In a world craving for security and certainty, doubting (yourself) is an unwelcome but inescapable reality. It brings fear of the unknown, negativity and paralyzing thoughts. But it doesn’t have to spell disaster. What if doubt could make you even stronger and wiser?
Since the dawn of time, humans have been wired to live in their happy bubbles, each to its safe place, surrounded by familiar things and people. But we have also been curious by nature and inquisitive. We instinctively crave certainty and safety, yet we often wish or do the opposite. We have the desire to question and challenge the boundaries we set ourselves, or the ones set by others. By doing so, we often feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and fearful in our bubbles.
Our dual nature makes us prone to an existence driven by fear, paradox, and filled with actions we take to escape the elephant in the room: doubt. We might not recognize the influence doubt plays in our choices and decisions, and we might not even hold it responsible for our actions, but it is there. And it’s not going to live us alone. So we better do something about it, right?
If you feel conflicted or indecisive, insecure or negative, you have every right to be. We all have bad days and feelings we’d rather toss aside. But don’t call the doctors or psychologists yet – it might just be your mind trying to tell you something. Doubt is a normal part of your life, and it can show your mind a thing or two about taking the next steps forward. It sounds counterintuitive, but the solution is not to overcome or kill any doubt you have, but to embrace it once and for all to your benefit.
Doubt can be a powerful ally. It can bring the very thing you need to embrace your true self, begin your journey to personal growth, open your eyes to new possibilities, and choose the life best suited for you. And it can make you smarter, too. Here’s why.
Doubt helps you question the direction of your life
Take it as an opportunity to change the path you are on or confirm your current beliefs and actions. Doubt can help you rewrite your life story only if you care enough to listen to its voice. It can ask a lot of questions that, although uncomfortable at first, can add a spring in your step later on:
“Am I on the right path? Am I happy with my life? Do I need to change anything?
What’s the best/worst thing that could happen if I do X or Y?
Can I do something better or differently?”
Instead criticizing yourself and hiding under the blanket, trust your instincts and answer doubt’s calling. Are you ok with the status quo, or is it time for a change?
Becoming reflective, asking for help, and rethinking your life are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage and authenticity. You can finally tap into your subconscious mind and dig deeper to find whether your doubtful thoughts and feelings are well founded or not. Doubt brings the best opportunity for change. Think of it as a crossroads in your life, a defining moment when you get to ask the questions you fear the most and choose whether you need to continue on a new path.
Doubt deepens your knowledge of yourself, your values and the world you live in
Only by questioning themselves and their surroundings humans can get closer to life’s truths and their innermost desires. This is what French philosopher René Descartes meant when he said:
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” René Descartes
Paradoxically, doubt can help you achieve the things you want the most – including the need for safety and certainty! – by revealing your true thoughts on the subject. Want to know what you believe? Want to find out how you think about something, or someone? Question facts and things, and test assumptions as much as possible.
Ask the right questions and deepen your knowledge. This way, doubt not only paves your way to self-discovery, where you get to know what lies underneath. It makes you more intelligent and prepared for life.
Doubt can lead to wisdom and truth, as in the words of another French philosopher, Pierre Abelard, who agreed with Descartes:
“The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting, we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.” Pierre Abelard
Next time doubt seeps into your mind, choose to use it as a learning and growing opportunity. You should feel empowered and infinite wiser at noticing the struggles and contradictions in the world, shaking the pillars of knowledge once in a while and being able to find out things about yourself that you wouldn’t have otherwise. It is within your grasp. Or, as US thinker George Iles said:
Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom. George Iles
Doubt makes you capable of handling the uncertainty of the future
Humans would not be able to live their lives freely if it wasn’t for the understanding and somewhat acceptance of the unknown. What is the future holding for each of us? We don’t know, yet we continue to make choices daily and live our lives in the best way we can in the absence of a certainty. Thank doubt for that.
Doubt reminds us that we don’t have final definite answers, that there are infinite other scenarios, but we still have to make a choice and come up with our scenario. Yes, doubt can make you reach the decision you need to make to address your future, and better equip yourself in the face of uncertainty.
Next time when you feel confused about the future, allow that confusion and doubt to question your current situation and come up with options to move forward. It is ok to be uncertain, but it is not ok to become completely immobilized. You have to step up and handle whatever comes next. Make a choice.
Remember: What’s the best/worst thing that could happen?
It is ok to doubt yourself and your future, and it’s healthy to give it a try should you want to gauge where you’re at, and where you’re going. We are all living under the same umbrella of an uncertain future, and doubting does put things into perspective.
