self confidence

When Self-Doubt Sneaks Up on You

self-doubt, question, workshop, retreat

Have you ever doubted yourself?

Of course that's a rhetorical question. Everyone has self-doubt, usually a negative, undermining force that can stop you in your tracks. You get all caught up in your head. You might start ruminating or obsessing. It can get so overblown that you lose touch with reality.

I had an episode of it recently. I was working on a contract developing a training program for health care providers. As part of the development process, I’d deliver the 3-hour training to pilot test the curriculum with trainees and funders.

I'm a pretty confident gal, especially when it comes to training. I’ve been around the block a time or two, and I’m known for being good at what I do. Some might say I’m at the top of my game.

Self-doubt can be kryptonite to your confidence.

Public speaking, workshops

I was kind of surprised when I couldn't shake off the self-doubt I had about my materials and my approach. I was questioning how good my presentation was. Were my slides interesting enough? Would I capture and keep the audience's attention? Would I present the information in an understandable way? Did I have enough interactivity? Would I help people think about how to apply the material? So many questions!!

The venue was also different than I’d anticipated. When I heard “pilot testing,” I thought about 20 people with extended time for discussion and feedback.

Imagine my surprise when I found 100 people in a huge, classroom style auditorium.

Did I mention they were also videotaping it for use in their online learning center?

My bad for not confirming all these details, so I was thrown.

I was also presenting after my friend and colleague of 15 years, a master trainer who has been doing this for as long as I have. Of course he was funny, engaging, informative and professional. That’s why he’s a master!

And his slides were full of cool animations and features mine were lacking.

If self-doubt wasn’t enough, now I had a good dose of slide envy.

My turn.

The first hour of training was dragging by. The group pointed out errors in the slides and had lots of questions. The session wasn’t interactive enough. I was starting to sweat. And I decided to take the break a little early.

One of the funders came rushing to the front of the room as soon as I called the break. I was expecting admonishment.

Instead, he beamed, “Wow, you are an excellent trainer.” He pointed to the trainees:  ‘They are right with you, completely engaged.”

Uh, ok. I was taken aback and pleased by the compliment. But was I really that off in my self-assessment? Others approached me at the break with questions, comments and more good feedback. They were definitely engaged.

The break was over, and I continued with the last 90 minutes of the training. We had the feedback session, which acknowledged the need for more photos in my slides, but otherwise, the comments were positive. Afterward, someone told me she saw my passion for the material come through.

The overall assessment was, “Great training.”

Even with all that positive feedback, a confident, experienced and skillful trainer like me was still influenced by niggling self-doubt.

Self-doubt is a thief that tries to rob your confidence.

But it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

Self-doubt can be a positive and corrective force, providing a mental quality control of sorts.  Self-doubt keeps you in check: you check your facts, check for typos, check your bank account or check that you locked the front door. A pilot recently told me he experiences self-doubt every time he gets ready to land an airplane, and he considers that a good thing!

How can you extract the benefits of questioning yourself while keeping your self-confidence in tact? Here are a few ideas:

Acknowledge it. We all have moments of self-doubt, so be on the lookout. Practice noticing it. The more you can be aware of it, the more likely you’ll be to take the steps to manage it, integrate it into your experience and move on.

Look at all the data. While the feedback from others at the training was positive I was relying too much on my internal feedback and high expectations. I needed to evaluate what was real and what was a product of my imagination.

I used the feedback to improve the presentation for the final draft. I fixed the errors and added a few more pictures.

Know your limits. It makes sense that I would doubt my ability to do fancy animations because, well, I don’t know how. I could spend hours trying to figure it out, but I know it’s not my forte. I’m lucky to have a member of the team to help out with that. Those are true limits to what I can do. Delegating is great.

Look at past successes. Shake self-doubt by thinking about situations where you did a good job. Ask yourself where you’ve done well and look back objectively at times when you’ve achieved success, had good outcomes and things turned out the way you had hoped. These are great reminders that can dispel self-doubt – or at least quiet it a bit.

The flip side of self-doubt

My friend Lisa Braithwaite, another experienced speaker, had a related experience with a training she did recently. Check out her post about the dangers of complacency that come with experience, and what happens when an expert becomes just a little too overconfident.

How do you deal with self-doubt? How can you foil that sneaky thief? Share your insights, experiences and advice below.



Worldwide Linchpin MeetUp Day!

Did you even know there was such a thing?  Well, Seth Godin started the Linchpin Meetups about a  year ago, encouraging those who read the book Linchpin and consider themselves indispensable leaders to meet with like-minded folks and make things happen.  There’s over 1100 worldwide.  I’ve met some remarkable artists, activists and all around nice people at the meetup in Ventura, launched by Linchpins Donna Von Hoesslin and David Pu’u.

