how to conquer fear and self doubt

You keep coming up with excuses. Yeah, you know they're excuses, but you can't stop yourself. Because if you don't try, you can't fail, right? And perhaps unsurprisingly to you, you know that these excuses are anchoring you to mediocrity. How fear holds you back. But don't worry, it's not just you. I struggle with them too, and so do most people you know. When people find out I'm a blogger, many tune in. I'm asked about blogging more than any other aspect of my life or work. Friends, acquaintances, and even family members want to know if it's something they could be successful with. They ask questions about domains, platforms, and topics. When I suggest that they start a blog to practice and see where it takes them, most people take the information that I've given them, and politely tell me they will look into it. Then, they don't. This is not a problem unique to would-be bloggers. This is a universal problem that everybody has come up against.

Two Things That Are Holding You Back from Achieving Anything

When I check in with the people who are so eager to pick my brain about blogging, whether it be a month or a year later, most of them have never started a blog. When I ask why not, the responses are overwhelmingly consistent:

  • “I am not very tech savvy”
  • “I'm not a good writer”
  • “I don't know what I'd blog about because I don't have any talents”.

These excuses have two common threads: fear and self-doubt.

1) Fear

When somebody tells me that they can't start a blog because they aren't tech savvy, I hear that they fear failure. When they say they don't think their writing is any good, so they can't possibly put it out there, I hear that they fear the judgement of others. Fear is a healthy emotion. It protects us from putting our hand on hot stoves and getting in cars with strangers. But it can also be incredibly limiting.

2) Self-Doubt

Self doubt is even more damaging to success than fear, because it breeds fear. Self-doubt is the anchor to mediocrity. Think about the most successful person you know. They're smart, but they're probably no more intelligent than you. They're great at what they do, but are no more capable than you. There's one thing that stands between yourself and those super successful people: self-doubt. Self-doubt is the fire extinguisher to passion and progress. It's that little voice that tells you there is no way you can get your business off the ground when you have a great idea, because you aren't smart or talented enough to succeed.

How Excuses Are Just Fear and Self-Doubt in Disguise

Somewhere between conceptualizing this website and taking steps to start it, I began to obsess about logistics. I worried about everything:

  • When I launched the site on my original launch date of February 1, 2015, would I post twice a week, or only once?
  • How many articles would I need to write before I could start my site?
  • Should I focus on one tiny little aspect of online entrepreneurship or the broader topic?

People would ask how Unsettle was coming along, and my answer was usually along the lines of: “I'm having a hard time thinking up a name”, or “I read somewhere I needed three months worth of content so I'm working on that”. I was researching, learning and listening to the advice of popular bloggers about what I needed to do before launching, without taking steps to actually do it.It finally occurred to me that my launch date, so far in the future, was an avoidance tactic made from fear.  During my epiphany, I realized that I was telling myself that I would launch when I knew more, and had the tools to do it properly. Despite my stand against self doubt and my knowledge that I am just as smart and capable as anybody, I doubted that I'd be successful. I feared my launch because I feared what would happen if I failed, and I knew I could not fail at this. This was my future. It was safe to be “working on it”, but the launch would push me out of my comfort zone. I'm glad I came to this realization, but many people never will. The truth is, you don't need to spend six weeks doing “research” or “getting ready” before starting a business, a blog, or working toward a goal because the best learning happens when you're in the trenches. You don't need to wait until you have that piece of equipment to start working out. Your body weight is the best tool for strength training. The best teacher in the world won't make you a good photographer, writer, or web designer. Practice will.

3 Steps to Overcoming Fear and Self Doubt and Getting Work Done

When you identify what is holding you back, you can address these very real issues and then put them to rest. If you read this article without action, you'll fall back into the habit pattern of fear and self doubt, so think of one thing that you have wanted to do but have been avoiding. Maybe it's starting a business, beginning a new meal plan, or creating a budget. Try these three steps to overcoming these sticking points:

1) Address your fear and self-doubt What excuses have you been using as an avoidance tactic? Have you been telling yourself you can't budget because you don't have a regular paycheck? That you shouldn't start that business until you've “have more time”? Write down the feelings that are driving these avoidance tactics. Are you scared that you are going to fail? Do you doubt yourself? Use Tim Ferriss‘ tactic of writing down the worst things that can happen if you actually start right now. Rate these things on a pain scale of zero (wouldn't have an effect on your life long term) to 10 (would have a profound, negative effect on your life). Then, write down the worst thing that could happen if you didn't make this change or start this project. Rate these outcomes on a pain scale of the same. What could be the most painful – if you didn't do this project, or if you did? I'm willing to bet that the outcomes of not moving forward are worse than if something went wrong. I did this for Unsettle, and found the worst that could happen if I started it would be that nobody would read it. That is about a 2 on the pain scale. I would have wasted a small amount of money that I spent on the domain, and quite a bit of time, but it wouldn't bankrupt me, cause a divorce or really do anything to my emotional state besides bruise my ego. The pain would be far greater if I didn't start the website and get on with the project. I would have to stay in an office job for the rest of my life, handcuffed to a desk, working to make somebody else rich. Maybe I'd break free, only to start a business that isn't truly in line with my passions or skills. I wouldn't be able to give back to the world and help people, and I wouldn't be able to reach more people with my message. The pain of all of this would be around a 7. Clearly, not starting the project is far more painful than starting it.