Allow doubt and uncertainty to show you what’s possible. Invite the unexpected. It is the best thing you can do to create your true future-self and thrive in a new environment, whatever it may be. Sometimes chaos and uncertainty are necessary (cue the below famous quotes):
“If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.” Tom Peters
“Madness is the result not of uncertainty but certainty.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Doubt brings out your creative and spontaneous self
“The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt,” wrote American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath in her journal.
If doubt usually triggers anxiety and criticism, self-doubt can stop us from creating, finishing and letting our work see the light of day. As we grow old, self-doubt feels natural, while unleashing creativity brings unexpected results. It becomes an uncomfortable, scary step to take (what would others think?). It might be so, but doubt does not have to be responsible for killing the genius inside. Forget Plath’s words for a moment. Doubt can fuel creativity.
If some people have a hard time living with doubt, and usually the most organized and rational types do, there is the creative personality type that thrives on the unexpected. These creatives are open to change and ambiguity, and everything in between. They don’t mind doubting themselves and the future, in fact, doubt brings an expression of their deepest feelings and thoughts through their art, and they certainly enjoy a deeper level of creativity.
Being creative is being able to express and re-invent yourself. Great artists and writers believe that mystery is part of this world. In a world of rigid rules, systems and precise answers, the creatives welcome doubt as the disruptive force that marks their best work and keeps their creative juices flowing. They successfully overcome their self-doubt (the enemy, in Plath’s words) and turn it into a pot of gold instead.
Daredevils, innovators, and those usually challenging authority are a great example of people who have perfected the art of living with uncertainty, change and anxiety. These people see doubt in a positive way and are happier and excited when life hands them challenges, rather than validating their every move.
Perhaps it’s time to interpret doubt in a more positive way and adopt a more spontaneous and creative attitude. Whether you have the personality of a creative type or not, you can make inroads in seeing doubt as a catalyst to creative self-expression. Doubt does not necessarily attract ‘wrong’; it can mean ‘different.’
You don’t have to rebel against your ‘safe’ nature and trump every rule in the book to make a point. It’s enough to understand that always being right, inflexible and fearful stand in the way of accessing other more creative and fulfilling parts of yourself. A healthy dose of doubt can help you realize just what you’ve been missing from your life all along.
You don’t have to become the happy hippie person or change careers to enjoy a more creative side of yourself either. Start exploring other things besides your existing world and allow a bit of mystery and novelty in your life now and then. Enroll in a new course, take up a hobby, or do something adventurous (if not extreme if you can handle it, of course).
Push your limits, challenge yourself, and thank doubt for the voice within yourself that says: “Can I do this? Should I go for it?” Yes, you can! Prove yourself!
Doubt makes you more tolerant, humble and open-minded
Doubt does not only deepen our horizons, challenges our limits or makes us ponder the future; it has the power to open our eyes to new cultures, new possibilities, new worlds altogether. I believe this is the most powerful attribute doubt has to offer. By doubting and questioning, we grow as a species and expand our choices. We find a way to put our instincts to good use.
Rejoice in the alternatives and options available to you. When you doubt one thing, you can try another solution. You can put your doubt to work. You don’t have to be consumed by fear or hopelessness. There is always a way forward. If you doubt your ability to be good at one task, don’t feel bad. You have many other unexplored avenues and talents you can pursue, and you can always better yourself. If you doubt the so-called conventional wisdom, simply try a new point of view. If you doubt traditional therapy, why not give a shot to an alternative remedy?
A healthy dose of doubt teaches you humility and altruism and saves you from turning into an arrogant, egoistic version of yourself. Without doubt present in our lives, pride and vanity will overrule humanity if not kept in check. Doubt can make sure overconfidence doesn’t inflate your ego to an alarming level. An inflated ego spells disaster for your capacity to learn, to be respectful of others’ beliefs, and stay humble. Like it or not, you need doubt in your life to gauge your ego.
See doubt as a door open to other ways of thinking and living, other beliefs, other possibilities. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to take everything in the world for granted just to satisfy your need for certainty and safety. The authority figures, the experts, the preachers and the teachers are not always right. And this is a good thing.
Perhaps it’s time to develop your sense of self, explore new directions, and allow the disruptive power of doubt in your life. In the end, doubt can transform you into a more mature, stronger and wiser person, and add some spice and colour to your life:
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.” Rabindranath Tagore
Denisa Oosthuizen is a freelance writer, publisher, entrepreneur and author, based in Pretoria, South Africa. She also writes fiction as Irene Eccleston and runs a content, publishing and web solutions business. Visit www.denisaoosthuizen.com.
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