In honor of today’s festivities, I’m re-posting an article I wrote a few months back that was inspired by Seth’s writing on fear and the lizard brain.  Enjoy!

Are You Undermining Your Success? 

Taming the Lizard Brain

By Gloria Miele, Optimal Development Coaching

Have you ever thought, “I need to get out of my own way,” or “I’m my own worst enemy?”  Those kinds of thoughts are a sign that you’re having issues with self-confidence, and your fears are working against you.  In his book, The Laws of Success, Napoleon Hill outlined the six fears that can undermine self-confidence:  Poverty, Criticism, Old Age, Ill Health, Loss of Love and Death.  Which ones resonate most to you?

More recently, marketing genius Seth Godin published his latest book, Linchpin (if you don’t know Seth Godin’s work, you can get a great sample from his daily blog at  Seth argues that in today’s world, we need to be indispensable, creative artists who work from the heart – to be Linchpins.  Does this sound familiar?  Successful entrepreneurs are linchpins.  You succeed by being bold, bucking the trends, doing something unique and letting your genius emerge to set you apart in the crowded marketplace.

Seth also talks about the fears that get in the way of being the linchpin.  Certain types of thinking can hold you back from taking a risk and putting yourself on the line.  This thinking is rooted in fear and uncertainty and comes from what Seth calls “the lizard brain.”  The lizard brain is the oldest, most primitive part of the brain, driven by survival and fear.   The lizard brain wants you to be safe, not call much attention to yourself and hide from the crowd.

The lizard brain contributes to the undermining thoughts that stop you in your tracks.  They challenge you, doubt you, and question your abilities.  We all have them, and often we don’t even realized they are there – “Who do you think you are?”  “What will people think?”  “Can I really pull this off?”  “What if I embarrass myself?”  “What if I fail?”

All these questions can hold you up, make you pause, keep you from pursuing your dream.  But remember, those messages in your head are just that – in your head.  These are irrational thoughts not based in reality but generated from the lizard brain that wants you to stay safe, warm and well fed under a rock.

If you’re working from your self-confidence, you keep the lizard brain at bay.  You’ll put yourself out there, take a risk, and act in a self-assured way.  Here are a few ways to fuel your self-confidence:

1.     Use Your Strengths. If you know me at all, you know I’m a strengths zealot.  I love working with people, especially entrepreneurs, to help them identify and leverage their strengths.  Think about it – if you’re playing to your strengths and pursuing your passion, you are coming from a place of confidence, assurance and expertise.  You automatically minimize some of the fear, because you’re in your comfort zone.  It’s a great way to give yourself a self-confidence boost.

2.    Practice. Fear is fueled by the unknown.  If you’re not sure about how things are going to go, you can feel anxious and uncomfortable.  The more you practice, the better you’ll be.  Some people are terrified of public speaking, which in turn causes them to avoid it, and they never are able to practice this skill.  Even a 30-second introduction can send them into a tail spin.  By writing out your introduction and practicing in advance, you’ll be much more prepared.  The more you do it, the more confident you’ll become.

3.     Just do it.  Aside from being one of the most successful and recognizable slogans in advertising history, this directive from Nike’s ad agency applies far beyond reaching your fitness goals.  Sometimes you just need to take the plunge.  Avoid the quest for perfection – it’s unattainable and will stop you from moving forward.  Be good enough.  Let yourself feel your success.  That is what builds your self-confidence.  Here’s a great example where the wish for perfection can stop your progress – video marketing.  If you’re waiting for that “perfect” take, you may never get your video program started.  “I sounded funny.”  “My hair doesn’t look good.”  “Do I really have that many wrinkles around my eyes?”  Do a few takes and upload that video.  We’d all love to see it!

4.    Tame your lizard brain.  By now, you’ve got a good idea of some of the thoughts and motives that hold you back.  It’s important to be aware of the fear but don’t act on it.  Recognize the fear (“Oh, yeah, I’m procrastinating writing this article because I’m caught up in the perfection game.”) but then move beyond it.  No one will be as critical as you are.  Give yourself a break.  Let it go.  Do something big and exciting

Put the lizard in its place.  Start with what you do best and move forward from there.  Post that video. Write that blog post.  Make that sales call.  Be a linchpin!  The more you do, the more confident you’ll become.

gloria-miele-head-shotGloria M. Miele, Ph.D. is a Business Development and Leadership Coach and Victory Circles facilitator in Southern California.  She is passionate about helping others discover and develop their strengths to achieve greater business success.  Sign up for her newsletter at to receive a free tool to optimize your strengths.