How I see it – self doubt could be a good thing

Some days I feel like the strongest person in the world, confident and self-assured, yet other days, I feel the exact opposite. People (and literature) will say that this is normal, human nature and a part of life. Lately, I have been wondering why many of us are conditioned to doubt ourselves rather than questioning this, considering context or seeing all we are achieving.

My initial response to this question was that it is easier to change yourself than those around you. But on reflection, I now feel that this answer only scratches the surface or in more colloquial terms is a cop-out answer. Looking from the outside, I am a strong, independent, and accomplished person yet so often still doubt my abilities.

In my profession, an important part of being an effective nurse is to question, be curious, challenge your thinking and that of others while advocating for those who can not. These actions or traits are the part of my job I value very highly. Furthermore, it is where I feel that I can make a difference, where it is rewarding and where I usually operate. These are not traits I associated with someone who often doubts their ability.

Many times after doing this I am left thinking, I did my best and made what seemed to be the right choice at the time, however, in hindsight, I doubt myself, my actions and my decisions. The interesting part is, in all of the situations (as far as I know), none of my actions or decisions was necessarily questioned or interpreted as doubt or failure by others in the way I sometimes did myself. There seems to be quite a mismatch here, and as we do, I thought of a label for myself – a high functioning self doubter (in jest).

Reflecting on this led me to question my leadership style, I tend to lead by example, get stuck in, be kind and compassionate, help others to be the best that they can be, give the task at hand all of my energy and effort. On the other hand, I can be firm and stand my ground when need be. The people I respect as leaders or am inspired by also share some of the traits I see in myself but don’t appear to have any self-doubt. The wise might say, that I don’t see their self-doubt which led me to consider if all people doubt their actions or decisions at some point in time and try to imagine what life might be like for someone who didn’t ever doubt themselves or their actions.

Much of the doubt or non-doubt could be conditioning, or in a way institutionalization or learned behaviour and in that respect my mind suggests that if this is, in fact, conditioning then self-doubt “should” be able to be undone or removed. My immediate thought was – let’s ignore that self-doubt. On considering this, I imagined what life would be like without questioning myself (which is a form of self-doubt), and I thought that without the ability to question your actions how could you learn or move forward.

After a lot of thought, my conclusion at this time is that we need self-doubt as a regulating mechanism. If I didn’t question myself, how would I learn and improve? One could argue that doubting yourself is questioning yourself and therefore, in my case, something that I value.

With this in mind, my mantra relating to self-doubt has changed. Including reframing self-doubt, moving away from the all-consuming doubt in my abilities and convert this thinking to valuing self-doubt as a tool and part of moving forward.

Watch this space … now I know what I would like to change, I need to figure out how to do it!

How I see it …. reflections on my PhD progress

In my job, one of the most important things in my career has been keeping other people safe, as a nurse, as a mentor and as a teacher. I have always looked out for everyone else, as an educator I help my students to navigate their way through their own study, as a mentor in a youth programme I guide young people to learn life skills with feedback showing that I am competent and capable.

In both of these situations, I have the big picture and I am the guide who is helping others to navigate their way through the quagmire. This week, with around a month to completion of my PhD I have been grappling with some of the same issues my students do. Self-doubt, I have been doubting the quality of my research thus far (four years) and doubting my ability to complete my PhD, in other words questioning my competence and capability.

Many wise colleagues have said obtaining a PhD is not always about just finishing a thesis, it is about the journey you took to get there, showing that you can be an expert in that area and that you are capable of completing research. The problem is when I am immersed in writing it does not feel like the journey is as important as just finishing.

Remembering these comments about the journey triggered me to take a step back and ask myself what I could do to change my doubts. I came to realise that I had been spending 12-16 hours a day writing so that I had time to help out my parents. This meant going back to basics, good sleep, good nutrition and Yoga (which helps the neck and back pain from writing). The thing was, these changes would help me to get back on track but still didn’t fully appease the self-doubt but it did let it take a back seat.

What helped me the most was this morning, at coffee one of my colleagues said, “you can do it, you are doing so well”, “you are almost there”, and I can read a chapter for you if you like. As humans we are quick to judge and critique ourselves and others, to be quite honest, writing a PhD and working in academia requires you to critique yourself and others continually. To have someone encourage and give of themselves without any expectations in return made all the difference and was refreshing.

This has reminded me that progress is not just measured on the finished product, but the journey and I can do a lot of things along the way which can make this run smoothly. Furthermore, encouragement at the right moment in time makes a difference and I plan to ensure that I use these skills to guide others on their academic and life journeys.