We all have a Voice of Doubt. Sometimes it is the voice of someone who had an unhealthy influence over us in our past. Sometimes it is an oily whisper from the darkness. Sometimes it is the shrill, incessant voice of accusation.
For entrepreneurs and leaders, the Voice of Doubt can be debilitating. It creates an addiction to anxiety and promotes insecurity. It can drive us to over-react — or to deflate us into a numbing doom-loop of doing nothing. It convinces us that an opportunity is a distraction or that a distraction is an opportunity. It robs us of seeing our value and the value of others. It is a time and energy thief.
The origin of this voice is much debated amongst theologians, philosophers and psychologists. Regardless of the source, this voice always backs down when challenged. It always shrinks when exposed to truth and light. But left unchecked, the Voice of Doubt becomes a Board of Directors of one. So it must be confronted. We must control it. So how do you do that?
1) Challenge it. As mentioned, the Voice of Doubt shrinks when challenged with truth. Often the best way to challenge with truth is to ask questions: “Why do you say that?” “Is that true?” “Where did you get that information?” These questions confront the irrationality of doubt; injecting reason and wisdom where both are needed. This same approach also helps us challenge the outside voices of those who feed off our doubts.
2) Create space. Similar to a basketball player creating space for a jump shot, we need to create space and distance between us and doubt. This space is found between thoughts and ego, feelings and emotions and reactions and responses. By creating space between thoughts and ego, we will learn that the Voice of Doubt does not originate with us. By creating space between feelings and emotions, we can detach negative labels from what we feel (guilt, shame, etc are favorite labels of the Voice of Doubt). The space between reactions and responses shows us that we have always dominion over our actions.
3) Don’t mistake fear and doubt as the same. As I have written about, entrepreneurs don’t have less fear than non-entrepreneurs. We just have learned how to harness our fear. Often the Voice of Doubt will try to hijack our fear mechanism because it such an immediate driving force. This is the definition of panic. We then make a series of rash decisions and poor choices. By understanding that fear and doubt are distinctly different, we maintain control over fear.
Speaking of control …
When faced with the Voice of Doubt, I have found it to be extraordinary powerful to remember what we do have control over:
- Language: We control everything we say to ourselves and what comes out of our mouth. This doesn’t necessarily mean to swallow our words or over-think our responses. It simply means that words have power. By selecting our language, we hold the power to speak truth, be vulnerable and ask for help — all of which silence the Voice of Doubt.
- Perspective: We control what we see. In Andy Andrew’s excellent fable“The Noticer”, the main character shares this: “In desperate times, much more than anything else, folks need perspective. For perspective brings calm. Calm leads to clear thinking. Clear thinking yields new ideas. And ideas produce the bloom…of an answer.” When we control our perspective, it silences the Voice of Doubt.
- Action: We control our own actions. No one can make you do anything. This choice is ours. The difference is that doubt fills us with doing and courage inspires action. In William Whitecloud’s book “The Magician’s Way”, he provides this simple, but game-changing truth: “There is always nothing to do but action to take.” While we have our to-do lists for the day, being reminded of our of our larger ability to act silences the Voice of Doubt.
I am curious. If you are an entrepreneur or leader, how do you challenge the Voice of Doubt? Has this voice changed as you’ve gotten older? Has this voice changed as you’ve grown as a person? Comment below.