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Naomi Simson on how to manage self-doubt and get on with leading your business – StartupSmart

Naomi Simson

Every journey – no matter how long and hard – starts with a first step. There is much more to establishing an enterprise than taking a step and just having unbounded energy. Energy is not enough to sustain you or grow your business.

Uncertainty finishes more business ideas than lack of talent does. If your mind tells you things like “I’ll never get started” or “other businesses will out-compete me”, the words you use will define your reality. Your self-doubt will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes it is worth reading other people’s words (if your own are failing you). It is why ‘inspiring quotes’ are everywhere in social media.

All of us are a little unsure of ourselves, some might even be insecure. Even the most overtly self-confident person is not that way all the time – we are human. Being mentally strong will help you in moments of self-doubt and worry.

If you find you are questioning yourself over and over again, here are a few ideas to help you quieten that busy brain of yours so you can get on and do the things that need to be done.

Give that insecurity a hug

Not all insecurity can be bad for you. In fact if you embrace it you could use it as a competitive force to propel yourself forward.

Look at it, talk to it – and then prove it wrong. You could stare it down or give it a hug. A study titled “Self-confidence and performance: A little self-doubt helps” (published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise journal in 2010) found that people who are a little unsure of themselves performed better compared with people who are confident in their skills.

This is a matter of preserving your energy. You may well use the energy that you are putting into your insecurity to overcome it. For instance, if you are worried about an upcoming pitch, spend the energy practising. Harness your insecurity.

Get the microscope out

There is what you think and what you feel – and neither might be reality – and then there is the truth. When you find you are taking yourself very seriously, examine if it is the ‘truth’ or just your version of it.

Get out the microscope and look at the facts. Are they really facts – or just your viewpoint? Your brain is extremely powerful and it will convince you of almost anything it wants to – this is the time to remind yourself of the bigger picture. Ask yourself: “What is the real evidence that this won’t work?” Then ask yourself: “What evidence or experience do I have that it might work?” If you don’t believe yourself, grab that notebook and write down your answers – and review over and over again until it is a problem no more.

Have a look down the rabbit hole

I know some people who worry so much they almost don’t do anything. But where does this fear come from? You might read 100 stories about successful entrepreneurs but then you read one bad story and that is the one you remember. I have noticed that business journals (and I’ve spoken to the editors regarding this) in their email updates always lead with the worst business stories they have – ‘Iconic Australian brand goes into administration after 90 years’ etc. While gloom and doom might get people reading the articles, most entrepreneurs, when they see such articles, compare themselves to the people in the article, perhaps leaving them insecure and vulnerable, or perhaps a little wiser as to the potential causes of such a calamity. When you find yourself second-guessing yourself all the time, ask: “What’s the worst thing that could really happen?” If you make a mistake, is it catastrophic or is it just a life lesson?

Observe the way you feel

The way you feel plays a major role in how you think and behave. Anxious feelings can fuel doubtful thoughts and put you off your game. Not everyone believes that they can regulate the way they feel. Eckhardt Tolle in his book ‘The Power of Now’ explores this at length. Think about it this way: what if you had the power over how you respond to a set of circumstances? What if you were driving to work and some other driver started honking and yelling at you. Until that moment you had been quite happy listening to music and planning the day. What would happen if, instead of yelling back, you simply smiled, acknowledged them gracefully and went back to what you were doing? What if you did not ‘engage’? This is a simple example of your power over your reactions (and emotions).

It takes practice. But it is an amazing experience when you master it, when you know that you have the power to respond and control your world. Your headspace is the same. Sometimes we will see a set of circumstances and our automatic response is fear. What if you were able to acknowledge the fear and look at those same circumstances in a different light? What would be a different point of view? I saw this with budgeting. If you set the budget high and people don’t achieve it, they feel that they have not achieved – but if you set a budget that is achievable (and realistic) and people achieve it, they feel like winners. The actual result might be the same – but the benchmark was different.

The point is the brain, as powerful as it is, can also generate emotions – at will (actors do this all the time). Your job is to watch and observe what your brain is doing. This is not about trying to control it, but merely observing it.

Then you may be able to review how your emotions influence your choices and the decisions you make. If you are feeling happy you might take more risks, for instance. If your anxiety does spiral out of control, calm your body and your mind by taking deep breaths, going for a walk or distracting yourself with mundane tasks. Don’t believe that short-term discomfort is a reason to give up.

Make a list

The first thing on your list (or an online list application like Trello board – the great thing about such cloud-based applications is you can have them on all your devices and share them with specific groups of people) may well be to ‘make a list’ – then at least by the time you finish writing the list you can tick something off. See, a sense of achievement will help. It’s funny how even when you write things down it’s as if you are giving your brain a bit of a break. I worry often that I will forget a detail – I have an impeccable filing system for correspondence. But if ever I am feeling overwhelmed I make a list. I also take notes – endlessly. After every single pitch I’ve ever sat in I write the notes up immediately.

I don’t want to forget a detail. In fact one of the reasons I started writing my blog was because I was learning so much and I did not want to forget it. So I would write a post on what I had learned or who I had met. I use my blog as an ancillary brain. It means that I can relax and stop worrying that I am going to forget important things.

Give yourself a talking to

I know every time that I go on stage I have the potential of embarrassing myself. However, this is not what I tell myself. I literally tell myself that I know I can count on myself to do the work and be there for the audience and that I know why I’m there. Negative thoughts will distract you from your performance. So rather than allow your inner monologue to drag you down, stay focused on the present.

This is an excerpt from Naomi Simson’s forthcoming book, Ready to Soar, which will be available in May.

This article was first published on SmartCompany.

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