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How to Use Your Self-Doubt to Build Self-Belief

TIGNUM Thoughts

August 7th, 2021

Insights from the author

By Scott Peltin and Brian Wade

Over the years, across a variety of performance arenas (amateur and professional sports, elite military, emergency response, business, etc.), we have noticed one variable that can either raise human performance or destroy it. This variable is self-belief. Unfortunately, the skill of self-belief is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied skills in the human performance world. 

Many people falsely believe that self-belief is a blind belief that you will succeed no matter what. In the US Fire Service, in the early 1990s, it was established by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health) that one of the consistent contributors to firefighter fatalities was a high level of self-efficacy. Simply put, some firefighters had an inflated sense of confidence and believed that if they or their partner were to go down in a fire, they could self-rescue or literally pick their partner up and carry them to safety. By challenging this false belief and by more accurately defining self-belief, many firefighter lives have been saved. 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines self-belief as a trust in your abilities. This definition is vague and could wrongly imply that the trust in your abilities is absolute. What this definition doesn’t account for, though, is the presence of doubt. Is it possible that doubt may be a critical ingredient for building the highest levels of self-belief? We think so. 

It has been said that courage is not the absence of fear but rather the ability to act regardless of fear. Similarly, self-belief is not the absence of doubt but instead is the ability to take on bigger challenges and perform at the highest level, regardless of doubt. In a fast-moving complex business world, is it really possible to have no doubt? The only way to have no doubt is to either be performing tasks that are so simple and in a totally predictable environment or to be blindly fooled. If you are ever to try something new, something bold, or something innovative, you can expect some doubt to creep in. This doubt is not only a powerful protection mechanism, but in our experience and coaching, it can also be a powerful self-belief builder. 

So, how can you use doubt to build self-belief? 

.01 First, you have to shift your focus away from the outcomes of winning or losing and instead focus on the attributes and behaviors that will help you be your best. This prevents false positive belief from winning by simple luck or excessive negative doubt from losing through things out of your control (e.g., global market swings, competition, world health challenges, supply chain disruptions).

.02 Second, you must reflect on both your previous successes and previous failures to gather your accumulated learnings, new skills, and new tools that you can use moving forward. These are your constantly growing abilities that provide the tangible and proven trust in your ability to deal with the unknown.

.03 Third, you have to reframe your inner self-talk and stories that often place a hyper-focus on your doubts and shortcomings rather than on your trust and strengths. In challenging times, we always remind our clients to stop listening to themselves and start talking to themselves in a high performance way.

When we look at high performing leaders, we often see people who:

_ are highly self-aware and who have consistently acknowledged and embraced doubt

_ have consistently faced doubt but refused to allow doubt to convince them to quit

_ have consistently reflected on their previous experiences and learnings so they can consciously update their knowledge of their own toolbox

_ have purposefully redefined their self-image to see themselves pushing through discomfort


Hear Penny Heaton, CEO of the Gates Medical Research Institute describing how she applied this thinking as she built the organization from scratch, on this TIGNUM ThoughtCast.


In the TIGNUM skill-based approach to a Performance Mindset, we know there are several key mindset skills required to build self-belief. Some of which include: self-awareness, vulnerability, curiosity, reflection, and reframing. Every time you prepare for your critical moments, embrace the doubt that comes with doing tough things and reflect on what you learned by applying these Performance Mindset skills.

At the same time, as the famous Hall of Fame American Football Coach Vince Lombardi once accurately said, “Fatigue will make a coward out of all of us.” This is a true statement in that doubt speaks loudest when we are fatigued, diminishing our self-belief and manipulating us to quit early on something that we were maybe just a day away from achieving. For this reason, if you really want to build and protect your self-belief, you must also proactively apply your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly physical, cognitive, and emotional recovery strategies. You must consistently apply your Sustainable High Performance strategies that help you show up at your best and give you the optimal chance to truly make an impact. When you do this, you won’t necessarily remove all of your doubts, but you will significantly grow your self-belief in your abilities to succeed. 

Doing all of this won’t remove all of your doubt but will instead help you embrace and use doubt to enhance your self-belief and performance. 


As always, we would love to hear what you think. 

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