In 1981 I entered the Agriculture University of Malaysia to pursue my Bachelor Of Science in Resource Economics. This was a major milestone in my life for a number of reasons. Both my parents had no formal schooling and as such I was the first generation in my family to go to school. Out of my 7 brothers and 1 sister, I was the second in my family to enter a university. I am from the island of Borneo and the university was located near Kuala Lumpur in Peninsular Malaysia. So this is the first time that I am leaving home to study at another place, the first time that l left Kuching and the first time that I took an airplane. But the most important adjustment that I had to make was that my course at the University would be taught in Malay. Borneo was once colonized by the British, and as a result it inherited a very British education system. Therefore, from Primary 1 right up to Form 6, the medium of instruction was English. I only took one subject of the Malay language and I did not fare so well at that. In fact, I sat for my Senior Cambridge and Higher School Certificate, and for this two public examinations, the certificates were awarded by the University of Cambridge.
So imagine me sitting in the lecture hall for my first class, and everything was conducted in Malay. I could understand what the lecturer was talking but I could not write fast enough to take down notes. I could see other students scribbling away while I helplessly look at the blank sheet in front of me. In fact, for the first few months, the situation remained the same. I was full of self-doubts, and I was sure that I will fail my first semester. I will never be smart enough to master Malay. My grades will be the lowest in the class. Who would want be friends with a failure? I am sure that my classmates would look down on me. My other classmates who were from Peninsular Malaysia did not face such a problem because right from Primary 1, the language of instruction has been in Malay. They all seem to be smarter and better than me.
I find myself one afternoon, packing my bags. I was about to throw in the towel, I wanted to quit and return to Kuching. As I was packing halfway, it dawned on me that if I quit now how would I face my parents and family as well as how disappointed they would be in me. My parents and elder siblings were not given opportunities for education unlike me. And I was ready to throw it all away. If I go back to my village, I would be ashamed if my neighbours were to ask me whether I had completed my studies. It was at that point that I would never go back without a degree in hand. I would not give in to my self-doubts and insecurities. I had always been a hardworking and good student and I would not let my self-doubts and my lack of mastery in Malay get in the way of my degree. If at school I had mastered English, Economics and Mathematics, I should be able to master Malay at university. Four years on, I graduated with a honours degree at the top of my class.
Self-doubts are a dream killer and I almost let my self-doubts killed my dream of getting a degree. I like to share with you 7 strategies to overcome your self-doubts.
1. Changing Your Physiology
Your state of mind can affect your physiology but changing your physiology can also affect your state of mind. If you feel confident, you tend to stand up straight, your shoulders up and your chin is also held up. If you see someone slouching, shoulders down, looking down, you can infer that he is filled with self-doubts. This strategy is very useful if you have to perform a task like giving a sales pitch but self-doubts surface just as you are about to the task. By merely changing your body’s physiology such as standing up straight, holding both our shoulders and chin up, maintain eye contact, our state of mind will change from being doubtful to being confident. There is a saying, “Fake it till you make it” but I prefer this saying “Fake it till you become it”.
I remembered many years back when I attended Anthony Robbins’ Unleash The Power Within program. During the program, I was required to walk over hot coals. Just by standing up straight with shoulders and chin up, raising my right hand up as I chanted the word “Yes” I managed to walk over the hot coals. I know this works but please do not try to walk over hot coals on your own.
2. Your Venerability Makes You Human
Do not perceive your vulnerabilities as being negative and never allow your vulnerabilities to be turned into self-doubts. Instead embrace and leverage on your vulnerabilities. It is your venerability that makes you both human and unique as individuals. If you are so perfect, it will be difficult for you to show your empathy to others and relate to others. If you are strong enough to reveal your venerability, others will find you more likeable and easier to relate to. In reality shows, we find ourselves rooting for contestants who revealed their venerability.
3. Know That You Are Not Alone
Know that you are not the only one who is facing self-doubts. Pursuing our dream is not easy and most people are bound to face challenges. In many instances, we may feel overwhelmed and then doubt our ability to move forward. Even a beauty queen can have self-doubts about her looks and physique. Knowing that you are not alone will encourage and motivate you to overcome your self-doubt and move to the next level. It will be even better if you can find a role model who has overcome similar self-doubts as you and learn from his success or failures.
4. Know That You Are Worthy
Know that you are worthy of the dreams that you pursue and the success that you crave for. When your self-doubts tell you that you are not enough, that you don’t measure up, you are not enough, remind yourself that these are all lies. The truth is the seeds of greatness has been planted inside you. Therefore, instead of asking whether you are worthy of your dreams, question instead whether your dreams your worthy of you. You have to practically exchange your life for your dreams, and so make sure that your dreams are worthy of you. This sense of self-worth comes our own internal validation instead of from your parents, teachers, peers or friends.
5. Do Not Feed Your Self-Doubts
There is an Indian saying that both the dog and wolf are present in your mind, who will grow bigger depends on which one you feed. Similarly, if we choose to focus on your self-doubts, your emotions will spiral out of control causing you to have more and bigger self-doubts. If you focus on our strengths instead, you will become more confident and you will not only feel better but will perform better as well.
Just like my story of how I eventually managed to overcome my self-doubts to graduate with honours, you too will have instances where you have managed to raise above your self-doubts. Therefore, when you feel overwhelmed by your self-doubts, recall and remember these instances of victory. Remind yourself that you had risen above your self-doubts in the past and that you can do it again.
6. The Power Of Why
In my example above, why I must graduate at all cost was very powerful in helping me to overcome my self-doubts. Similarly, the purpose behind your dreams or goals will propel you to move forward despite any challenges and obstacles faced along the way. Knowing the why behind your success and dreams will help you find the how of overcoming self-doubts. The power of purpose will push you through even though you are on the verge of quitting.
7. Reaching Out To Others
When you are in the depths of your self-doubt, reaching out to others has two distinct benefit. The first benefit is that if you are focused on others, you will take your mind off your self-doubts. Your attention is turned to others instead of yourself. Secondly, if you are able to help others, you will feel good about yourself and your self-confidence will increase and your self-doubt decline.
You need to keep going because your dreams and success lies at the end of the road of self-doubt. Know that a brighter future and a better of version of you is waiting for you there. Keep your eyes not on your self-doubts but on all the things and joy that will be there when your dream becomes a reality.
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