. I have seen it set back talented engineers and hinder them from bringing their full potential, affecting how they try and solve problems and their execution of their projects.

In the context of tech and software engineering, here are more specific self-doubts on coding:

  • Am I good enough to learn how to code?
  • Do I need to be a math wizard?
  • Why does everyone else seem like they're so good at this?
  • How come others don't seem to have issues?
  • Why do I feel so stuck all the time?
  • Why do I feel like I'm not progressing?
  • Is it supposed to feel this difficult?
  • What if I don't know what to do next?
Again, these are common fears that many people experience. It is normal to feel challenged or stuck. It is normal to wonder if you belong. In my experience, if you enjoy coding and you're committed to improving, then you should not worry too much.

Tips for Overcoming Self-doubt

  • Acknowledge that you are in this state when you are in this state (know when you are feeling self-doubt)
  • Acknowledge that it is a normal way to feel and that your self-doubts don't have to control you
  • Spend time figuring out the root cause of your particular doubts
  • Once you figure out the reason, say it out loud and write it. Tracking it in your notes and a calendar will help you recognize how often it happens and the reasons on why it happens
  • If the cause is fear of the unknown, then learn as much as you can about the situation or how to get the results you want to achieve. Once the "unknown" becomes "known" it can feel much less scary.
  • If the cause is fear of failing, then analyze what that failure would mean and how it would affect you. Often we're scared of failing even when that failure has no negative consequences. Accepting failing and moving forward is a strong growth mindset.
  • Train yourself with new reactions. When you recognize that you are feeling self-doubt, don't panic! Take a deep breath and ask yourself what have you done before to deal with it. If your reaction is consistent but causes you to feel failure, maybe it is time to explore new insights and shift your perspective on how you are assessing the situation
  • Have a support system e.g. a friend or group you can trust and can help you see the situation more clearly or remind that you been in similar situation before
  • Set a goal and have a vision. Try to be specific on your goals e.g. add a timeline or specific results you would like to achieve
  • After you have set a goal and a vision, it is important to also focus on the journey itself. Go back to a happy place e.g. when you were a child where you do explore for the sake of exploration and not necessarily for the sake of achieving
  • Recognize when your assessment is inflating the negativity of the situation. Try to be objective. Try to focus on the positive side, especially when the negativity causes unnecessary anxieties and fear.
  • Condition yourself. Training, training, and more training! Grit, hard work and dedication along with execution will yield results.

In Closing

Don't let self-doubt get the best of you, especially when learning a challenging new skill like programming. Programming is hard, but with hard work and perseverance it can be mastered.


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