There’s no one all-encompassing reason why we experience self-doubt. Like everything that deals with the brain, it’s complex. But most, if not all, of us have had thoughts of self-doubt at one time or another.
Maybe it strikes right before a job interview, or after a crush rejects you. Or perhaps it infringes on your mind as you scroll through social media or dwell on past mistakes. Either way, those thoughts pop up and sometimes cause negative impacts on daily life. However, some psychology research suggests that there are ways to train your mind to ease these thoughts of self-doubt.
What is Self-Doubt?
Self-doubt is “at one level, a specific kind of thought a person has about themselves,” says Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Davidson refers to it as a specific kind of self-narrative. This narrative is associated with the default mode of the brain — the part that is most active during passive tasks that require less focus.
“This default mode is something that is associated with a lot of suffering,” Davidson says. He refers to the default mode as the “monkey mind,” or the part of the mind that is constantly chattering. This is where one can experience the consequences of self-doubt, including anxiety, social isolation and loneliness — overall creating a negative emotional state.
According to Davidson, these consequences can get under the skin and have potent biological implications, though the psychological impact can be the most life threatening.
“Loneliness is more than twofold a risk factor compared to obesity in causing mortality,” says Davidson.
Common self-doubt triggers include past trauma and social comparison. For some people, when they see the success of a peer, it may trigger self-doubt. They may feel they aren’t moving forward in life or feel that their achievements are minimal. People may experience these triggers while scrolling through social media apps, where people often tend to post the highlights of their life.
However, Davidson says there are ways to help treat and control these feelings of self-doubt.
How To Ease Self-Doubt
Because self-doubt is associated with the default mode of the brain, some strategies can help curb, constrain, inhibit and modulate this mode, Davidson says. Changing your self-narrative with mindfulness is one example.
“You can have self-doubt and look at it and say ‘wow there’s my monkey mind again, it’s doing its thing’ and not get sucked into it,” Davidson says. The default mode is connected with other networks within the brain, including the salience network — a group of structures that assign importance to something. We can retrain our brain to put self-doubt on the back burner through treatments like therapy and meditation.
Davidson and the Center For Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison started a non-profit in 2014 called the Healthy Minds Innovations program. The program provides mental health resources via its website or app. The resources help improve your sleep, concentration and overall wellness. You can listen to guided meditations and podcast-style lessons to build mindful skills and participate in activities that will help train your mind. The best part is these resources are entirely free.
“These practices can help us to not so much change our minds from self-doubt to something else,” Davidson says. “But rather, change our relationship to our narrative, so we’re not hijacked by it all the time.”