Escaping From a Pit of Doubt
A few days ago, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt like crap. I felt like a failure. I felt like there wasn’t much point.
There were lotS of reasons I felt like this. A big project I was working on fell through. I’ve had trouble signing up new clients. My relationship with a friend and mentor felt in doubt.
But more than anything else, my mind was the main reason I felt this way. I’d been fighting these thoughts for over a week and though I’d kept them at bay, for one day they took control, and convinced me I was a failure.
They pointed out that my business only made a couple thousand dollars last year. They pointed out the debt I had accrued. They pointed out that I’d lost a big opportunity. And they pointed out how uncertain the future was.
All of these thoughts gathered in my mind like a storm that pulled me down until I didn’t want to get up. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Defeat, failure, and loss are an inevitable part of our lives. But knowing this philosophically and feeling the ache in your heart are two very different things. When you get caught in a pit of doubt it can feel like there is no escape
But there is a way out. It’s a path I’ve walked before, but it can be hard to find in the dark. So I’d like to share it with you so you and I can follow the lighted signs to the exit.
1. Talk About It (Without Advice)
One of the hardest things to do when you feel self doubt is to talk about it. But it’s also one of the most healing.
Thoughts of doubt only grow in silence, so bringing them into the open can create space and allow you to see and accept your doubts.
The problem is whenever I try to talk to someone about my doubt; they usually want to give me advice. And while advice can be helpful, what I really need is someone who can listen and reflect without offering a solution.
So instead of hoping I’ll get lucky, I’ve learned to just ask for what I need. I go to a good friend and say, “Hey I want to talk about something I’m feeling. Do you think you can just reflect what I’m saying without offering me any advice?”
I’ve found that when I make this simple request most people are not only happy to oblige, they’re relieved that I know what I want. I’ve also found that when people listen first, the advice they do offer is much more helpful.
Be bold and willing to talk about your doubt. But also be willing to ask for the safe space you need to do it.
2. Reconnect With Your Values
Often doubt arises when I’ve suffered a setback or have experienced failure. It’s easy for me to get caught up in lots of things that don’t matter, but I find that even in defeat my values hold great power.
What makes values powerful is that I can connect with them no matter how successful I am. Even if I’m failing, I can still work to serve others, to bring fourth truth, and to help other people discover their own deep wisdom.
In fact, in times of defeat my values become even more important, because I’m not distracted or influenced by my ego or my desire to be successful.
If you find yourself caught in a state of doubt, try to reconnect with the things that really matter to you. This small act of reconnection with your values, can keep you going even when it seems like you aren’t getting anywhere.
3. Look for the Opportunity
Every failure I’ve experienced has offered me an opportunity. Sometimes it’s been hard to see those opportunities and at other times they seemed small compared to what I’d lost. Yet each of these defeats and the opportunities they revealed have shaped my life in significant ways.
The reason for this is that even when I’ve been caught in doubt, I’ve also been willing to risk trying something new.
When my first company went out of business, I used the space it created to get a job working as a rock band roadie. When I lost my job as a venue manager, I used my free time to learn mediation and move into a monastery. When I lost my job as a pre-school teacher, I used it as a chance to start my own business.
No matter what the situation, every setback opens up space for change. If you find yourself caught in doubt and focused on what you’ve lost. Try focusing on the space that was created and seeing the possibility it contains.
Once you see it stick a toe in the water and get started. Doubt loves inaction and withers when you begin to explore.
4. Let Yourself Grieve
One of the things I always try to skip over when I’m caught in doubt are the emotions doubt reveals. Instead, I tend to focus on taking action or on distracting myself, so I can avoid the sadness and grief that often comes with doubt.
But the truth is I do feel grief. I feel grief at the lost illusion that things were perfect. I feel grief over my lost confidence and success. I feel grief over the lost opportunities and joys.
It’s easy to think that allowing myself to feel this grief is wrong, lazy, or pathetic. But accepting the grief we feel over the tiny deaths in our lives is completely normal. In fact being willing to feel this grief allows our hearts to grow stronger.
So if you feel sad or angry in your state of doubt, let yourself feel it. Don’t fuel the fire of grief, but also don’t try to squelch it. If you let it in, it will go away on it’s own.
5. Follow your heart
The final and most important thing I’ve done when caught in a pit of doubt is follow my heart. Every time I follow my heart, I’m amazed that even though it aches, it nearly always leads me to where I need to be.
Often I’m caught in doubt it’s because I’m stuck on some idea I have about myself and what should be happening in my life. And I try to battle these thoughts with other thoughts, ideas, and logical arguments. But it never works, because instead of bringing me relief, it only ties my mind in knots.
I’ve found that when I let go of my ideas and trust my heart that the storm begins to calm. I begin to see a light through the clouds. And even though that light sometime makes me cry, it leads me to an inner spaciousness and clarity I can’t find anyplace else.
Doubt is deeply connected to our hearts, because it exposes our innate vulnerability leaving us feeling raw and weak. But if instead of fighting this vulnerability we choose to embrace it, then this state of doubt can lead us to greater peace and greater faith in ourselves and the universe in which we are held.