2) Spend 1 hour procrastinating You know your excuses are just a procrastination method, right? Every time you say you don't have time for something. Every hour you spend “researching” instead of acting – it's all a procrastination tactic. But hey, we all need to procrastinate sometimes, to indulge ourselves if only to prove that our excuses were useless and wrong. So spend an hour procrastinating. Wallow in your excuses. Spend your hour “researching” or getting advice or doing whatever it is that is distracting you. You only need one hour to take the first step. One hour might even be generous. Yes, you need more than one hour of research to build a successful business, but to take the first step to figure out how to start an eCommerce store should take no more than an hour. Then, take the leap. Start something. Read An Insanely Simple 3 Step Guide for Killing Procrastination. Then…

3) Turn your fear into a motivator In 2011, a study was done with 120 CEOs on the effect of fear on taking action. The results were a mixed bag: some of the participants of the study let fear hold them back from success, while others used fear as a motivator to take opportunities. If you don't take the opportunity and actually start something, you've failed. Simple as that. So turn your fear of failure into a motivator to act on your ideas.

4) Take the first step Now that you've addressed what is holding you back and have spent your last excuses, you need to take the first step. Right now. Do something to bring you closer to your goal. Buy the domain. Start the website. Reserve the Twitter handle and Facebook page name. List your product on Etsy, Amazon, or eBay. Pitch your idea. Don't leave this article until you have taken one key step that you can't turn back from. If you enjoyed this post, there's more where that came from. Click here to subscribe for free, exclusive content and notification of new posts straight to your inbox.

8 thoughts on “Two Things Anchoring You to Mediocrity (and How to Conquer Them)

  1. Melissa says:

    Hey! I really liked this article and a lot of it resonated with me. I’ve been tossing the idea around of creating a home improvement/DIY blog for awhile, and I think today is the day I’m going to buy and reserve everything for it. Thanks for the push!

    • Sarah says:

      I’m SO glad that it struck a chord with you. Please let me know what your blog is when you get it up and running!

  2. Chris says:

    Another great post, Sarah.
    As an engineer, I tend to fall into analysis paralysis as my preferred method of holding myself back, and I do know that it’s a fear of failure that’s at the root of it.
    I’m proud to say that I actually managed to start my first blog 6 weeks ago. I decided that just taking action was what was most important. I don’t need to be an expert in everything before I even start.

    • Sarah says:

      Hey Chris,
      I’ve seen your blog – awesome and I’m glad you were able to overcome it. You’re so right in not needing to be an expert in everything before you even start.

  3. Colleen says:

    Hey Sarah,
    Great post. Thanks! I have been reading about getting three months of content together before starting as well. I was thinking that I need to stop trying to post regularly (at my personal blog) while doing everything else in my life as well as setting up my new site and working on forming an everyday writing habit. It would really feel good to have a few months of posts in my back pocket before starting.
    But you’re saying to go ahead and start even when you’re just figuring all this stuff out. LOL! I’m not sure which tactic to choose, although, I guess I started with the ‘jump right in’ plan already.
    Thank you for calling us out to just get moving, though. I can definitely be a ‘researcher’.

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you Colleen 🙂
      I think it just really depends on what your goal is. For me, this was a huge avoidance tactic. I personally don’t think you need months of posts in your back pocket before you launch. In fact, Jon Morrow (one of the most successful and well known bloggers in the world) teaches his students to not write AT ALL for their blogs in the first few months.
      There are different paths to the same destination but delaying and delaying just so you feel good by having a few months of posts might be just a way of your brain sabotaging yourself. You know?

      • Colleen says:

        I totally know what you mean. I’m not one to delay so much as to bite off more than I can chew. 😉
        Having said that, I don’t want to promise good regular content and then not be able to deliver. Right now I’m trying to find a balance that will both make a successful blog – something that will help a lot of people and, someday, pay – and allow me to meet all my other responsibilities.
        It’s a tough balancing act for everyone, I know. Right now, I’m just sacrificing some sleep to get it done. 😀

  4. Arthur (Arth) Strout says:

    Good Day to You Sarah,
    I see that the comments here are almost a year old.
    I hope that doesn’t mean you have stopped, with a wonderful message like this one.
    I’m a recently retired Maine state employee.
    I have started, failed and tried again for years online.
    Never really got anywhere.
    As retirement age approached, I few things became apparent.
    I couldn’t really afford to retire (without really tightening my belt).
    No matter how long I worked, I never would.
    I’ve learned some things that can be helpful from my work experience.
    If I do nothing, that dream could never be realized.
    My morning walks with my 18 year old Husky mix is something I thought would never happen.
    I never dreamed she would still be with me into retirement.
    No one can pay me enough money to miss those walks.
    My retirement project happens on my own time.
    I’ll never look back.
    Happy Holiday!
    My Best to You

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